The Three Types of Stress and How to Handle Them

“You should meditate each day for twenty minutes. If you don’t have time, you should meditate each day for an hour.” — Zen Proverb

Take a moment now to close your eyes and breathe deeply and count to ten. Go ahead, I’ll wait for you.

Okay, now how do you feel? In just ten seconds, you can reduce your stress significantly and feel more relaxed. Yet, as much as I hate to be the bearer of bad news, in those same ten seconds, thirty-five people have died as a direct result of stress. That’s 110 million people every year. Stress is a sobering health risk that we are only recently beginning to understand.

The World Health Organization has called stress the “health epidemic of the 21st century.” According to the Center for Disease Control/National Institute on Occupational Safety & Health, the workplace is the number one cause of life stress. Consider these statistics:

★ 80 percent of workers feel stress on the job

★ Nearly half say they need help in learning how to manage stress

★ 42 percent say their coworkers need help reducing stress

★ 40 percent of workers report their job is “very” or “extremely” stressful (Northwestern National Life)

★ 26 percent say they are “very often burned out by stress” (Yale University)

★ Stress is responsible for 30% of all disability claims
★ Stress costs American businesses an estimated $300 billion a year

What is stress, exactly? The term “stress” was coined in 1936 by Hans Selye, a pioneering Austrian-Canadian endocrinologist who dedicated his life to research on the topic. In his later years, when asked to define stress, he told reporters, “Everyone knows what stress is, but nobody really knows.” If nobody knows what stress is, yet it is causing so many problems, how can we deal with it better?

One definition of stress sums it up well: “Stress is the resistance to change.” To the degree that you resist the changes that are happening to you and around you, you will feel an equivalent amount of stress.

If you look carefully at what causes stress for you, you will see that there is always a situation requiring you to change, but you are not willing. Consider these scenarios:

  • Paul is late for a meeting and when traffic slows, he feels very stressed. In the next car over, Jason is listening to a book on tape while enjoying the sunset; he is not feeling stressed at all.
  • Carrie hates to speak in public and is dreading her presentation, yet Maria loves the spotlight and can’t wait for her chance to present.
  • Tina lives for deadlines and thrives under the pressure of monthly quotas. Her coworker Zach feels overwhelmed and often gets sick at the end of the month.

In each case, the level of stress reflects the level of resistance that each person has in relation to his or her situation. It may seem that stress comes from outside circumstances and conditions, but if that were true, everyone would feel the same way about a situation. Stressors are like the weather: It rains on everyone, yet some people are prepared to deal with it while others are not. If you have a warm house, car, or raincoat to protect you, then the rain isn’t as bad as it would feel without the protection.

REI’s clever motto states, “There is no bad weather, just inappropriate clothing.” I say the same is true for stress. There is no bad stress, just inappropriate coping. If we enter the arctic with a t-shirt and shorts, we will surely die. Yet if we prepare for the situation beforehand, we can survive and even enjoy the journey.

Stress is no different, and the ability to adapt to change is completely learnable and teachable. While there are countless stressors, there is basically only one stress response. Instead of trying to control situations and people, it is much more effective to understand and manage our stress response.

The stress response is controlled by dual parts of the nervous system — the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. The sympathetic set of nerves creates the stress “fight/ flight/ freeze” response. The parasympathetic set of nerves causes the relaxation “rest/ digest” response. The important thing to know is that only one set of nerves can be active at one time. It is not possible to be in both states at once. If you had to choose, in which state would you like to spend most of your day?

The problem with stress in our society is that almost everyone is quite an expert at inducing the stress response, and they do it often. And if they don’t bring it on themselves, someone else will surely help! Unfortunately, the ability to induce the relaxation response does not come as automatically. However, it is not any more difficult to induce the relaxation response than it is to induce the stress response, and with some practice, a state of relaxation can be maintained.

Often people point to the positive benefits of stress, such as getting things done and making things exciting. Often a high-energy lifestyle is preferred, and people worry that if they relax too much, they will lose their edge or become boring, stagnant, or dull.

However, if you think of your body like a car, your dual nervous system is similar to the gas pedal and a brake pedal. One makes you go faster and one makes you go slower. One is not better than the other; they both are important. A good driver can seamlessly blend their speeds to suit their journey.

Striking a balance between stress and relaxation in our lives is paramount. If our own lives aren’t enough evidence, statistics show us that too much stress is a much bigger problem than not enough stress. The ideal balance of stress and relaxation is called “relaxed focus.” This state is attainable with practice and awareness. Bo Yoga gives the foundation for stress relief and the ability to manage our own nervous system. We may not be able to control the stressors of our lives, but we can do a lot better at managing the stress response in ourselves.

There are 3 levels of stress:
★ Acquired stress (from your past)

★ Potential stress (in the present)

★ Preventable stress (in the future)

The first level of stress relief deals with acquired stress, which you likely feel in your body now. This type of stress can include tension in your shoulders, tension headaches, back pain, or any other physical, mental, or emotional discomfort. Acquired stress is a current problem that you have carried over from your past, due to lifestyle, a sudden event, or injury.

Acquired stress is dealt with by directly working on your body to get rid of the pain and tension. Stretching, deep breathing, and guided relaxation, along with the gentle pressure and tapping of the Bo Staff, can all help to relieve the stress that you feel now. Without dealing with the stress of your past, you will have a hard time facing stress from the present or the future.

The second level of stress relief is dealing with potential stress. This type of stress is the kind that is happening right now. If potential stress is handled well, it won’t become acquired stress. The vicious cycle of stress leading to more stress will end. This requires the ability to recognize the stress response in yourself as you face the stressor. For instance, when you are in traffic, you can begin to assess your stress by noticing that your shoulders are tensing, that you aren’t breathing well, and that you are gritting your teeth. The easy part of this is that usually, when you realize what you are doing, the solution is quite obvious. If you aren’t breathing, start breathing again. If you are clenching your jaw, open your mouth a bit. The hard part is doing this frequently enough to make it an automatic habit.

Bo Yoga and mindful exercise helps this second level of stress relief; when you become more attuned to your body, you will more easily recognize the signs and symptoms of stress, and you will learn to quickly recognize and release resistance within yourself. Also, after you take a class, your mind and body will be like a clean slate, comfortable and relaxed, making it easy to catch small stress responses before they grow too big. Catching stress early and nipping it in the bud is very helpful. Just like it’s easy to pull out a weed from your garden when it is small, it will be much harder to deal with it after it has grown deep roots or has gone to seed. It is important to reduce potential stress as soon as possible before it adds to the pain and suffering of the actual stress that you will carry with you everywhere you go.

The third level of stress relief is preventable stress. This type of stress is when you have released most of your actual stress to the point where your body generally feels good, free of pain, and energized. At this point, you are also good at dealing with potential stress by managing your personal stress responses, such as breathing patterns, physical tensions, and letting go of negative thoughts. Now that you are feeling pretty good, you can get ahead of stress and begin to prevent it before it even happens!

If the Earth is your body, your ability to prevent stress is like the ozone layer. It burns up meteorites in the atmosphere and also shields the Earth from harmful radiation. Not only does it protect the Earth from outside threats, it also creates a layer of insulation that maintains a healthy environment within it, despite the fact that it’s floating in the middle of cold and desolate space.

Preventable stress relief means that your shields are at full power, negativity burns up in your atmosphere, and you maintain a happy and positive mindset, no matter how negative and dark your surroundings are. Preventable stress relief means that you have a buffer around you that gives you time to choose responses instead of reacting. As people and situations come close to you, you can feel and sense if they are good for you or not. You not only build a huge tolerance to stress, you know how to repair any damage to your personal ozone layer when it occurs.

If stress is caused by resistance, then stress relief is caused by the release of resistance. Multiple studies have shown that mind-body training is highly effective to this end. Bo Yoga includes the following types of mind-body training:

★ Moving meditation: The fluid movements of Bo Yoga are meant to be practiced in a state of relaxed concentration, not unlike sitting meditation, except you get to move your body, too, which most of us need to do more often.

★ After class relaxation: Class is typically concluded with a savasana, the yoga “corpse pose” position, which involves lying on the floor to release all tension from the body.

★ Fun and laughter: The proper attitude for Bo Yoga is not overly serious or up-tight. Having a great time doing it is really the only proper way to practice because fun and laughter release beneficial hormones and encourage continued practice.

★ Distraction from stressors: When you take some time to practice Bo Yoga, you forget about your troubles for a moment and just focus on yourself and your own health.

★ Positive social environment: If you are practicing Bo Yoga with others, you can be sure you have found other individuals who, like you, are committed to positive changes in their lives.

One of Bo Yoga’s main benefits is its ability to release physical, emotional, and mental resistance. Through it, you have a regular practice of body, mind, and emotional healing that recharges you and releases you from resistance. Bo Yoga’s effectiveness for you depends on how well you can use it to this end.

Nate Guadagni has been teaching yoga, qi gong and meditation full time for over twelve years and is the founder of Bo Yoga®, a rapidly growing health and wellness system.
He believes that yoga is meant for everyone regardless of physical limitations and does his best to make it possible for everyone to enjoy the life changing benefits.
He is the author of Bo Yoga: 7 Essential Values to Energize Your Life and has produced two DVDs: Bo Yoga for Beginners and Bo Yoga Basics. He has also created online courses and leads national workshops around the country.

He is a member of the Yoga Alliance and the International Association of Yoga Therapists. His most recent training is Sarahjoy Marsh’s 500 Hour Yoga Therapy Program.

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