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Stop Clumping
Feeling a lot of stress in your life? Try going granular

by Jeff Haden / © 2022, Mansueto Ventures, LLC. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC


Studies show approximately four in five people say they experience stress at work. Half say stress negatively affects their behavior. And over 75% say stress results in headaches, fatigue and problems sleeping. Clearly, stress is a problem.

  So is how we tend to think about stress. Ask someone why they feel stressed, and they’ll often provide a list: issues with their job, problems in their personal life, concerns about their health and so on.

  Most people don’t stress over just one thing because most people can deal with one thing. Those “one things” are what psychologists call granular emotions. Unlike a general feeling of being stressed, a granular emotion is a specific feeling like fear, worry or anxiety.

  Pile them all up, though—your worries, frustrations and fears—and granular emotions tend to feel more global.

  That’s what psychologists call clumping: perceiving emotions broadly rather than specifically.

And that’s a huge problem because research shows that the more specifically you identify an emotion—the more granular you make it—the better.


Granular versus clumping

  As Marc Brackett writes in Permission to Feel: The Power of Emotional Intelligence to Achieve Well-Being and Success:

Participants who were deemed granular were better able to differentiate their emotional experiences. Subjects who were low in granularity—called clumpers—were less skilled at differentiating emotions (e.g., angry, worried, frustrated).

  When the two groups were compared, … granular individuals were less likely to freak out ... when under stress and more likely to find positive meaning in negative experiences. They also were better at emotion regulation—moderating their responses in order to achieve desired outcomes.

  The clumpers, on the other hand, scored worse on those counts, tending to be physically and psychologically ill at a higher rate than the granular crowd.

  While it might sound odd—especially since we’re often told not to dwell on our emotions—taking the time to think about the reasons why you feel the way you feel helps you better deal with that emotion.


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