Stress is not a Feeling

The winter is closing in on us, workload is rising and if someone asks: How are you?  The response is often: I’m Busy/Stressed.

The terms busy and stressed do get the point across: 

Please, don’t ask me to extend myself any further.

But, these words are inaccurate for how we are feeling. Stress is not an emotion, it is a situation. So within your situation, how are you?

As young children, we are generally taught that we must use our words to express how we feel, to be understood. Screaming and crying have emotions attached and we learn that there are words for crying in anger or fear, excitement or pain. Over time we build a vocabulary of feelings.

As we pass into adulthood, our feeling-words get usurped by doing-words. 

As a result, our temper tantrums come back in adult form and our frustration of being unheard heightens.

We call this stress.


There are a plethora of books, articles and techniques that speak to stress reduction, management and release – but within these tools, what does the word stress even mean?

In media and in medicine, the word stress is used as a blanket term for all the emotions associated with discomfort. We are uncomfortable because we have a feeling that is not being addressed.

In work/social situations, it may not be appropriate to disclose our intimate feelings, but if we don’t take some personal time to acknowledge the feeling beneath we can become lost within the how-to’s of stress management.

When a stress-busting technique doesn’t work for you, it likely means you have a different origin feeling than what the technique addresses.


To reiterate – stress is not a feeling; stress is the trigger for an emotion to rise. 

Emotions show up less controlled and stronger under stressors, so it serves us all to do a little preventative work. Find out which emotion is more likely to rear its head in your current life, and then practice the tools that suit it.

Listed below are the six general themes of emotion that come with stressors. As you read through, remember that there are at least 100 other variations of feeling words within these groupings that may be appropriate in a given situation.

The broad tools associated with each emotion can prove to be valuable, but the main purpose is to demonstrate how different the tools can be:

  • Anger – can release through safe, vigorous, physical expression.
  • Fear – can shift with forward planning & creativity through sound/music.
  • Shame – can dissipate through social connection & sharing stories.
  • Sorrow – can be supported with rhythm & ritual.
  • Confusion – Can be cleared with time in nature, meditation & mindful organization.
  • Inadequacy – can be strengthened through small steps & dealing with small disappointments.

There is no magic bullet for stress release, because stress isn’t what needs to be managed. We need tools for the tizzy of emotions that naturally arise during our experiences. There is no one tool for you, because there is not just one emotion in your life.

If you can identify what you are feeling, you can take the time to release it; otherwise we end up saying stressed, staying stressed, and blowing up or collapsing.

Saying what we feel is paramount in stress management. Our friends, co-workers and bosses can only be if help we can communicate clearly. It’s time we start using our words. Maybe it’s time we start learning new words.