A famous quote by the World Health Organisation says the stress is the health epidemic of the 21st Century. It can cumulate to a range of health problems. Thinking about what’s causing stress, majority of us think of loss, illness, or having too much on at work. However, the impact of the many smaller stressors that regularly occur can have an effect of slowly draining us. Insidious nature of micro-stress means we might gloss over or not even notice those stressors, even though we’re exposed to them every day.
Why am I writing about it? Talking to friends and clients I witness that management of micro-stress significantly improves wellbeing, and in turn the quality of Life. I also have through the years (e.g., having worked for short time at an incident control center, handling 24/7 alarms; raising two children:)) etc.) developed a level of resilience. It helps me to effectively manage not only macro but also micro-stress – and I want to share with you some tips how to do it.
As we are approaching New Year today, I want to share this article as
a reminder to decompress and remove some of the micro-stressors in Your beautiful Life!
What is a micro-stress?
Micro-stresses can be things as small or seemingly insignificant as having to open a door that constantly gets stuck, tense meetings, getting stuck in traffic. Even snoozing the alarm in the morning, daily news overdose, hearing criticism, smelling an unpleasant smell. We might not give much weight to these things, but they put us in a state of near-constant stress.
It’s like constantly having an app running in the background on your phone. You might not realize it, but sooner or later, it’s going to drain your battery. The more micro-stresses we experience, the lower our stress threshold becomes. We then become more likely to react in the way we later regret.
You can begin to address the issue once you’re aware of it. So what are the main drivers of micro-stress?
The causes of micro-stress
According to the Harvard Business Review, there are 12 main drivers of micro-stress, and these can be put into three main categories:
- Stresses that drain our personal capacity. These include unspoken tensions in your relationships with others. Common examples include unreliability of colleagues, friends or family members, the misalignment of roles, poor communication, erratic behaviours. You can cause this yourself by snoozing your morning alarm too many times, leaving too little time to prepare for an important event, or not fixing or replacing a faulty household item that you use every day. Or not having an organizer in your bag so you need to move every item in it before finding your home keys.
- Stresses that deplete our emotional reserves. Everything that harms us by creating a pattern of negative thinking or feeling. Confrontational conversations, distrust, feeling responsible for the success or happiness of people, interacting with negative people. Even and overdose of social media or daily news is in this category. All that can cause us to worry, feel afraid and unsure about the impact of our actions.
- Stresses that challenge our identity or values. That’s when criticism hits on your sense of self-confidence or worth, or when you feel forced to work on something that contradict your personal values. Could be also a colleague that leaves office WC or kitchen dirty, or that friend who gossips about others in front of you.
Research confirms that stress is cumulative! Lots of “micro-stresses” create big balls of anxiety and pressure which can harm both our physical and mental health. By becoming more aware of our individual micro-stresses, we’re in a much better place to deal with them. Protecting our wellbeing, boosing performance and enjoyment for our life and work. So what can we do with micro-stressors?
How to manage a micro-stress to boost your wellbeing
First thing I would like to highlight before giving any recommendations from my personal experience is that you need to recognize – you can be cause of other people’s and your own stressors too. For example, if you copy too many addressees on an e-mail chain when unnecessary, if you are constantly late to a meeting, lie, gossip. So when you reading my recommended steps to manage micro-stressors, please revise your values and actions towards other people+yourself as well.
Recommended steps to manage micro-stress thus improving your wellbeing
- Identify. Can you list the stressors affecting you? Go through the negative daily interactions or emotions, people you meet, things you see, touch, smell, wear during the day. What you read and follow. Try to consider this carefully, as these types of stressors are deeply, and often imperceptibly, embedded in our daily lives. In order to not stress out (!) and feel overwhelmed trying to manage every micro-stressor in life, start by identifying just a few micro-stressors to focus on. Map your stressors continuously as life goes on, once a month or whenever you feel it is needed.
- Isolate. Next time these few identified micro-stressors occur, the first thing you need to do is step back and decompress. If you’re working, take a break. If that is an unpleasant interaction or question, ask to come back to it later.
- Respond. Ask yourself more often: “Is this a place/person/thing that enables me to be and act as my best self?”, “What will happen if I do this later, when I feel ready?”, “What can I do now to not have this occurrence again?”.
- Act based on your values! Do not procrastinate. Dare to speak up to prevent similar from happening again in future. Clear communication and setting coherent expectations can really help. You can also check out some tips in my article about the power of saying “No” here.
- Declutter! I am committed to major decluttering practices at least once a quarter. That includes not only my wardrobe and other spaces at home, but also computer content, social media contacts, emotions I need to let go off, and the micro-stressors landscape. If you notice there are specific people or activities that cause you stress, disconnect and step back from them – and at the same time, strengthen connections with people who make you feel relaxed.
- Invest! Ultimately, the key to resilience from macro and micro-stress is to invest more in yourself. Having a sense of integrity, purpose and meaning in our lives can significantly reduce the harm micro-stress can cause. So give precedence to connections, relationships and interests you feel support you. Reserve enough time for activities that help to keep stress at bay by taking time to rest and restore yourself. This can include activities as meditation, running, reading, art, therapy. Also, prioritize a healthy diet and make sure to get enough sleep, and enough time for your dearest ones. Having these relationships will help you keep perspective on your problems so that you don’t get too worn down by them. Your wellbeing is much more important than completing an outstanding task, and you shall never prioritize it over our own health.
Sounds like a lot to do? Well, alignment, integrity and action is a key to success even in this area. None of these tips can magically change your life if you do not take persistent action yourself. The more you commit to invest in yourself the sweeter the return you get will be.