07/30/2010 12:56 pm ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

The Myth of Stress

Mortgage payments, college tuition, traveling to work, parenting demands, relationship demands and taking care of your aging parents are only some of the factors that stress most people out -- to say nothing of a flat economy and job insecurity. Clearly, it is a stressful world. Or is it?

Andrew Bernstein, in his new book, "The Myth of Stress" (Simon & Schuster), offers stress relief by taking you through a simple, effective and revolutionary process that can help all of us get some stress relief. In fact, I found just speaking with Andrew, President of ActivInsight, to be stress-reducing, so I thought you would be happy to meet him.

Dr. W: What did you learn about stress from your parents?

AB: I learned from them (as well as from my teachers, friends and others) that stress is an inevitable part of life and that it comes from whatever challenges you're facing. This is what everyone believed (parents, teachers and therapists). It wasn't until much later that I realized that this is totally wrong, and that we had all fundamentally misunderstood the nature of stress.

Dr. W: What was your first stressful experience and how did you manage it?

AB: My parents' divorce when I was six was very stressful. I remember seeing a therapist until I was eight or so (this was New York City in the 1970s, so psychotherapy was the answer to everything). My father's death when I was 14 was even more stressful. But as a teenager, therapy didn't appeal to me anymore, so I started looking for answers on my own, exploring religion, Eastern and Western philosophy, logic, self-help practices and more. I became interested in understanding how my mind worked and how I could live happily again. Eventually I found out how--it wasn't what I had expected--and I wrote "The Myth of Stress" to share that with others.

Dr. W: What is the one myth about stress you want to shatter?

AB: The biggest myth about stress is that it's externally produced. Like the Earth being flat, it seems true, but it isn't. 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. It's not your job, your relationship, or your mother-in-law that stresses you out. It's your thoughts about these things. That's why there's no such thing as a stressor. Events don't cause stress. Thoughts do. This is a deeply seated myth, and it raises a slew of questions that we need time to sort through. But when people learn how to think differently about their challenges, instead of managing their stress over and over, they can start eliminating it, and that's what I teach.

Dr. W: Why do people find the same events, like getting fired, moving, death of a spouse to be "stressful." What is the common denominator?

AB: The common denominator for people who experience stress is that they believe that life should be different than it is, or that things aren't going to be okay. People who don't experience much stress take life at face value and focus on what they can do going forward. Under the hood, it comes down to a different level of insight. In a way, it's really just a skills gap. ActivInsight (the process I created) helps stressed-out people think the way non stressed-out people do, no matter what arises. But as with any skill, it takes practice, and we have to get some of the skepticism out of the way first by explaining a few things.

Dr. W: If you could tell the President to do one thing to reduce America's stress level, what would it be?

AB: I could say "create more jobs" or "send home the troops," but the reality is that even if he did this, most people would experience stress around other issues. We need external change, but we also need to learn how stress works. Stress is always an indication that there's something you're not seeing fully.

So if you're stressed out by Sarah Palin or Glenn Beck, for example, there's something you're missing. The same holds true if you're stressed out by President Obama's agenda. All this stress is a waste of energy. We live in a time when it's increasingly important to recover this energy, but the polarization of politics and the media is making it harder. I think the president gets this personally, but there isn't yet an effective way for him to shift it broadly. In the meantime, "The Myth of Stress" teaches people from both sides of the aisle how they can eliminate their stress and take action more intelligently.

Later in the day, I ordered five copies of "The Myth of Stress" to give to some of my close friends. I figure if they can manage their stress better, it will make my life less stressful! I suggest you do the same.

For more information about managing stress effectively, you can contact Andrew at

As the world's most interesting psychologist, manage your stress, my friend.