As if the holiday season is not stressful enough in and of itself, many students will also be writing exams and completing major assignments in the coming weeks. What makes these events so stressful? Well, I’ve heard stress described as your body’s reaction to any demand on it requiring change. This definition resonates with me because it can be applied to both positive life events (eg. new job, loved ones visiting from out of town) and negative life events (eg. losing a pet, unexpected bills).
The holiday season brings a lot of changes to our routine. We usually have more events to attend. We spend time with people who we don’t often see. Some people cook elaborate meals, decorate their homes, or purchase numerous gifts for friends and family. Even if you’re someone who loves these types of traditions, finding the time, money, and energy to participate can cause a great deal of stress.
Add to this that many students have multiple exams and final projects due this month, and you have a recipe for difficulties. Even when stress is caused by positive changes, too much at once, or ineffective coping can lead to decreased ability to function and even burnout.
So how can you help yourself thrive throughout this time of year?
The AAAbc Model
A few years back I was introduced to the AAAbc model of managing stress. The timing could not have been better as I was 1. selling and buying a home, 2. starting a new position at work, and 3. seven months pregnant! I really found this model helpful in coping through that stressful time and I’d like to share it with you.
First, you define your stressor. Choose just one and write it at the top of a page. It might be:
- Too many presents to buy and not enough money!
- So many exams!
- Seeing (insert name of critical family member here) at holiday dinners.
Alter: How could direct communication help? Is there any problem solving work you could do? Would organizing help? How about planning or time management?
Think about each of these questions and jot down some of your options in this situation. Write all your options down, even if you don’t think it’s a great option or something you’d be comfortable doing. This is just a brainstorm. You’ll decide what options are best when you’re done all of your brainstorming.
Avoid: Could you just walk away? What could you let go of? What could you delegate and to whom? What can you say “no” to? Choosing your battles and knowing your limits, could you withdraw?
Once again, jot down all your options, even if you don’t think they’re great options.
Build resistance: Could you take in better nutrition? Better sleep? Seek social support? Take a break to recharge? Pray or engage in other spiritual traditions/rituals? Would some time in nature help? Some exercise? Some time doing something you love to do? Could you use positive self-talk? Are there unhealthy habits you I could stop?
Change perspective: Could you look at the situation in a different way? Are you exaggerating anything? Could you change your thinking to something more realistic? Could you think about the big picture? Could you focus on now and not the future?
Jot down the options that come to mind.
Now look over all the options you’ve come up with and decide on a strategy to try out. If you have trouble deciding, bring your sheet to a trusted friend or a counsellor. They’ll likely be able to listen and help you choose a path forward. In my example below, I’ve placed a check mark beside and underlined in read the options I have decided choose.
Each stressful situation is different and each of us has a different personality and life circumstance, so there is no one right way to handle stress. Working through a system like this, however, can help us feel less overwhelmed by our stressors and more capable of coping in a healthy way.
I hope you try it out this season!
P.S. The AAAbc’s of Stress model was designed by Whole Person Associates.