Practical Advice for Dealing with Micro-Stresses

You've probably acclimated to micro-stressors in your life and consider them to be "normal". It doesn't have to be that way. Read on to break the cycle.

stack of books with caption of "required reading | curated article + yogiconomist commentary"


I'll admit it. "Micro-stresses" is a term that was new to me. But holy cow does it hit home.

This HBR article on micro-stresses and burnout is my absolute new favorite article. It summarizes things I knew on some level but never tried to articulate to myself.

And that lack of specificity routinely caused additional stress -- no big stressful events happened today so why am I drained?
  • "Stress comes to us all in tiny little assaults throughout our day..."
  • "The volume, diversity, and velocity of relational touch points (the way we routinely communicate and collaborate with others) we all experience in a typical day is beyond anything we have seen in history...".

Researchers categorize micro-stresses as those that:

  1. drain your personal capacity (time and energy) for handling life’s demands
  2. deplete your emotional reserves
  3. challenge your identity and values.
The article contains a legitimately helpful worksheet to help you assess the micro-stresses in your life across 12 areas (e.g., poor communication norms, unpredictable behavior from others) and 6 kinds of relationships (e.g., boss, peers, loved ones).

Normally, it can be helpful to talk about stressful events with others. This often helps us move past them. But as the article points out, you can easily encounter 20-30 micro-stresses per day! No one's got time to debrief that much and still get anything done.

So what to do? The article recommends identifying just 2-3 micro-stresses and focus on mitigating them.

It also recommends distancing yourself from people or activities that cause you stress (which I find to be unhelpful advice as it is often not practical in the workplace) and to keep things in perspective (which may be helpful if you blow things out of proportion but to me undercuts the argument of micro-stresses in the first place --- which is basically like if only one happened per day then it wouldn't be a big deal but because 20-30 happen, it is the cumulative effect that gets to you).

Homework:

  • Read the article, fill out the worksheet, and identify the 2-3 micro-stresses you want to work with.
  • Brainstorm a list of ideas to mitigate them.
  • Debrief your list with a trusted person and come up with an experiment you'd like to try this week when you experience a micro-stress.