How to stop micro-stress from ruining your day
For many of us, stress is an accepted part of daily life. In fact, the World Health Organisation refers to it as the “health epidemic of the 21 Century”1. The effect stress can have on your wellbeing is well documented and, according to H&H Group Scientific Affairs Associate, Pilar Gómez, it can manifest in ways such as poor immune system functioning2, altered metabolism3, and an adverse impact on mental health3, to name a few.
We can experience stress in many different forms. Most people will encounter a major event at some point in their lives, such as moving to a new house or a relationship breakdown, which can derail normality for a little while. Then there’s long-term stress like a high-pressure job or money worries. However, there is another – often overlooked – type of stress which is becoming known as “micro-stress”4.
Micro-stress encompasses the minor, everyday moments of stress, like losing your keys, being late for work, or functioning on a bad night’s sleep. These small-ticket items are often so insidious that you may not even be aware of their impact on you, but they all add up to create a detrimental effect on your wellbeing4.
To further compound the situation, because micro-stress triggers are often considered so minor, they tend to go unaddressed – after all, sitting in traffic jams every day is just a part of life, right? It’s ironic that we can put so much effort into addressing macro-stressors, when if we solved our micro-stressors, it would free up our emotional reserves to better manage the bigger challenges.
How, then, can we tackle the challenge of micro-stress? Here are some suggested steps you can consider:
The first step is to identify what our personal micro-stressors are. To do this, try spending a couple of days making a note of whenever you feel worried or anxious, and the cause of it. On one side of the page, write down each event or incident and next to it, describe your thoughts and feelings about it. Once you have your list, see if any patterns or themes emerge to determine where your micro-stress triggers lie.
Review your list and break it down into two separate columns – those stress-triggers which are within your control to a degree, and those which aren’t.
Events beyond your control
For things that aren’t avoidable (such as the colleague who constantly complains about their workload), look at your own response to them and consider how you can alter your reaction. Remind yourself that when these things happen, they are often beyond your control. For example, explore stress management techniques, such as breathing exercises, which you can employ when you feel your body’s response to stress starting to arise.
Events you can influence
Look at the events which are partly within your control and try to identify what leads to the trigger. Review your list and ask yourself questions on what you could have done differently in each scenario. Could you have prepared something in advance? Could you have communicated more clearly or earlier to those around you? Should you have said “no” to something, rather than “yes”? Is it even the case that you are being too critical of yourself? Think about what you could have done to change or reduce the situation.
Now that you’ve reviewed and considered the micro-stressors that you can influence, it’s time to draw up an action plan on how you can mitigate them. Perhaps you need a different morning routine to ensure you leave the house earlier and don’t get stuck in traffic, or you could set up a meeting with your manager to discuss how you can better manage a particular project. For most micro-stressors, a few small changes or actions can help alleviate the anxiety they create.
While you’re working through your plan to address stress, be mindful that there are steps you can take to help support your wellbeing and reduce its impact. Amongst the most well-known options, Pilar reminds us that getting enough good-quality sleep, exercising regularly, and consuming a healthy and balanced diet are all factors that could help manage stress2. You can also consider incorporating mindfulness practices5 into your routine, such as meditation, yoga or certain breathing techniques6.
Above all, the most important thing is not to ignore micro-stressors or to see them as simply “part of life”. They could build up to have a detrimental effect on your mental health, so it’s time to examine and address them to help you live better and more peacefully.
1. FINK, G. 2017. Stress: Concepts, Definition and History. Reference Module in Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Psychology. (https://www.researchgate.net/p...)
2. DHABHAR, F. S. 2018. The short-term stress response - Mother nature's mechanism for enhancing protection and performance under conditions of threat, challenge, and opportunity. Front Neuroendocrinol, 49, 175-192.
3. KYROU, I. & TSIGOS, C. 2009. Stress hormones: physiological stress and regulation of metabolism. Curr Opin Pharmacol, 9, 787-93.
4. CROSS, R., SINGER, J., DILLON, K. 2020. Don't let micro-stresses burn you out. Harvard Business review. (https://hbr.org/2020/07/dont-l...)
5. JANSSEN, M., HEERKENS, Y., KUIJER, W., VAN DER HEIJDEN, B. & ENGELS, J. 2018. Effects of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction on employees' mental health: A systematic review. PLoS One, 13, e0191332. (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/p...)
6. HOPPER, S. I., MURRAY, S. L., FERRARA, L. R. & SINGLETON, J. K. 2019. Effectiveness of diaphragmatic breathing for reducing physiological and psychological stress in adults: a quantitative systematic review. JBI Evidence Synthesis, 17, 1855-1876.