The Myth of Stress: Where Stress Really Comes From and How to Live a Hby Andrew Bernstein
Where does stress come from? Financial pressures? Looming deadlines? Conflicts at work or at home? For more than half a century, we’ve been told that stress comes from circumstances like these, that it’s a by-product of our ancestors’ fight-or-flight response to danger, and that the best we can do, given the fast pace of life today, is to breathe, try to relax, and accept that life is hard.
All of this, according to Andrew Bernstein, is wrong. Spurred by the death of several family members when he was young, Bernstein began a quest to understand the real dynamics of stress and resilience. He eventually realized that stress doesn’t come from your circumstances—it comes from your thoughts about your circumstances. More specifically, stress is created by a particular kind of thought that humans happen to excel at.
Seeing this, Bernstein realized that the antidote to stress—and the key to far greater resilience—is not exercise or physical relaxation, but finding these stress-producing thoughts and finally dismantling them. He created a process called ActivInsight that helps you—and the people you care about—do this on your own in just seven steps, often yielding life-changing breakthroughs in a matter of minutes.
Bernstein has been teaching ActivInsight to great acclaim in schools, not-for-profits, and Fortune 500 companies since 2004. Now he shares this technique for the first time with a wider audience. In The Myth of Stress, you will experience the surprising power of this new approach for yourself as you apply ActivInsight to a wide variety of today’s most common challenges, including:
weight loss • money • success interpersonal conflict • addiction • traffic • divorce • heartbreak • discrimination • anger uncertainty about the future • loss of a loved one • and more
With compassion, intelligence, and humor, The Myth of Stress offers a complete reeducation in the nature of stress, permanently changing the way you relate to challenges—at school, at work, and at home—in order to live a happier and healthier life.
Aaron T. Beck, M.D., founder of Cognitive Therapy
"The Myth of Stress is a compelling, compassionate book about our suffering when we fight reality and the transformation that is possible when we don't. I loved it."
Geneen Roth, author of When Food Is Love and Women, Food, and God
"Andrew Bernstein has brought some much needed common sense to the subject of stress and that alone makes this book a winner."
Caroline Myss, author of Defy Gravity and Invisible Acts of Power
"We often think we have to avoid or reduce stress. The Myth of Stress teaches you not to “manage stress” but to root out the very causes of stress, the tangled thinking that keeps you stuck in the belief the world has to change for you to be happy. Andrew Bernstein guides us through a way to untangle those thoughts and be free. Read this book and it will change your life and you will find your happiness will depend on only one thing – YOU."
Mark Hyman, MD, New York Times best-selling author of The UltraMind Solution
"Bernstein has created a wonderful, accessible how-to manual for regular people wanting to feel better. This WORKS!"
Kathleen DesMaisons, Ph.D., author of Potatoes Not Prozac
"Hans Selye's theory of stress as a fight-or-flight response is wrong and overrated, according to Bernstein, originator of ActivInsight, a cognitive method for identifying, understanding, and transforming stress. Bernstein asserts that stress originates in thoughts and beliefs, but he concedes that it has long-term physical and mental effects. Using the worksheet process adapted from his mentor Bryon Katie, Bernstein formulated ActivInsight, a seven-step stress-reduction program he has taught in seminars to corporations and nonprofit organizations. While acknowledging similarities to positive thinking, Bernstein envisions ActivInsight as working not just by replacing stressful ideas, but by subtracting the underlying negative beliefs. In the book's second half, Bernstein guides readers in applying ActivInsight to 12 common challenges ranging from anger, heartbreak, and money problems to fear of dying. By the end, readers should be able to apply ActivInsight to their own problems, though Bernstein admits that some issues may need more than a single work-sheet session. An online self-help platform with downloadable work sheets, tutorials, and email connections will be launched upon publication. VERDICT An easy-to-learn method for addressing issues underlying stress, best suited for the workbook crowd and believers in cognitive-behavioral therapy." Library Journal
"Look out Anthony Robbins, move over Deepak Chopra, there’s a quiet storm moving up through this state and beyond. His name is Andrew Bernstein... He’s an intelligent, calm, and soft-spoken person who uses reason and logic to quiet the mind." Vision Magazine
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Read an Excerpt
In part 2, we’re going to work together on twelve commonly stressful issues, including money, success, interpersonal conflict, weight loss, and more. As we go forward, it’s helpful if you think of ActivInsight as a kind of exercise program. Instead of losing physical weight, though, you’ll be losing mental weight. And instead of building physical flexibility, you’re going to build your mental flexibility and resilience.
In a physical exercise program, you don’t do every exercise at once. The same applies here. The best way to get value from part 2 is to do one chapter at a time, pausing to integrate and reflect on each exercise. Try to do at least three chapters a week (though if you feel able to move faster, go ahead). We’ll start with fairly easy topics and build to harder ones as we go along. It’s important that you not skip ahead. The topics are arranged in order so that by the time we get to the harder topics, you’re ready for them.
Some people have breakthroughs from the very first worksheet, but for others the initial attempts can sometimes lead to a disappointing sense that what we’re doing is just playing with words in our heads and justifying people’s behaviors. This is not the case. Continuing with the sports analogy, think of the first time you tried to ride a bike and fell, or the first time you swung at a golf ball and missed completely. ActivInsight is a skill, and like any skill, some people take to it right away, but most need a little more time to feel that they’re truly getting it. If you keep practicing and sincerely work through each topic in the pages ahead, the steps of ActivInsight will make more and more sense, you’ll get better at them, and you’ll soon notice profound changes taking place in your thought process and, even more important, in your life.
We’re going to prove that all the saber-toothed tigers or stressors in your life were never really out there. They were in here, in your head. But they don’t look like tigers. Here is what they really look like for the typical stressed-out person:
Stress is a by-product of contracted thoughts. You can’t see these thoughts, but you can certainly feel them in your mind and in your body. They may seem to disappear when you exercise, have a drink, get a massage, or think positively, but they remain in place deeper in the mind. Like weeds cut just at the surface, their roots remain intact, so they soon reemerge. With ActivInsight, we go for the roots.
In the chapters that follow, we’re going to explore all the topics in that head above, using the same seven steps for each topic. If this seems repetitive, that’s because it is. Every time you experience stress, your mind is doing the same thing—it’s contracting away from reality in the same way. Consequently, every time you do ActivInsight, you reconnect your mind to reality in the same way. ActivInsight is repetitive by design. Give yourself time between worksheets so that you can refresh your energy and remind yourself of your goal—less stress, greater insight, and a happier life.
For our first topic, we’ll tackle something that isn’t too threatening but is still stressful for millions of people around the world. Print out a worksheet, get a pen, and buckle your seat belt. We’re heading into traffic.
© 2010 Andrew J. Bernstein
Meet the Author
Andrew Bernstein is the founder of ActivInsight, a process that is rapidly changing the way individuals and organizations around the world understand stress and resilience. His clients include Johnson & Johnson, MTV Networks, WPP, Merrill Lynch, Coca-Cola, Genentech, Goldman Sachs, 20th Century Fox, Morgan Stanley, Citigroup, and Wachovia, as well as nonprofits like Phoenix House and City Year. Bernstein teaches in the Executive Education division at the Wharton School. He graduated from Johns Hopkins University, and lives in New York City. More information is available at www.mythofstress.com.
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