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Stress Coping Strategies (IV)


An African proverb has it that the proof of greatness lies in our ability to manage the attack of sudden danger or calamity. No mortal is immuned from the onslaught of the troubles of this earthly existence. Sometimes, without premonitions the troubles arrive our shores and shake and shock us. Some absorb the shock and manage it well while others succumb to the distressing influences of the shock.

The dangers or troubles, which assail mortals are what we regard as stressors of life. Inability to adjust to them results in the breakdown of one’s health and other consequences. However, those who adjust well to the stressor experience renewal and progress in life.

In rounding off our discourse on the coping strategies of stress, we consider the 4A’s of stress management enunciated by Melinda Smith and Robert Segal. The first A refers to the principle of Avoidance. It means to avoid every stressful stimuli that want to impinge on you. Some of us find it difficult to say NO to any and every responsibility assigned to us. Consequently, any one can drop their bags of personal responsibility on such one. The rightful and wrongful assignments, the eligible and ineligible responsibilities will all be dumped on a person who hasn’t learnt to reject some responsibilities.

Someone rightly said that he isn’t a man who cannot say no. We need wisdom and courage to differentiate the needful from the wasteful, the urgent from the important. Inability to do so, may wretch one’s health and life. By no means is this avoidance principle encouraging laziness or rebellion towards authority. Some of us need to rise up and say no. No to slavery and illegality.

The result will be that one will have some breathing space and opportunity to have a meaningful life. There will be some window to discover and develop one’s abilities. Will you rise up and say no to some people, requests and challenges today?

The second A is Alteration of the stressor. Of course, it is a form of confrontation strategy, which aims at reducing the potency of the stressor. It encourages the stress victim to express one’s self and thereby release tension (Catharsis). For instance, one who is assailed by the death of a loved one can weep, and even curse death. One what is faced with danger can confront it headlong instead of waiting and allowing anxiety to consume one. The two principles of avoidance and alteration of the stressor aim at changing the situations on ground.

The other two-stress coping strategies advocated by Smith and Segal, are adaptation and acceptance. These two aim to change the victim’s reaction to stressors. First, adaptation is the principle of effective adjustment to the stressor. Basically it operates as behaviour modification. One exchanges pessimism with optimism, fear with courage, and indiscipline with discretion. It is a deliberate effort to control one’s behaviour in the face of difficulties and danger. Some form of bio-feedback mechanism is needed here to monitor one’s progress. Perseverance is needed to ensure ultimate success and not avoid giving up before one reaches one’s goal.

The last stress coping strategy is acceptance. It is a sober reality that there exist some facts we cannot change. In such a situation, we have to accept them with equanimity and fortitude. Such situations remind us of our mortality and limitation. They remind us of boundaries and balances. Perhaps if we think deeply we will recapture the essence of such life challenges and let go of toxic emotions so that we can face tomorrow with the right attitude.

Dr. Amaraegbu, a clinical psychologist lives in Lagos.

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