The real Truth about Stress (Or, Why bubble baths might get you clean, but they aren’t going to cure your stress)

I was on my local news last week talking about stress. The truth about stress, actually. vintage-bubble-bath-beauty

It was a little risky.

You know how local news stations love to run stories about coping with stress and raising your stress tolerance?

Well, I was sitting down with the health reporter who reports on those things, telling her that coping with stress didn’t work and that a lower stress tolerance was far better than a higher one.

I’m not sure how much of that I was actually able to say in our live interview, but here are some of the points I tried to make:

1. Circumstances such as jobs or other people are not inherently stressful. Stress is always created internally, by your thinking

Although we all say things like, “This job stresses me out” or “Living in the city is more stressful than living in the country”, those are not accurate statements.

Stress does not come from jobs or people or places; it is always created within us, by our thinking about those things. We experience our own stressful thinking and then pin it on our environment.

Intellectually we can see that this is true, because we’ve all experienced moments of calm in a traffic jam and moments of stress on vacation.  It can’t be the situation; it’s what’s going on in our heads.

So the first step is to know that there is no such thing as stress; there is only stressful thinking.

2. Coping with stress is not the answer

When we believe stress comes from things “out there”, we only have two options: change our circumstances—change jobs, move to the country—or to learn “coping skills” which are often things like exercise, meditation, or deep breathing.

But those don’t always work. We can’t always change our circumstances (at least not easily). And coping mechanisms don’t always do much or the effects are very short-lived. As soon as the yoga class is over, you’re back to stressing out.

Rather than trying to cope with stress as if it’s inherent in life, see that stress is coming from your own thinking. Just seeing that truth tends to go very far because suddenly you’re not scrambling to rearrange the outside world or wracking your brain to cope with it. You’re not stuck trying to figure out how to make your job less stressful, or planning to leave for a less stressful one, or saving money to go on more vacations to relieve your stress. Just giving those things up relieves a ton of stress.

When you feel stress, recognize that you’re caught up in a thought storm and just wait. All storms pass, even thought storms. The slate will wipe clean and your thoughts will change when you see that your thoughts are responsible for your pain to begin with.

Rather than trying to throw a band-aid on your stress by applying some coping mechanism, wait and give your mind a chance to stop creating the stress altogether.

3. The lower your tolerance for stress, the better

It’s really kind of backward to say that being able to handle a lot of stress is a good thing. You’re going to experience as much stress as you can tolerate. And given that you’re creating it to begin with, it doesn’t make sense to try to tolerate more. That’s exactly how people end up with stress-related illnesses.

Instead, it’s actually a good thing to be sensitive to stress. Feel the effects of stressful thinking as early and as often as you can and don’t just push them away or muscle through them, but recognize that your current thinking is creating them and let up on that thinking a bit.

Our thoughts are like the RPM meter on a car. When we’re in the middle of a thought storm, we have our foot on the gas and we’re revving up the RPM, creating a lot of fast and furious thoughts.

Although it’s very natural to say, “how do I apply the brake?!?”, we don’t even have to apply the brake. Even that is more work than we need to do. Human beings are unbelievably resilient—all you have to do is let up on the gas and you’ll return to a more peaceful set point.

See the truth about the origin of stress, and let up on the gas.


If you want to know more about stress, Richard Carlson’s book Easier Than You Think is a great resource.

And about the alternate title…bubble baths can actually be great stress relievers, but only because you tend to not hit the gas and rev those RPMs so much during a bubble bath. Soak to your heart’s content but know that you can let your foot off the gas anywhere at anytime, no bubbles necessary.

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