Stop the stress spiral — use the 4 A’s

Learn simple strategies to feel better — and be more productive too

It’s no wonder we sometimes describe stressed-out behavior as “running in circles.” It’s exhausting — and usually gets us nowhere.

Unchecked stress not only saps energy and productivity, it can affect mental and physical health too. But there are healthy ways to stop spinning — and feel more in control. 

Adopt the four A’s

For a happier, healthier and more productive approach to stressors, try practicing these four habits:

1. Avoid.

It’s often the smaller, everyday hassles that wear us down. So figure out what routinely wrecks your calm — and find ways to steer clear if possible.

For instance, if sitting in heavy traffic makes you edgy, take a more scenic route home. Or adjust your schedule, if possible, to miss the worst of it.

2. Alter.

Sometimes stressful situations can’t be avoided. You can’t make the line at the market move faster. But you might give the self-checkout lane a try — or try to pick less rushed times to do your shopping.

When these kinds of annoyances come up, think about what changes you could make to regain control. Here’s another example: Maybe long phone calls with a pessimistic loved one leave you drained. Let the person know you only have a few minutes to chat. Set a timer. When it buzzes, it’s your cue to go.

3. Adapt.

When you can’t change a situation, it may be time to change how you respond to it. Sometimes simply shifting your point of view makes problems seem smaller.

Perhaps you’re hosting a get-together — and stressing over the details. Try this: Focus on how much you enjoy time with your friends, rather than the need for a perfectly clean home or a magazine-worthy meal.

Or when something upsets you, look at the big picture. Will this matter in a week, a month or even a year? If not, it may not be worth getting worked up over.

4. Accept.

There are some big stressors in life that may be out of your hands — such as a serious illness or breakup. It’s natural to feel overwhelmed and upset when something like this happens. Sharing how you feel may bring you some peace, even if you can’t change the situation.

Look for the silver lining, such as gratitude for the people supporting you through a tough time. Try to let go of negative feelings. That may help give you a sense of comfort and control. It isn’t always easy — but even trying might help you feel better. 

What to do next

Learn a practice for a more mindful life. Meditation may help you decrease stress and increase focus.
Take a free online course nowOpens a new window*

Subscribe to our newsletter

Want to receive our e-newsletter? Subscribe to Healthy Mind Healthy Body® today.

  • If you are a new member, register on® to begin getting the newsletter.
  • If you've already registered on, log into your account and update your Subscriptions in the Account Settings section.

* Life Reimagined courses are supported in part by UnitedHealthcare. Views expressed in Life Reimagined courses do not reflect those of UnitedHealthcare nor its affiliates.