I came across a great book, “The Myth of Stress” by Andrew Bernstein. He challenges the concept that stress is “occuring in response to adverse external influences” . We have been trained to accept that certain situations and events in life are inherently stressful:
- traffic jams
- death of a loved one
Holmes and Rahe even developed a scale that lists all the stressful events in order of their magnitude starting with “death of spouse” and ending with “minor violations of the law, e.g. parking infringement”.
However when we examine this assumption closer, as Bernstein did, we find that people respond differently to different situations and events. When I ask : “What makes you feel stressed?” during a Mini-Retreat workshop, the answers vary greatly:
- finding funding for the organization
- a screechy chair
- people coming into my office
- dirty, unorganized house
- certain people
As people share what makes them feel stressed, others usually disagree. The person who felt stressed by finding funding could not understand how someone could feel stressed when hearing a screechy chair. However, when we follow Bernstein’s explanatory path, these differences make a lot of sense. “People can be exposed to the exact same circumstances (such as public speaking) and have very different experiences. One person might have a belief that this is a dangerous situation, which leads to […] stress, another person believing it’s an opportunity, would be unfazed and another might even find the situation enjoyable.”
Bernstein asserts that stress isn’t caused by the event itself but by our thoughts about the event or situation and especially by our “counterfactual” thoughts, such as:
“There shouldn’t be so much traffic.”
“There should be more funding.”
“He shouldn’t have done/said that.”
“I should weigh less.”
“Chairs shouldn’t be screechy.”
When you believe these thoughts strongly, they create an emotional negative response such as anger, frustration, resentment, anxiety, helplessness, hopelessness, sadness or worries. In short you feel stressed by this belief.
Bernstein has developed a process that helps you challenge the beliefs that are causing you stress and gain insights that help you expand your thinking and let go of the limiting beliefs . Through his process you can reach a state of feeling less stressed and more at choice.