(From The Washington Post) -- A Q&A with Andrew Bernstein, the author of The Myth of Stress and the founder of ActivInsight, an organization that helps employees and executives develop greater resilience and master change in the workplace. Bernstein was interviewed by Tom Fox, who writes the Washington Post’s Federal Coach blog and is the director of the Partnership for Public Service’s Center for Government Leadership.

Can you share tips for federal leaders on how to manage stress?

When you experience stress, recognize that this is coming from your own mind, not the world — and look for the belief triggering it. One way to do this is to identify the “should” in your thinking, such as “He shouldn’t have done that,” or “I should be in better shape.”

Next, gently try to see why — at this time — that belief may not be true in reality. Can you see the factors that have made it the way it is? Identify them. That’s why what happened happened. Learn to see and address these honestly instead of denying or blaming them.

At first, this is hard. You’re using mental muscles for the first time. The more you do it, the easier it becomes, and the more resilience and wisdom you develop. Then put this into action! We want people to take action, but from clarity instead of frustration.

Federal leaders are under enormous pressure with budgets cuts, hiring freezes and increasing workloads. Do you have any advice to help them cope with the stress of the job?


First, 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. Budget cuts don’t produce stress. It’s your thoughts about budget cuts that produce stress.

Here’s why that matters: Instead of learning to cope with or manage your stress, when you  recognize that stress is a reflection of your own thinking, a door that had long been closed opens up. Great performance doesn’t come from pushing through stress. It comes from transforming your thought process so that you can recover that wasted energy and approach your challenges from an entirely different perspective.

The idea isn’t to say, “Oh, it’s all in my thoughts. I have to be more positive.” This isn’t about becoming passive or accepting. I’m talking about a deeper change that requires greater accountability and a new skill set.

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