Umbrella Terms

Time for a pop quiz!

Take some time to consider when you have recently asked or been asked “how are you” and have heard or delivered the following answer(s):

I am just so busy

Things are a bit stressful right now

I am feeling pretty tired

Everything is just fine! (Even when it isn’t).

Don’t worry, we are not doing a research study based on your responses!  But it gives pause to consider how we answer the question “how are you” or “how do you feel” and what language we use habitually to describe our lives.  So often, we use what I call “umbrella” language to narrate our current emotional states.  If we consider the above “quiz” we can see that the terms busy, stressed, tired and fine do not tell us a lot about how someone is really feeling.  We just know that things are either bad or good and respond accordingly.  We tend to collude (e.g., “yes, I am so busy myself, life just never stops!”), curtail (e.g., “it’s not so bad, chin up!”) or compete (e.g., “you think you’re tired! The kids/cats/neighbours had me up 5 times last night!”).  For many of us, umbrella descriptions do not set the stage for the empathy we need and want and worse yet, steal from our own capacity to understand what is really going on.


Take “busy” as the umbrella term.   What does “busy” mean?  Chances are that it means different things to different people but there is a specific cultural conversation that busy implies hard working, self-sacrificing and trying one’s best.  If we look at it this way, of course being busy would be an admirable state of being. But as we all know, being too busy or overwhelmed with busyness can lead to exhaustion.


And exhaustion is in the press of late.  A recent article by Alex Van Tol ( speaks to this and includes a local athlete and doctor weighing in on the subject.  Their advice?

  1. Schedule unscheduled time
  2. Fully and completely accept yourself
  3. Take responsibility for you’re eating
  4. To take sleep seriously
  5. To be mindful of self talk
  6. To slow down
  7. To let go
  8. And to be mindful

Sounds good to me.  Other things I suggest people do for defaulting to busy, stressed and tired as descriptors of their lives is:

  1. Have a full physical with your GP and be honest about the stressors in your life. Get your iron checked – low ferratin levels can cause you to be tired, confused and/or irritable
  2. Practice saying no more often – you cannot give out of an empty cup!
  3. Enlist support – end the tyranny of “fine” and solicit help from friends, family, neighbours. If you are a family caregiver we especially recommend connecting with
  4. And if you are not too tired, also check out this interview by the author of Exhaustion: A History (

If we look under the umbrella terms, what might we notice?  Does the umbrella term of “stressed out” mean other things like “I need a listening ear” or “I need more help with parenting” or “I need to feel heard and/or validated”?  Does the umbrella term of  “I’m so busy” mean “please help me cope” or “I’ve taken on too much and am afraid of burning out”? (For an excellent discussion on the distinction between stress and burnout, see    What do our umbrella terms mean? And how might they be translated so others can understand their nuances and respond in the ways we need?

We would be happy to assist you in skills to get underneath your umbrella terms and tap into what is really going on.

Sincerely, Cole and the IFCC family

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *