Stress or Frustration?

Many people feel stressed, or so they say. Very often though, what they feel is not stressed but frustrated. The response to those frustrations might resemble stress physiologically and psychologically, but the emotion they experience is frustration. Frustration is defined as follows by for example the Cambridge Dictionary:

“The feeling of being annoyed or less confident because you cannot achieve what you want; the fact that something prevents plans or efforts from being successful; disappointment or discouragement, or a discouraging situation.”

Within this context and definition one could then easily see how people could feel stressed when, in fact, they are actually frustrated. Frustrated with not being able to do what they need to get done in the way it should be done and as soon as it should be done. Naturally, this could lead to a stress response, but it is useful to consider the reason for any response, including a stress response, in order to deal with the cause rather than with the consequences.

With regards to resources, people mostly voice frustration with not having the resources they need or having the incorrect or insufficient resources to do what they are expected to do.

Often these frustrations come in the form of constraints at work. Some of the most common constraints people mention during resilience workshops and individual coaching and mentoring sessions relate to communication, equipment, tools, and supplies. In management and leadership, roles equipment and supplies could take on the shape of budgets as well as actual equipment, tools, and supplies. So perhaps it is better to use ‘resources’ as the collective term. People most often voice their frustration about no communication, unclear communication, miscommunication, inappropriate communication, interruptions, the means of communication, the amount of communication (too much or too little), etc. With regards to resources, people mostly voice frustration with not having the resources they need or having the incorrect or insufficient resources to do what they are expected to do.

Organizationally these are all fairly obvious and consistent sources of frustration; however, there is another level of frustration which applies more universally in life.

People generally feel frustrated because they are unfulfilled.

As a consequence, they attempt to find fulfilment through engaging in activities that will only give them satisfaction, happiness, and joy, but never fulfilment. The challenge with seeking fulfilment through activities leading to satisfaction, happiness, and joy is that they are all temporary and usually do not withstand many of the more serious challenges we may experience during our lifetime.

Many of us have engaged with goal setting activities, but have never aligned those goals with our purpose.

By way of illustration, one could argue that we feel satisfaction in our body; happiness in our mind and joy in our soul. Fulfilment, on the other hand, we don’t feel in any of those, but when what we do with our body, mind, and soul aligns with our purpose. Fulfilment we only experience when we align with our purpose. Many of us have engaged with goal setting activities, but have never aligned those goals with our purpose. That creates a false sense of accomplishment, and while things are going well, this may lead to satisfaction, happiness, and joy, but never reach a deeper level of fulfilment. We might also experience frustration when those goals are not met, and not actually because of the unmet goals, but because they don’t give us that sense of fulfilment. In other words, don’t be so preoccupied with your personal goals that you forget to fulfil your purpose.


Dr. Lehan Stemmet
Dr. Lehan Stemmet
Dr. Lehan Stemmet is deeply passionate about people reaching their full potential and through his work the negative impact of stress on this ability became obvious. Since then and for over 20 years Lehan has pursued his interest in how people deal with stress and challenges through what started as a personal project he called ‘Deal With It’. Lehan links his observations and experience over the years with some of the latest published research on stress and resilience, including his own research findings. He has been invited to present numerous talks, workshops, keynote presentations, and seminars to diverse audiences, including senior leaders in businesses from a range of industries, scientists, school and university students, etc. His work is published globally in mainstream business media, academic research articles, as well as book and encyclopedia chapters internationally. He is qualified in biochemistry, microbiology, organizational and experimental psychology and actively contributes to multidisciplinary research projects focusing on resilience, mental health, and technology to support health and wellbeing. Lehan has worked in and with organizations from several industries, including biotechnology, consumer electronics, banking, FMCG, manufacturing, security, logistics, and tertiary education. He has also held various senior management and leadership roles in many of these industries and has taught a range of undergraduate and postgraduate business courses, including to senior executives completing business masters’ degrees. Besides his leadership and research roles, Lehan actively engages with the business community globally and is an examiner and research supervisor for master’s and doctoral students. His latest book, “Deal With It – Do What Inspires” is available from Amazon.

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