Types of Stress
Here is a list of some of the most common types of stress and how to deal with them. Meditation and mindfulness practices help all of these:
Stress From Worry:
(See “Worry” under “Meditation Documents/Handouts” on my website.) Worry can apply to worries about our performance at work, worrying about our children, worrying about our relationships, or worrying about global warming. The primary way to diffuse worry is to stop resisting the negative possibilities you worry about. This is not to say that you want them to happen by any means, but rather you don't resist that they are a possibility. Once you let go of resistance you will immediately feel a sense of relaxation and ease. From there you can take some deep breaths to center yourself and actively accept the negative possibilities no matter how bad they seem. For some situations this may allow you to realize that its not the end of the world, or at least will allow you to come to terms with them. Non-resistance and full acceptance of negative possibilities takes all the power these situations have over you, since it is not merely the situation itself that causes you to feel bad but also your resistance to it. From there the energy you might feel towards approaching something uncertain can potentially become empowering and not crippling. You can then focus on acting from a heartfelt place with a clear head to do everything you can to do well or make things right with greater ease and peace of mind. After you've done all you can, expand your ability for acceptance of the outcome.
Stress From Dissonant Relationships:
We all get into conflicts, make mistakes, or don't see eye to eye sometimes with the people in our lives, but it is how we approach dealing with the conflict that will determine wether or not it becomes stressful. Of all the ways we can approach our relationships, love is the way to make harmony. Through having love and compassion for the other person we are motivated to have patience, tolerance, appreciation, good listening, good communication, which is essential to know each other's perspectives and foster a good relationship, and therefore understanding. This means that in turn we let go of negative states of mind like attachment, anger, frustration, selfishness, unwholesome competition, jealousy, and pride. Using mindfulness as a regular practice of presence to our mind, we may notice whenever we slip into any one of these states of mind and do something about it (See “The Method for Transforming Negative States of Mind”). There are certain instances where out of compassion for ourselves and our safety we should remove ourselves from relating with certain people, where the relationship supports addictions or are abusive, or otherwise. We can do everything we can to seek out help for those people in our lives but also keeping our safety a priority is appropriate.
Stress From Prolonged Exposure to Negativity:
When we experience prolonged exposure to negativity we start to feel the residual effects of that negativity in the form of stress. This can come from a number of sources. It could be from unruly children in a classroom, it could be from an abusive relationship (see above), it could be from being stuck in traffic, or from being stuck on a cramped bus or plane for hours. It could be from racism or sexism or discrimination of any kind in society (see above), or it could be from being addicted to drugs or sex or alcohol and the negativity you surround yourself with in the process. No matter what the reason, the first step is, if it seems right, to remove yourself from that situation. If you can't, shouldn't, or it is coming from your own projections and not from anything outside yourself, then learn to adapt to the situation by cultivating mindfulness of yourself, becoming present to what you are feeling in a deeper way, letting go of any negativity in your mind, centering yourself, and enact a wholesome intention like patience, forgiveness, generosity, or loving-kindness. Do everything you can to change the situation for the better with a clear and centered mind. It may be appropriate to process that negativity with someone else like a therapist or close friend or family member, allowing yourself to feel and release that pent up energy from long-term exposure. If after everything you can do is done and there is still a problem, then expand your ability to accept the situation with all its flaws, keeping in mind your mindfulness practice.
Stress From Un-Enjoyed Effort:
I'm sure we all have had to do something that we didn't want to do at the time. Sometimes we knew we had to do it anyway because it served a purpose. Sometimes, however we can get caught in applying effort to something that doesn't serve what we're interested in. When I was in school I felt this a lot because the majority of the topics I studied were not what I was interested in, and I knew this so much that it caused me undue stress. Other people, for example who take up occupations for the sake of making money but have no heartfelt interest in what they're doing suffer every day, being a slave to the dollar, until they finally say “enough is enough” and choose a new career that they truly love. Having to apply effort that we don't enjoy can cause stress because we physically and mentally invest ourselves in the work we do while simultaneously find ourself emotionally uninvested. This contrast and conflict within causes us to feel disconnected and disassociated from the work we do. Two solutions arise for this situation: change the way you see the work or change your work. Changing your perspective on the work by seeing maybe if it serves a greater purpose you can believe in is a way to get engaged in what you do. Otherwise, finding a new job or line of study is the way to go. Doing what you love is the best way to live your life and work happily.
Stress from Excessive Effort:
Make sure you have a balanced work ethic and don't push yourself too hard. Take your work only one step at a time giving it your full attention in the moment, which means not holding multiple tasks in your mind at once if at all possible, or at least take the multiple tasks all one at a time. Beware of becoming a workaholic that de-prioritizes things that are important in life like spending time with family. Also make sure there are regulations in place in your work that don't make you work too many hours or work too aggressively in unsafe conditions. These kinds of stress from excessive effort over time can lead to exhaustion, disease, or injury.
Stress from Illness or Injury:
When we get ill or injured our body is undergoing a lot of stress and therefore our mind is as well. Meditation is scientifically proven to help the immune system, reduce inflammation, and reduce pain including chronic pain. Use the guided meditation located under “Guided Meditation Audio” on the website to help deal with the stress of illness or injury. Also learn how to convert your suffering into a catalyst for great compassion for others (“Suffering as a Basis of Compassion”). In that practice you learn how to use the pain to amplify your wish for others to be free from similar suffering thereby growing your compassion. This practice also reduces the pain.
Stress from Dishonesty:
When you live in such a way that is not true to who you are or to what the truth is you will distance yourself from your own true self as well as others proportionally to the lie and thereby experience a lot of emotional stress. This can take the form of trying to be someone you're not, wether in school or at work, trying to live up to the ideals of society or your peers. This is usually based on the fear of not being socially accepted or living up to some standard you made for yourself or inherited from your parents or others. The remedy for this is despite all the forces that tell you to be something you're not, to let go of the facade and live life honestly and openly being who you truly are, thereby relieving all the resistance you built against your true self, experiencing true freedom. Another way to live dishonestly is to lie about things for selfish reasons. This leads to a distancing of yourself from your truth in the same way, and causes you to become distant from people. You constantly have to be defending yourself, adding new lies to new lies to cover for your original lie, thereby becoming very stressed. Also, by repeatedly lying people lose trust in you, which can cause a lot of emotional stress in your relationships and make you a lonely person. The remedy for this is to just be honest, regardless of what the truth might bring. By coming round and telling the truth you show that you are dedicated to being honest which will eventually lead to people trusting you again if you are consistently honest afterwords.
Stress From an Immediate Threat:
When we are threatened by something that may inflict physical or emotional pain on us we tend to constrict ourselves and resist that negative possibility. Its a basic survival instinct. However, besides immediately removing ourselves from an abusive or harmful situation, the remedy for dealing with this kind of threat (much like the remedy for worry above) is to let go of resistance. This is not to say that we want the possibility to happen, but rather we let go of resisting the negative possibility and allow ourselves to have an overarching senes of acceptance of the situation despite it being scary or hurtful. It is from that more peaceful place of acceptance that we are empowered to do something about our situation if need be. When we meditate or use our breath to calm ourselves we feel a centeredness which arises from within us, which seems to have always been there.We can calm ourselves using the breath, relying on the centered place within ourselves for strength and grounding. This centeredness within us is what we can abide in whenever we are dealing with a stressful situation, even if it is a serious threat. Grounding ourselves in a non-resistant, fully accepting, and centered state of mind empowers us to have clarity about our situation and to tackle it with our wits intact and our strength restored.