While completing my Master’s degree a college professor made a bold statement to our class. He very directly said “There is no such thing as stress. Stress is a made up word. In order to combat it, you must call it what it is – Low-grade fear. If you recognize it for what it is, you can do something about it.”

I have pondered that statement for a number of years and for me it holds more and more truth the longer I consider it. Stress is low-grade fear and I can only do something about it if I stop and recognize my fear. For instance, if I am “stressed” over a particular project that I am managing, the truth is I am fearful the project will fail. I am fearful that I will be blamed; I am fearful that I made bad decisions; I am fearful that …

The physical response is the same no matter if you call it stress or fear, but for me I respond differently. Stress is something out there that is done to me and I have no control over. Fear is something I can make a decision about. Fear is something I can combat. Fear is something I can control.

Once I recognize the object of my low-grade fear I can better adapt and attack the object of my “stress”. Of course there are somethings that are out of my control and I cannot affect, but once I accurately recognize that, I can set it aside and do the best job that I can. Recognizing the fear factor in stress allows me to sleep well at night knowing that I made the best decisions I could make.

Organizations suffer from low-grade fear also. Organizations have a culture and a personality. Leaders within that organization can alleviate fear (and stress) by recognizing the objects of fear and making strategic decisions to combat and attack those fears. Every organization has its own set of fears. Strategic leaders will seek out those fears within the culture of an organization and eliminate or at least minimize those fears. A well defined strategic plan with a vision of what the organization wants to be in the future. Looking at the fears strategically will allow the entire organization to recognize the fear for what it is.

1) Something I have no control over

2) An issue that needs to be addressed

Those two options exist for every “stress” that faces an individual or an organization. Once it is faced and dealt with, it no longer is a fear and the “stress” is gone.