Microstresses can feel small and brief in the moment, but as they add up, they may end up taking a bigger toll on your well-being than you realize.
Regular stress is easy to recognize. It’s big, universally acknowledged as challenges in life, and often sympathized with. It’s caused by events such as surviving a round of layoffs in your office or moving houses by yourself.
On the other hand, microstress is less obvious. It’s something you would normally refer to as a small bump in the road, if we even recognize it at all. It’s usually not some big event.
Microstresses seem fleeting and simple to deal with. Just another part of life that’s not even worth mentioning. It could be something as small as receiving multiple messages while you’re in a meeting or zoned in on your work.
Just seeing an individual who often vents with you or picking up some of your co-worker’s slack can trigger microstress.
These events on their own may not seem like a big deal, but as they accumulate, they can create larger consequences. They may even end up affecting others in your life as well.
The Sources and Effects of Microstress
Research conducted by Karen Dillon and Rob Cross for Harvard Business Review showed that microstress can come from 14 sources which belong in three categories.
Are you exhausted at the end of every day, but can’t quite put your finger in why? You might be suffering from microstress. It’s real and it’s debilitating! See my latest article with @RobCrossNetwork on @HarvardBiz https://t.co/NyEhzqgKKC
— Karen Dillon (@KarDillon) February 11, 2023
The first of these categories is “Microstresses that drain your capacity to get things done.” Many of these microstresses are rooted in our relationship with others.
Uncertainty in others’ reliability, behavior, and priorities makes it difficult to get through the day’s responsibilities.
Combined with a surge in responsibilities at work or at home, this leaves a person feeling completely drained by the time the day is over.
The second category is “Microstresses that deplete your emotional reserves.” These are factors that disrupt our inner well-being.
This often affects people who manage other employees. They feel responsible for everyone else’s success and well-being, to the point that it negatively impacts them.
Other factors include confrontational conversations, lack of trust in your network, and other people who spread stress.
Lastly, there are “Microstresses that challenge your identity.” These factors can attack your sense of self, causing you to lose motivation and purpose.
This can be triggered by having to pursue goals that aren’t in line with your personal values. This makes you question the person you really want to be, which can be an uncomfortable feeling.
Attacks on your sense of self-confidence, worth, or control are also a contributing factor, as well as negative interactions with friends or family.
This is why microstresses are often triggered by the people closest to you. As they are a part of your daily life, these can often go unnoticed.
Building your immunity to microstress will end up having you endure more of it. Instead, there are ways to remove some of them from your life.
You can prepare yourself to push back on microstress bit by bit.
By learning to say “no” to small tasks, managing distractions from your devices, and adjusting your relationships with people who cause microstress, you can counter the factors that affect your daily life.
While you’re at it, you can take a look at how you might be causing microstress to others. This will end up benefiting you as well, because the microstress won’t be bouncing back to you.
Finally, put these daily microstresses in perspective. If they’re not worth your time, let it roll off your back. Don’t let them swallow you whole, rise above them.
Instead of being consumed by work, find the time to involve yourself in other activities and groups you’re passionate about.
Being involved in other things outside of your microstressors will help put them in perspective. This will hopefully reduce the effect they have on you.
Banner image via Pexels by Tara Winstead.