Expert Blog Compelling advice, stories, and thought-provoking perspectives straight from YourTango's lineup of Experts to you

Guess What! Stress ISN'T Real — You Create It, So You Can End It

couple on the beach

Let's break up with stress! Change your relationship with stress once and for all.

In my line of work, stress is a very common topic and crops up everywhere  from people’s day-to-day concerns over their career, finances, family relationships, down to body image and even what clothes to wear. According to the American Institute of  Stress, 44 percent of people are feeling more stressed than did five years ago, 3 out of 4 doctor visits are stress related, and it costs the nation $300 billion a year in lost productivity. Now, even these figures are 50 percent correct; that is HUGE issue.   

A fascinating thing to spot is that we have come to normalise low levels of stress.

We actually expect we should feel stressed during certain circumstances, e.g. building a business, moving house, parenting, and even Christmas lunch with the relatives! For some, it is almost worn as a merit badge of their commitment to success. Well, the good news is you can get what you want in life without having to go via the "stress is necessary" or "stress is inevitable" routes.

In the past, I used to have a range of models and techniques to help my clients deal with stress. As well as some "disruptive" NLP techniques which change the structure of thought, I would often share a cognitive model to offer options for what you can do to cope. An example of my old stress coping matrix is below.

The old and inaccurate way of dealing with stress:

Change the situation.      Change your reaction.

- Avoid the stressor.          - Accept the stressor.

- Alter the stressor.           - Adapt to the stressor.

So the idea was that you take the external thing creating your stress, and you either change the situation, or change your reaction.

I now approach it completely differently, at a much more fundamental level.

Earlier, I said you take the external event that is creating the stress. Spot the problem with that statement. Until a few years ago, I wouldn’t have bat an eyelid at that sentence. But it now stands out like a sore thumb because quite simply, external events don’t create stress (or any feelings for that matter). It truly does not work like that. It might look like that when we are in the middle of a stressful situation, and it is an excellent illusion, but it is completely inaccurate.

So how does it work? Very simply.

It all comes down to a very simple, yet profound principle that in any moment our feelings are only ever coming from our thinking and nowhere else. It is truly "inside-out." But we have normalised the "outside-in" illusion.

Once we truly realise how our psychological functioning works, in that nothing in the outside world determines our feelings, it has life-changing implications including how we relate to and deal with stress. There is no longer a need to avoid stress or alter your situation, as the stress doesn’t really exist. It is like thinking it would be a good idea to give your child better places to hide when they are scared watching the wicked witch on the TV show, rather than explaining the nature of TV.

But aren’t some things just inherently stressful?

Only if you engage in a personal narrative of thoughts that create stressful feelings. All our thoughts are formless, arbitrary and transient. They can appear and disappear in an instant. We all have an innate psychological immune system that works perfectly if we let it; the trouble is that most of society lives in a misunderstanding about how that system works.

Surely it isn’t that simple? 

Well at a psychological functioning level, it is  ask any two year old who throws a tantrum one minute and is smiling the next. Their stress is fleeting. So, why do we as adults give weight to stressful thoughts? Because we have normalised the idea that external events create stress and cannot see that it is an illusion. We believe external events are the source of our well-being, so we have a misunderstood need to control the outside world. Well-being and resilience are innate, and they are our default as human beings. The balance is disrupted when you get in the way by trying to use personal thought to control and manage your happiness.

So what is the answer?

Be open to the have a look at this for yourself with fresh eyes. Forget everything you know about how stress works. Look to see how much it's only your thinking that's creating your stress (and whatever you think you feel). Be open to see that sometimes the same stressful thing changes in how it feels. Now, when you start to see that is true, you will change your relationship to your thinking about stress.

If you want to know more, contact me on

This article was originally published at piers thurston. Reprinted with permission from the author.


Explore YourTango