I really don’t get stressed out much these days. Sure I’m retired, so I don’t have a JOB or a BOSS or COWORKERS to deal with. But I still drive, and here in central Florida where I live, old people, who should have stopped driving a long time ago, are trying to kill me practically every day.

But please understand: I sure used to get stressed out; sometimes SERIOUSLY stressed! Want to know why? Well let’s see: I had at least two jobs, bills, kids (lots of those), a wife (who by the way, did a great job trying to un-stress me), teenage drivers who enjoyed torturing me by crashing their (my) cars, a big house, taxes, bills (did I already say that?), daughters who were dating knuckle-heads, in-laws and out-laws to deal with, and so on. I was stuck in traffic almost daily, worked for difficult people, was treated unfairly, taken advantage of, and was even threatened on occasion. In other words, stressed. Boy do I wish I knew then what I know now. No doubt I’d still have more of my hair.

If you asked 10 people to name something that caused them a considerable amount of grief on a regular basis, how many of them would say stress? Stress is by far one of the worse feelings we can have, and many of us deal with it on a daily basis. Stress can easily cause headaches, and sometimes result in physical illness. So what is stressful to you? Is it traffic, politics, money, the economy, parenting, work, relationships, family issues, or something else?

Now what if I told that none of those things listed above actually cause stress. What if I told you that the only reason any of us have any stress at all, is because we create it ourselves? That wouldn’t stress you out, would it? But that’s exactly what Andrew Bernstein says in his book “The Myth of Stress.” Here’s an excerpt from an article on this guy and his book:

Where does stress come from? That’s easy. It comes from stressors like traffic jams, angry bosses, and screaming children.

But why? Why do stressors provoke stress in us? The answer, which is repeated in practically every article and book on stress (and which is disastrously wrong, as you’ll see in a moment) involves human evolution. Once upon a time (the story goes), our ancestors walked across the grassy plains, only to be confronted by… a saber-toothed tiger! These ancestors immediately experienced a hormonal surge, which you might remember from high school biology as the fight-or-flight response.

Those who had a strong fight-or-flight response were more likely to survive and produce offspring. Those who didn’t have a strong response, for obvious reasons, were not. And so, over the course of many generations, this response was strengthened, eventually becoming hardwired in us as a very useful adaptation. And then something unusual happened.

Life on Earth changed.

Civilizations formed. Villages, then towns, then cities appeared. And, in the space of a few thousand years—the mere blink of an eye from an evolutionary perspective—those grassy plains and saber-toothed tigers were replaced by super-highways and micromanaging bosses. And our fight-or-flight response, calibrated so well to respond to occasional threats, started going haywire.

And that, supposedly, is why we experience so much stress today. The number of stressors has multiplied exponentially: traffic, money, success, work/life balance, the economy, the environment, parenting, family conflict, relationships, disease. As the nature of human life has become far more complicated, our ancient stress response hasn’t been able to keep up. Our bodies react as if threats are everywhere, as if saber-toothed tigers have us surrounded. We have become victims of our own biology. And the best we can do (we are told) is breathe, relax, exercise, and try to cope.

As I explain in my book, The Myth of Stress, all of this is fundamentally wrong. It’s also incredibly costly. It costs you and your loved ones the emotional burden of living with stress everyday. It costs you the physical burden that necessarily follows. And, of course, it costs individuals, companies, and our government billions of dollars each year. Recovering these costs requires that we finally break through the myth of stress.

The truth is that stress doesn’t come from your boss, your kids, your spouse, traffic jams, health challenges, or other circumstances. It comes from your thoughts about these circumstances. More specifically, stress comes from a particular kind of thinking that humans happen to excel at. The more of this thinking you engage in, the more stress you experience.

This sounds strange at first, and raises many questions:

  • What kind of thinking is this exactly?
  • If stress actually comes from our thoughts, not our circumstances, how was the myth of stress created in the first place?
  • Why has it become so widespread?
  • Can we dismantle stressful thoughts? If so, how? Is this related to cognitive therapy?
  • Does this require a facilitator, or can it be done on one’s own?

These are important questions that affect millions of people, and they’re why I wrote The Myth of Stress. [End of excerpt].

While I was reading the book, I remember thinking, “Jeese! Now he tells me!” All of it actually made sense. It’s kinda funny how somebody can come up with an idea or a philosophy (like Hans Selve, the father of the stress concept), and before you know it, everyone just goes along with it. I remember how my Dad would say: “If everyone jumped off a bridge, would you jump off a bridge?” Well, um, yeah, maybe.

So here’s the bottom line: stress is the direct result of our own thoughts and beliefs, based on some kind of stressor or trigger. If someone cuts me off in traffic, what do I think about that? If I think, “Why you dirty, rotten bugger, I’ll show you!”, then I’ve just created my own stress. But if I think, “Well I guess she just didn’t see me, I better get out of her way” then I have no stress at all. Pretty simple, don’t you agree?

By the way, stress can really do a number on your health, your peace of mind, and your social life. So check out the book, and give stress one final kiss goodbye!

All the best,

Hank