Stress is not a bad thing. In the right amounts it can motivate us to take action, accomplish tasks, and even improve performance. When stress is chronic or to a degree that interferes with functioning, though, it may be a sign that change is needed.
I frequently help my clients to better manage their stress, and I have found the model of the “Four As” of stress management to be very useful: Avoid, Alter, Accept, and Adapt. When acceptance will simply prolong and increase the stress, when altering the situation hasn’t worked, and when adapting will change you in ways that are in conflict with your values and fulfillment, avoiding or removing yourself from the stressor may be the best option. Make a change!
Avoidance usually gets a bad reputation. And, to be fair, avoidance of stress often leads to stunted growth and development. If you never get up in front of a group of people to give a presentation just because it is stressful, you may not be advancing in your career. On the other hand, staying in an unrewarding and even punishing situation can lead to negative health effects, stress disorders, and even depression. Avoidance used excessively may be the easy out and counterproductive, but when removing yourself from a stressor is the best option, it takes courage to belly-up and make the change.
Know when to make a change!
My own example of making a change came several months ago when I found myself in a job that was unfulfilling, restricting, and did not support my values. I had been unhappy for years, but I had reasons for staying – mostly financial. Finally, after many discussions with my wife and a long period of planning, I began taking steps toward making a change and leaving the position.
How did I know it was time to make a change? The position no longer aligned with my values and priorities. I did not have the flexibility I needed to nurture and attend to my family relationships, nor did I have the time, opportunity, or freedom to pursue my own personal interests or professional development. I found myself so consumed with stress that it took all of my free time just to unwind from it. In short, my values and priorities were being challenged and my growth was being stunted.
Resigning from a secure, full-time position for a more flexible private practice was far from easy. It took careful planning, lots of support, and an abundance of courage. In the end, making a change was not the simplest judgement to make, but since that crucial decision, it has led to less stress, greater life balance, and more opportunity for success.
My challenge to you is to reflect on your own life stresses and ask yourself, “Is it time to make a change?”
Journal Prompt: Pick one source of stress in your life right now and review the Four A’s of stress management. Which approaches will lead to the best outcome for you? What values or priorities are being threatened by this source of stress, and what values and priorities will be nurtured by taking the approach you’ve decided on?