Stress Management Skills Use Your ABC’s to Determine the Causes of Stress in Your Life

What are the causes of stress in your life? Are you easily stressed by minor annoyances? Or are you the type that is only stressed out by the big things? Stress management skills are about knowing your stress triggers and how to prevent them from becoming a destructive force in your life. In other words, how to become resilient to stress.

A psychologist who was passionate about stress management and building resilience, Albert Ellis, wondered why people were stressed out by different things. Why wouldn’t we all be stressed by the same issues? After a great deal of study, he came up with a model of human behaviour he called the ABC Model which today is used a widely accepted stress management tool.

The A in the ABC of stress management skills stands for activating events. These are events that are outside of our control and could possibly cause us to stress out. The B in the stress management model stands for beliefs. This is a general term which includes our thoughts, feelings, opinions, and habits. The C represents consequences, or the results of what happens to us after we have applied our beliefs to the activating events. The model is written as A->B->C.

An example of this stress management or building resilience model, may help to understand it better. You’re in a grocery store and unfortunately, it’s very busy. As you get ready to check out, you scan the open lanes to see which one is shorter. You pick your lane and get in line. The line moves pretty quickly, until the lady in front of you needs to pay. She’s searching and searching in her purse for her money. Finally, she pulls out a cheque book. She then asks for a pen. The checkout clerk then searches drawer upon drawer for a pen. Finally, going to the next lane, she gets a pen. By this time you’re furious, as every other lane has moved faster than this one.

So how does the A->B->C of stress management skills work in this case? Well the activating event is the lady checking out in front of you. What she does is outside of your control. All you can do is watch. The beliefs are how you feel about what is going on. If you feel that the days of using a cheque to buy goods at a grocery store ended with the last century, then you’ll be reacting negatively to her cheque-writing activity. The consequence is that you feel yourself getting angry and your body begins to act on your anger. So you feel stressed and your stress management skills are tested.

How about another example? This time, you’re in the same grocery store, but it is relatively empty. You’ve breezed through your shopping faster than you ever have. As you start to checkout, you see that only one lane is open, because there is no need for more to be open. The lady in front of you pulls out a cheque book, and then tries to borrow a pen from the checkout person. How do you react? Well, the activating event is the same. The lady is still using a cheque. But it is slightly different in that your shopping experience has been relaxed, not rushed. Because of this, your beliefs are altered. You don’t view the cheque-writing as another inconvenience. So the consequence is different, as you take the extra time you have standing in line to read the latest gossip magazine and your resilience to stress is doing great!

So if you can change the beliefs about the events around you, you can alter the consequences, or how you react to those events. By building resilience to stress, you can reduce or eliminate your stress. This is arguably one of the most effective stress management skill sets.

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