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E19: Learn Your Unique Stress Type and Reduce Your Stress Quickly

Updated: Oct 3


Resilience Inventory 2 page
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Unique Stress Types
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Jacob Derossett

We're here with Sarah Vallely, mindfulness teacher, coach and author. Sarah has been teaching meditation mindfulness for the past two decades training and certifying others to teach mindfulness. Sarah is the author of four books. Her latest book is titled Tame Soothe Dwell: The 55 Teachings of TSD Mindfulness. Today's podcasts, we discuss the seven unique stress types, but we actually give you a follow along quiz that you can take, we give you all the information on where you can reach the quiz. We also discussed how knowing your unique stress type can greatly help you reduce your stress. I'm Jacob Derossett. We're here with Sarah Vallely, Sarah, how are you?


Sarah Vallely

I'm great, Jacob. I've been teaching meditation and mindfulness for 20 years. And I've come up with my own strategies, tools, exercises, for mindfulness coaching. When I work with clients, I don't necessarily teach them how to have a sitting practice. Instead, I teach them five-minute exercises. And the idea is, if they use the right exercise at the right time, during the day, they are going to see huge shifts. The way I figure out which exercises to teach them is based on their unique stress type.


Find you exacly what is making your more stressed and increasing your anxiety. And how to use mindfulness to reduce stress and anxiety.

Jacob Derossett

Are there other processes you use to check in and see what people need or is figuring out their stress type your main one? Or do you have multiple ways like assess of assessment?


Sarah Vallely

I have one assessment that I do that's really short. It's a 15-question assessment. And I do this for free. This is what I do during a free consultation over the phone. When they take it I can tell them right away what their stress type is, and then exactly what I can do to help support them. And then when they start working with me, I have a longer assessment that takes about 30 minutes to complete. And from that, I start to understand the nuances of their particular stress type, which gives me even more information to really target exactly what they're going through. And then during coaching, the tools often serve as an assessment, I can better understand what's going on when we work through and use the tool.


Jacob Derossett

I love that you use the word “support”, rather than, like help them or fix them.


Sarah Vallely

Thanks. Yeah, it feels that way. Because people that I work with, a lot of them are so close. Maybe they even already have a meditation practice, maybe they already have a bunch of tools. But they need just a little extra support, a little extra advice, a few extra exercises to push them out of the stressful experience they're having.


There are seven stress types. The first is “the thinker”, the majority of their stress is a result of their own thinking cycles, whether it's rumination, worry, catastrophic thinking. They can see some huge shifts simply by being mindful of those thought cycles. And using some strategies to minimize those thoughts cycles.

The stress type “the activated”, the majority of their stress is actually a result of their sympathetic nervous system, their fight or flight responses. We all go into fight or flight, but some of us have a more difficult time pulling ourselves out of fight or flight. Somebody who has a balanced nervous system, they automatically pull themselves out of fight or flight when they realize everything's fine. But somebody who has an anxiety disorder or struggles in this way, is going to need some extra support and tools.


“The sensitive” the majority of their stress is due to past trauma. They can feel really emotional, a lot of feelings of abandonment, loss, rejection, things like that coming out, but their mind is pretty clear. And their nervous system is balanced. I'll be honest, this is an unusual stress type because if someone has trauma, they're usually going to either also have things going on with their thoughts cycles and/or their nervous system. But if you are this stress type of the sensitive than a self-compassion practice is going to help. Learning some short self-compassion strategies can completely shift this around.


And the next stress type is “the concerned”. This person is experiencing stress due to a combination of their own thoughts cycles and their fight or flight responses. They're going to do well with learning tools and exercises that soothe their Fight or flight responses and also quiet and tame their mind.


The next stress type is “the survivor”. This survivor stress type, what's going on is their fight or flight is being resolved quickly or not getting triggered, but their mind is going into overdrive with lots of thoughts that are causing stress and anxiety, possibly depression. And they're also getting their past trauma retriggered. This is my stress type. This is a typical stress type of somebody who's considered a trauma survivor. Because when we went through trauma, when we were a kid, we got through it by just barreling ahead and just going forward.


The next one is “the emotive” and the emotive stress type, their stress is coming from a combination of their fight or flight triggers and they're past trauma. It can feel really physical. There's this relationship happening between the nervous system and the past trauma. And it can be intense and emotional. Someone with this stress type would do well with a self-compassion practice, even if it's just a few minutes here and there during the day using some self-compassion strategies, and also learning some exercises for soothing their fight or flight responses.


The last stress type is called “the griever”. The Griever has experienced past trauma. So they're getting retriggered, based on their past trauma. For example, they might be experiencing feelings of betrayal, loss, rejection, and abandonment. That's triggering their mind to go into overdrive, going into a lot of thought cycles, which is causing additional stress. And then their fight or flight responses are also getting triggered. It's an intense place to be. It can be emotional, physical, and mental. You might not feel like you're grieving, but when you get down to the bottom of the experience, there is a lot of grief there. You might be grieving that you didn't have a healthy childhood, you might be grieving that you aren't able to pursue the career that you'd like to pursue due to your anxiety and stress, possibly depression. Or you might be grieving relationships, because it's difficult to have a healthy relationship when we've got all three of these situations going on.


Jacob Derossett

Interesting. Do you have this information for free on your website?


Sarah Vallely

The assessments to find out your stress type is on my website for free. It's on the Sarah vallely.com page, at the bottom of the page. And to get the results from this test, all you need to do is schedule a phone call or a zoom with me and I can go over the results with you. The other option for finding out your stress type is to down load the two documents at the start of this post.


Jacob Derossett

And then if people wanted to get some, specialized training they could work with you.


Sarah Vallely

Jacob took my 15-Questions survey, and we diagnosed him and we figured out what his stress type is. What we found was, he got a high score in the category that has to do with past trauma. So that shows me that if he's had any past trauma, then he's done some healing work around that and also shows me that he has good connections and community and, and spiritual practice. He got his lowest score in the category that has to do with fight or flight responses, which is pretty typical for males I have found. A lot of males their lowest score is in the fight or flight category. My theory is that your culture puts men in this role where they need to be the protectors so they in tune with their survival instincts and sometimes staying in that fight or flight for longer than what’s comfortable.


And then his second lowest score he got in the category that has to do with thought cycles. And so that shows me that there's probably some rumination, worry, catastrophic thinking that's adding to his stress. We all have things going on in our lives that cause stress but due to our internal emotional psychological system, we're handling that stress in different ways. When we see what part of our system is struggling than we can support that part of our system and then move through our stress in a much easier way. So the stress type that Jacob is, is “the concerned”. That's a combination of stress due to your own thinking and to your fight or flight responses. What do you think? Does that seem pretty accurate?


Jacob Derossett

Yeah, the first part about catastrophic thinking and thought cycles and rumination--that's a fully genetic. That's why I've been so adamant about meditation and things, it's really helped a lot with that. But I still have those pings of thoughts, I'll stay with it for a while. I definitely have a lot of work to do around that. But the central nervous system thing is very interesting. That's something my wife has actually been pointing out. I know when I'm out and about in town, if I see anybody that looks even a little bit suspicious, my nervous system starts freaking out, basically. I know, realistically, the likelihood of me or somebody I love being involved in gun violence is relatively low. So recently, I've felt my body not being able to release this because I just can't stop thinking about the fact that a school got shot up. And it's so terrifying. And it's so sad, that I've felt that for days.


My stress responses have already been a bit off. And this was the cherry on top. Today was the moment where I started to really pick up like, wow, I've really been off kilter already for a period of time. This was very enlightening, though. I have great friends, I have a great community, and I've done therapy. So I have worked with trauma. And then I do have a contemplative practice. But then I still don't have any strategies for my nervous system. I haven't done enough work with rumination. I've got a lot of work to do. Sarah, could you help me?


Sarah Vallely

What I have found over the years is that traditional mindfulness does a really good job of helping tame our thought cycles, it really does well with that. But I don't believe our traditional mindfulness practice necessarily does a good job with our fight or flight responses. It helps a little bit, but not enough in many cases. That's why in my coaching and the classes I teach, I do have a whole curriculum that addresses fight or flight responses. We move away from traditional mindfulness and use some other techniques.


One suggestion is thinking about a few aspects of your life that bring you feelings of stability. That might be a relationship. I know you and your wife are really tight. Just thinking about your relationship with your wife. For someone listening, it could be your house, maybe your house brings a feeling of stability for you. Or maybe it's your job, or maybe it's from nature, maybe it's the mountains or the sun coming up every day. And I know that sounds really simple and easy, but I call this four and five. So taking five minutes to think about four different aspects of your life that bring you feelings of stability, just thinking about each one for about a minute or so. And that can actually have a huge effect on your fight or flight and move you out of it.


Other people I work with like affirmations. For example, if your fight or flight is about moving into emotions that you're uncomfortable feeling than an affirmation of “I'm safe to experience my emotions no matter the intensity.”


Jacob Derossett

This is very, very, very interesting. When summer began, the weather started warming up--I started taking my morning walks again and getting sun exposure you get a natural dose of melatonin. So then at nighttime, you crash really hard. But a few months ago, I was doing my nighttime metta practice because I would feel a CNS arousal and my core temperature is too high. And it was like, Oh, I'm probably not going to sleep to I practiced “loving kindness”. I would start with my wife or my cats. And then I would go out to my parents and just wish them well and then spiral out in my life to friends, and then grandparents and aunts, uncles, cousins, everybody, and just visualize them being blissfully happy.


And I would immediately pass out every single time because it could get kind of boring by the time you get to your third cousin, and you're like, Okay, you know, it's kind of like counting. But it definitely feels like this is a good thing for me to do because I think I was in less fight or flight when I was practicing metta. By the way, if you're new to this stuff, that sounds insane. I know. I would have said that. I'd be like, “What are you talking about? Here? We're going to chant and do the little sound bowl thing and light some candles? Yeah, yeah, no!” But it's, it's real. It works--scientifically proven. But funny enough, because I've been getting that dose of melatonin. I've been crashing at night. I haven't done that in weeks. I hadn't even thought of that. But I do believe that that is a tactic that I have for grounding myself to feeling more calm and comfortable. And I think that since that practice has gotten taken out of my life, I think it has definitely contributed to my CNS being out of whack. That's so funny, I would have never put those two together until you brought that up. I've got to add my metta practice back in. It has definitely thrown me off kilter over the past few weeks.


Sarah Vallely

Metta practice is simply saying, “I wish for myself to have peace, I wished for myself to be healthy,” for example. And then “I wish for someone else to have peace, I wish for someone else to be healthy or have joy or be free from suffering.” And then saying, “I wish for all beings to feel at peace, have joy, free from suffering.” I can see how metta practice would actually soothe your nervous system. One of the reasons is because gratitude is another highly effective way to soothe your nervous system. And you probably bring in feelings of stability when you're doing your metta practice.


Yeah, I think that's great. For me, what was really helpful to understand about my stress type, being “the survivor” (the majority of my stress is from my own thinking, and from my past trauma) is leaning into heart work. Understanding that that heart work is so important for me. What that looks like, is tuning into those feelings of abandonment and loss and grief and rejection, and being okay with myself with these feelings. And using self-compassion practices such as, “Even though I feel this rejection, even though I feel this abandonment, I am loved, I am worthy of that love, I'm connected. I'm a good person.” That's been huge for my healing. And practice of noting is really effective for my thought cycles. Some of my big thought cycles I call “emphasis” and “rehearsal”. Rehearsal is when in your head, you are rehearsing what you're going to say later, for example. When I am mindful that I'm in that mode, I simply say, “Oh, I'm in rehearsal,” and I might even say to myself, “Life isn't a rehearsal,” and then I get like five minutes free--just peace. When we're not mindful, we really get wrapped up in it, which is not helpful. It's better to take a step back. Do you do any practices like that?


Jacob Derossett

One is, I'll think to myself, “How often have you solved a problem this far into thinking about it?” The answer is never not one time. Every once awhile, I'll catch myself if I'm really going in on something, “How often have you been 20 minutes in this car ride thinking about an issue and they've been like, Aha?” Never. Usually, if I distract myself in a positive way, then I'll get an answer to an issue but never from ruminating. That's one. Two is I'll say, “Who are you talking to?” If I'm driving down the road, and I'm just going in on something, I'll be like, “Who are you talking to right now? There's nobody there. What you see is what is happening? This is your life right now in front of you, not the conversation.”


Sarah Vallely

The research shows that the majority of people who overthink or ruminate--they believe that that overthinking is helpful. But the research also shows that overthinking is actually not helpful and is detrimental. It leads to anxiety and depression. I love that you were mindful that you were in that type of thinking and you talk to yourself and say, “This isn't helpful.” I mean, that in itself can be great. And I love that you are talking to your own thinking. I've found that with my clients and myself that to be a real game changer. When I was talking about doing that rehearsal, I might say “Life is not a rehearsal.” You need to say it in a gentle way, it's just a gentle reminder.


And then this emphasis type of thinking I do a lot, I'll say something a day ago, and then I'll find myself, in my mind, saying it again--I'm emphasizing it. And so one of the ways I'll talk to myself when I do that is I'll jsay gently, “When you said it a day ago, you were heard. You don't need to say it again. We're good.”


I have some case studies that are available on my website. And this first case study, she lost her husband two years before we started working together, and she was having strained relationships with her adult children. And she was the stress type of “the survivor.” So she had a lot going on with her thought cycles and also past trauma. After we work together for only four sessions, her distraction decreased by 70%, her confusion decreased by 62%, her doubt decreased by 43%, her stress decreased by 40%, along with some other improvements,


Jacob Derossett

What could you point to as some techniques or tactics that you use to help get those results?


Sarah Vallely

She also was suffering from a lot of rumination, especially about her mothering. Something a lot of us mothers do when we get older, we start ruminating about the past and what we could have done differently. And so first, it was helping her become aware that this was happening. In the moment during the day she would become aware, and then it was also helping her become mindful of what instigates those rumination episodes. She realized that when she was at the park, and she saw other children or animals--those were instigators for her to going into those rumination episodes.


She could be aware in advance and use some techniques in advance before it got out of hand. Additionally, using the noting was helpful and also redirecting. Once she was aware of her rumination or possibly going into rumination, she would redirect to something physical in the environment. And she was going through grief. And what a lot of us do when we're grieving is we move into devaluing ourselves and into shame. She became mindful of that process--of her thinking that she was the lesser of a person because she lost her husband, because she was having difficulty with some of her relationships, because she was feeling loss in grief. We also did a lot of work around self-compassion.


Another woman I worked with had the unique stress type of “the thinker”. And she also had lost someone--she'd lost her brother the year before. She was a business owner. She has three young children, and she has a lot of creativity. Being “the thinker”, the majority of her stress was coming from her own thought cycles.


Jacob Derossett

So it looks like after four sessions, she had over 40%, decrease of distraction, stress, shame, feelings being provoked, confusion and overwhelmed. In some cases, up to 65% decrease. That's pretty crazy.


Sarah Vallely

The creativity part was actually huge for her. She had no idea prior to this experience, that she was having so much stress as a result of her creativity. Because what was happening, a creative idea would come and then she would just roll with it. And she felt so obligated to carry out that idea. And what we realized was her feelings of urgency and being burdened by her own creativity was causing a great amount of stress. Once she was mindful of that process and used some mindfulness techniques, she was able to turn that around and realize that she didn't have to follow through with all of her creative ideas.


Jacob Derossett

That's really interesting. How common is it that you're able to pinpoint so accurately in people's lives like that? Like to point to one thing that's like, “Oh, I didn't realize that.”


Sarah Vallely

I have over 60 tools and using these tools, that's what they do. We go through, there's a process. It's a lot of process of elimination, I'll ask a lot of questions. And we're like, “Well, no, that's not it. Oh, no, that's not it. Oh, this is it. This is what really is resonating me, this is what's happening.” That's why I can see these huge results in just four sessions because It's so targeted.


Jacob Derossett

I am a personal trainer. So what I do with people is we start off with three exercises, and then we just see how those respond to that person's body. And then I have a library of a seemingly infinite amount of exercises that we can go through. How does your body feel and if it's sketchy, Okay, let's progress or change to this. And that's fascinating. It's the same process essentially.


Sarah Vallely

Reassessment is so important. We both have backgrounds in teaching, so that might be part of it. When we are educated to become teachers. It's drilled into us to constantly reassess to find out where the students are. So that's where a lot of this comes from. I also base it a lot on the model of physical therapy. Because what happens when you have physical therapy is they assess you when you come in, they give you specific exercises based on what your physical ailments are, and then they reassess you to see if those exercises are helping. Same exact process that I use.


I highly recommend doing the call with Sarah because then she's going to be able to give you a couple of strategies right there. I've had a couple realizations that happened when I did this test with Sarah. Stuff that I was totally unaware of. So that's amazing.


Sarah Vallely

The last person I gave this 15-Question assessment two, he said he learned more about himself from that assessment than he did in a month of going to therapy once a week. He was blown away by what he learned about himself.

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