Stress or Frustration – What’s the Difference?

Stress or Frustration – What’s the Difference?

Article Highlights

  • Stress vs Frustration and what they feel like
  • Stress helps us deal with immediate danger
  • The Sequence of the Stress Response is explained

A student of my stress management class asked me this excellent question: 

What’s the difference between stress and being frustrated? or is there one? I still kind of feel like they’re different things.

For example, I’ll feel frustrated or irritated that things aren’t going the way I’d like them to in an aspect of my life, or if I feel like I did something I wish I wouldn’t have.

But when I visualize stress, I feel it’s more like when I’m rushed or under pressure to do something while meeting certain criteria, or maybe if I don’t know what to do in a situation.

Any thoughts or advice on clarifying things?


Here’s my response:

That’s a very interesting question. I’ll try to explain my understanding of the differences between the two the best I can. What I think you’re wondering about are two different things: Stress and Frustration. Frustration is a feeling combined with a set of thoughts about something. Events happen, you interpret them in certain ways and the resulting feeling that you pinpoint is frustration. It might also be anxiety or overwhelm or panic or some other feeling. What you feel depends on how you interpret the event … always. These feelings don’t just happen to you. If that were possible, everyone who experiences the same situations would end up with the same feelings, but they don’t. So you think about something in a certain way and you end up with the feeling. Stress, on the other hand, is the physiological response (it’s a physical reaction) to a perceived threat. Our body systems can’t see what’s happening in the situations. They are just listening to the thoughts you’re having about things. If there is a sense of a threat, discomfort, or potential discomfort of any kind, the systems of your body (your circulatory, nervous, muscular, and endocrine systems) activate to help you become super-powerful, and super speedy because when they hear the message, from your thoughts, that you’re in danger, the only thing they know how to do to help you get out of the danger is to activate the fight-or-flight response. Stress is our body’s way of dealing with immediate danger.  So this is the sequence:Events happen –> You think about/interpret the event –> you have a feeling related to your thoughts/interpretations –> if you think there’s a possibility of danger or discomfort included in the thoughts and resulting feeling, you also activate the stress response.