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What is Micro-Stress?

Stress, dubbed the “health epidemic of the 21st Century”, is something we all experience on a regular basis. When we think about the causes of our stress we tend to focus on the bigger issues; financial issues, ill-health or having a heavy workload. The smaller stressors often go unnoticed even though we face them every day. Micro-stressors are small moments of stress that are manageable on their own. But these small moments add up to create a bigger problem. Here we will go through the causes and dangers of micro-stress.

The Causes of Micro-Stress

There are twelve main causes of micro-stress which can be broken down into three core categories:

· Stresses which drain our personal capacity

· Stresses which deplete our emotional reserves

· Stresses that challenge our identity or values

Micro-stressors that drain us in a personal capacity include often unspoken tensions in the ways we work with others, especially when someone is creating more work for you or is blocking your ability to complete your tasks. This may look like someone who doesn’t deliver their work reliably, a misalignment of roles or priorities, poor communication, erratic behaviour from a leader, and an increase in your own responsibilities.

The stressors which deplete our emotional reserves cause harm by creating a pattern of negative thinking. They cause us to worry about those we care about, lose confidence in our own abilities and the impact of our actions, fear any kind of repercussions, or simply feel drained by a specific type of communication. Examples of these stressors include confrontational conversations, distrust in your connections or relationships, feeling responsible for the happiness of others, or interacting with negative people.

The last set of micro-stressors involve interactions which challenge our sense of self or undercut our values. This tension can become extremely emotionally exhausting. These stressors can come from someone damaging your self-confidence, worth or control, feeling forced to pursue objectives which go against your values, and disturbances within your work or social life.

The Dangers of Micro-Stressors

Micro-stressors often appear to be small and insignificant – such as getting stuck in traffic on your way to work, coming home to a messy house, hearing criticism about yourself or your work. The fact that we don't recognise micro-stressors is exactly what makes it so dangerous. Between 60%-80% of all doctor visits are for stress-related disorders.

Though we may not pay attention to these incidents, they put our brains and bodies into a near-constant state of stress. Not only does stress interfere with our mental health, but it can lead to burnout and a whole host of serious physical health problems as well. Like when you forget about an app on your phone running in the background; you may not notice it, but it will drain your battery.

The more micro-stressors we experience, the lower our stress threshold becomes. As this threshold lowers, we become more susceptible to negative and destructive mindsets and behaviours; being quick to anger, feeling overly anxious and even experiencing depression.

If you relate to anything discussed above, you may be realizing the effect micro-stress has on your daily life. Check out the companion piece to this article: “How to Manage Micro-Stressors” which discusses the three steps you can take to manage your micro-stressors.


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