Train Loco Nation! Today we have an awesome and very informative interview with Andrew Bernstein, who is the owner and founder at resilienceacademy.com, a revolutionary online platform that makes break through personal and professional issues much more accessible. Andrew has been featured in Oprah’s magazine, ActivInsight, Merrill Lynch, General Electric, Johnson & Johnson, Google, Coca-Cola, and many other companies. He has also been featured in the CrossFit Journal, where you can see some of the world’s fittest men and women learning the dynamics of resilience. We thought it’d be great to pick his brain on how to manage stress since we are huge advocates on managing stress to perform better overall in your fitness journey. Without further ado, lets chat with Andrew.
– Chris and Eric
DDT: Could you give us a little background info on who Andrew is?
Andrew: I’m the author of The Myth of Stress and the founder of the Resilience Academy. Basically, I teach people a new way to understand how stress works and how to deal with challenges in life more effectively. This came out of my private interest in resolving challenges faster in my own life, and turned into something that is helping thousands of others through live workshops and virtual training at resilienceacademy.com.
DDT: Can you start off by telling us what stress is and how its developed into such a huge component in today’s society?
Andrew: Most people believe that stress is a byproduct of external circumstances, called stressors, and that the reason that we experience so much psychological and emotional stress today is because there are many more stressors to overcome than in the past. This concept of stress was first promoted by endocrinologist Hans Selye in the mid-20th century. It’s a very popular concept, and has been woven into stress management teachings around the world. It’s also wrong.
Stress is actually a byproduct of our thoughts about our circumstances, not our circumstances themselves. It begins with a specific kind of mental movement, which then produces emotional and physiological effects. As the pace of change has increased, these mental movements have increased too, so it’s true that stress has developed into a huge component in today’s society. But when you learn how stress really works and how to think differently, it becomes possible to live in today’s society — even with all the change taking place — with very little stress. Your mind becomes quieter, and you can address change around you from a very different perspective.
DDT: What got you inspired and into researching Stress?
Andrew: My initial interest was personal. When I was a teenager, my father and little sister passed away unexpectedly, and I sought out ways to work through my challenges. I continued to explore various processes throughout my twenties, and then when I was 30 I worked for self-help pioneer Byron Katie. She got me thinking more concretely about the nature of suffering and the centrality of mindset.
Eventually, I had an idea for another way of approaching mindset transformation. After leaving Katie’s company, I stumbled upon Hans Selye’s work, and realized that the father of the modern stress concept — the Johnny Appleseed of stress, so to speak — had made a mistake in his interpretations, and had taught his mistaken notion all over the world. So I kept digging into the research as a way to expose Selye’s error more fully so we can learn a better way to deal with stress in our lives. That ultimately led to my writing The Myth of Stress. Stress isn’t a myth, but the way we think it works is based on mythology.
DDT: How does stress affect overall health?
Andrew: If you experience a surge of stress-related hormones for a few seconds — such as during a life-threatening encounter — there’s no harm. It can actually improve your health because it gives you a survival advantage. This is typically referred to as the fight-or-flight response (or more recently the fight-flight-or-freeze response).
But when you experience stress for part of each day, every day, for weeks, months, or years, regretting the past, worrying about the future, or feeling frustrated with the way things are now, that’s a significant hormonal burden on your body. Hans Selye may have misunderstood how stress originated, but he was right in tracking the many ways in which stress hormones disrupt your health.
And just to be clear, I don’t consider stimulation and goal-setting part of stress. You want to maximize stimulation and goal-setting, but stress is something else. If you’re successful and stressed out, you’re succeeding in spite of your stress, not because of it. So we all want less stress for better health.
DDT: Can stress affect weight training, strength levels, and hypertrophy?
Andrew: The main stress hormones are cortisol and epinephrine (adrenaline). Both are catabolic, which means they will break down muscle tissue. So there can be a direct effect in your bloodstream on how stress levels influence your ability to get bigger or stronger.
But there are also indirect effects. People who are stressed out have a harder time making clear decisions, sticking to plans, sleeping well, eating properly, and remaining focused. Most people have no problem deciding to get in better shape, but a hard time carrying it out because they get derailed by issues at work or at home.
So learning how to deal with stress better gives your body and your mind the best chance of achieving your goals. Taking your stress to the gym is better than taking it to the refrigerator or the bar, but it’s still not ideal. A better way would be eliminating the stress first by shifting how you see your challenges and then going to the gym with a clear head.
People who are stressed out have a harder time making clear decisions, sticking to plans, sleeping well, eating properly, and remaining focused.
DDT: How can stress negatively impact one’s nutrition?
Andrew: Again, there are indirect and direct impacts. Hormone imbalance can produce cravings that make smart food choices harder. This is why when you’re stressed out, you’re more likely to fantasize about cheat meals. The accelerated metabolism you experience during stress can also lead to nutrient deficiencies. And if one way you deal with stress is to drink more alcohol, sleep less, or work out too much or too little, that can negatively impact your nutritional state as well.
DDT: What are some easy steps one can take to get back on track when under emotional stress?
Andrew: Part of the trouble with our society is we opt for quick fixes instead of underlying causes. Breathing, relaxation, and other stress management techniques are helpful, but they only temporarily address the effects of stress instead of permanently addressing the cause. I recommend that people serious about living happy and healthy lives learn to see through the myth of stress as externally produced, and begin to approach stress more intelligently. My book, The Myth of Stress, and the ResilienceAcademy.com site can help you get there.
DDT: What are your 5 “Go To” solutions to prevent and minimize stress?
Andrew: Sleeping well, eating right, exercising regularly, and spending quality time with people you care about are all good ways to minimize the effects of stress. But when it comes to minimizing the cause of stress, you would need to learn to think differently about relationships, money, success, family challenges, work issues, and other topics. That’s when mindset and resilience training become key. The better you get at this now, the less you’ll need it later.
DDT: What is the latest and greatest research on stress?
Andrew: I don’t follow current stress research too closely because I think it generally misses the forest for the trees. For example, let’s say that a researcher explores how certain parts of the prefrontal cortex in rats are affected by chronic stress. That’s interesting and it may relate to humans, but we have a much greater capacity for cognitive change. As long as we continue to define and confine stress research largely within Selye’s biological paradigm, I think we miss the boat on how to really help the majority of people live happier lives.
DDT: How do you see stress affecting society in the next 5 years?
Andrew: In the U.S., we’ll have a new president, and the odds are this will polarize the country even further. There are ongoing issues with climate change, gun rights, immigration, the size and role of government, gender equality, and wealth inequality. All of this means that, for most people, it’s likely that stress will continue to remain high, because most people are still ignorant of how to leverage their stress as a path to internal and external transformation. It’s as if we’re giving everyone a really challenging workout, but we haven’t trained them. For the people who recognize this, however, and are ready to develop elite mental fitness, the next five years can be a time of great growth and excitement.
DDT: What do you enjoy outside of researching stress?
Andrew: I don’t actually do stress research. I help business leaders and lay people learn a new tool to develop their resilience. When I’m not doing this, I relax with my wife and our 16-month-old daughter. I read. I play golf and see movies. And I work on ResilienceAcademy.com.
DDT: What is your favorite movie?
Andrew: Casablanca is my favorite classic. My favorite movie in theaters right now is Inside Out. I’m a big fan of Pixar.
DDT: Your favorite controlled-indulgence meal is______?
Andrew: I’ve been paleo/primal since 1998, and over the years the indulgence of choice has changed many times. Right now it’s summer in New England, and a good berry pie is hard to turn down.
DDT: What does Andrew like to do for fun? Please don’t hold back on us 😉
Andrew: I have what my wife and I call “projects.” One project right now is removing the drywall along a 30-foot hallway in our apartment and renovating the brick that was hiding behind it. Another project is learning about heart rate variability as a component of fitness. Things like that keep me on my toes. Also, did I mention I have a 16-month-old daughter? She’s the most fun thing in my life.
DDT: Where can our readers and supporters follow you and your work?
Andrew: The Myth of Stress just came out in paperback, and you can get it discounted to only $10 through Amazon.com. And if you go to ResilienceAcademy.com, the first training course (Resilience 101) is currently free, and will teach you how we’ve come to misunderstand the nature of stress and how stress really works. There’s also a Resilience Academy Facebook group if you have any questions. I hope to see you there.
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