What lurks behind your stress?

Miguel* is typical in that he uses the word “stress” as a place holder for what he’s feeling – because he doesn’t have the language to apply to what he’s actually feeling. Many (most?) of us as young kids aren’t taught to identify and articulate our emotions, so we grow up frozen in a form of emotional illiteracy. Because we aren’t able to define how we feel, many of us end up relying on a general term like stress.

But what exactly is stress?

Stress is not a single emotion, but rather a complex interplay of various emotions. Without understanding what we’re feeling and why we’re feeling it, the emotions “embedded” in stress can be hard to disentangle and identify. So we end up using “stress” as a blanket term, which simplifies communication (“I am so stressed, I am stressed all the time!”) and lets us convey to others the general nature of our experiences without being specific. But, of course, we don’t have the skill to be specific if we don’t know what we’re feeling anyway!

But to truly understand why we’re so “stressed” and address it, we need to connect with the underlying issues that keep us on this treadmill of feeling pressured and defeated. And in order to do that, it’s pivotal that we are able to identify what we’re feeling at any given time.

Here are some key emotions that contribute to the experience of stress:

  • Anxiety: This is the most common component of stress – characterized by feelings of worry, nervousness, and fear. Anxiety can stem from uncertainty about future events or outcomes. 
  • Anger: Frustration and irritation are forms of anger that often feed into pressured situations. This anger can be directed toward oneself, others, or circumstances beyond your control. When faced with obstacles that seem insurmountable or when efforts to overcome challenges are thwarted, frustration is a common emotional response.
  • Sadness: Prolonged anxiety and frustration can spiral into feelings of sadness or even depression, deepening this feeling of “stress”.
  • Overwhelm: Overwhelm is a hallmark of feeling “stressed” – where a person believes that the demands placed upon them exceed their capacity to cope.

But the good news is that you don’t have to live this way. Enhancing your emotional awareness can help you better understand and manage “stress”.  In fact, at some point, when you have a firmer grip on knowing what you’re feeling, you may not even use the word “stress” anymore, opting instead for explaining the real reason(s) you’re upset: “I was overcome with anxiety because of those tests I had to take,” or “I find that I get really frustrated when I get stuck in traffic!”

How to enhance your emotional awareness

Here are some strategies to improve emotional literacy:

  • Emotional Vocabulary: As I mentioned, I’m a cheerleader for expanding one’s emotional vocabulary, which can immensely improve emotional awareness and expression and strengthen the communications in your relationships. You do this by learning about the different emotions and their nuances. I will soon have an online course for you to experience and experiment how this can improve your life.
  • Practices: Engaging in active and expressive practices along with various breathing techniques can help you become more aware of your emotional states. For starters, I invite you to try this one that will help you get in touch with what you’re feeling.
  • Journaling: Writing about your experiences and emotions can help identify and articulate specific feelings. I offer a journal (for free) that will lead you through this. I created it to go hand-in-hand with microdosing psilocybin but you can use it without the plant medicine as well.
  • Therapy, coaching and counseling: Professional help can provide tools and techniques for recognizing and dealing with emotions more effectively. I offer 1-to-1 sessions if you like the idea of focused and private guidance.

By enhancing our understanding of emotions, we can learn to navigate our upsets and improve our overall well-being, which is crucial to leading a healthier, more balanced life.

I’d love to know where you stand in mastering your emotions and what you’ve done to cultivate emotional resilience and balance in your life. Drop down to the comments section – as your journey and strategies could be incredibly inspiring and helpful for others.

With Love,


P.S. I’ve created an emotions quiz so you can gauge your emotional awareness. Wherever you land on the emotional awareness scale, rest assured you can improve.

*not his real name

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