I just finished reading an interesting book on stress. I jotted down some of the key ideas.
The Myth of Stress: Where Stress Really Comes From and How to Live a Happier and Healthier Life by Andrew Bernstein
The author states that stress is not a physical process with a psychological component, but a psychological process with a physical component. Stress doesn’t come from what’s going on in your life – it comes from your thoughts about what’s going on in your life.
…in reality, there is no such thing as a stressor. Nothing has the inherent power to cause stress in you. Things happen (divorce, layoffs, disease, etc.) and you experience stress – or you don’t – depending on what you think about of those things. Stress is a function of beliefs, not circumstances.
The book explains how stress originates from our thoughts, but the effects on our body, feelings, and behaviors are real. This reminded me of my experience with overcoming back pain and understanding how the roots were psychological, but the pain was real. When I changed my thinking, the pain went away.
The Myth of Stress says that insight is the key to reducing or eliminating the effect of stress. And the author defines insight as the realization that what you had believed to be true is actually false so that the real truth emerges.
The book disagrees with the wisdom that “time heals all wounds”, by stating that it is actually insight and not time. The problem is this insight can take a long time to arrive. People can spend days, months or years stuck on a problem. The key is to seek greater insight. This is done via worksheets.
Here is how the worksheet process works.
- Describe the stressful feeling in a should or shouldn’t sentence.
- Rank feeling from 0-10.
- (a) How do you feel when you believe this? (b) How do you act when you feel this way?
- Write a negation of step 1 by adding “in reality at the beginning or “at this time” or “at that time” to the end.
- Write proof that supports the negation. Be thorough.
- (a) How do you feel when you see the truth of the negation? (b) What actions might come from this?
- Read your original statement again. How strongly do you feel this belief to be true now?
This process can lower the initial stress ranking several points.
Photo by Amy McTigue
The book goes through many real examples on a variety of topics including:
- Conflict Resolution
- Weight Loss
- Financial Happiness
- Broken Heart
- Having Too Much To Do
- Dying Too Soon
On being calm:
A stress-free life isn’t about trying to stay calm. Calm is your baseline state, and you contract away from it through false beliefs. From this perspective, the opposite of stress is not relaxation. The opposite of stress is education, releasing the contractions by having insights.
On culturally related stress:
The number of counterfactual beliefs in your head, not the number of figures in your bank account, determines how happy or unhappy you are with your life. Some cultures may circulate fewer of these beliefs, and as a result they more enjoy life more. But you don’t have to know what your fellow citizens are struggling with in order to increase your own happiness. Simply find the beliefs you have about how life should be different, and challenge them one by one. The more you do this, the more you’ll enjoy life.
If you are interested in digging into the specifics, The Myth of Stress is worth a read.