Stress is something we all feel, every day. Sometimes it’s traumatic events like moving cities, starting or losing a job, getting married or divorced, or expecting a child. We understand that these events have an impact on us and on our well being. But it turns out that we might be doing more damage to ourselves with everyday activities that frustrate us. Are you suffering from micro stress?
Micro stress is the culmination of daily stressors over time. Things like being stuck in traffic, waiting for appointments, procrastinating on work that needs your attention, or the learning curve associated with new technologies. These may seem like minor annoyances at first, but can multiply to cause more serious problems. We already know that stress makes us more susceptible to both mental health and physical health conditions. The Journal of the American Medical Association estimates that roughly ¾ of primary care doctor visits are stress related. And OSHA now lists stress as a workplace hazard.
Not only is stress bad for our individual health, it is detrimental at the office as well. People dealing with stress tend to be less productive, less motivated, less collaborative, and more often make poor decisions. Not addressing stress, and specifically micro stressors can have negative consequences at the office including higher turnover and lower employee engagement.
A recent HBR article identifies 12 common “relational” drivers of stress that fall into three categories:
- Micro-stresses that drain your personal capacity (the time and energy you have available to handle life’s demands)
- Micro-stresses that deplete your emotional reserves
- Micro-stresses that challenge your identity and values
Interestingly, of the dozen drivers listed by HBR, many are out of your direct control. So what can you do to alleviate micro-stressors, especially when they are so minute that you may not notice them in the moment and they can be out of your control? They recommend three approaches to deal with this newly identified stress.
Isolate and act on just a couple micro-stressors
To make the process more manageable, narrow down the things that are bothering you. Once you take a step back, the cause of the stress can look a lot different. Your anxiety level will be lower and you can deal with it more effectively. “Micro-stressors create emotional build-up that needs to be released before you can think rationally about a constructive response. So the first step is to decompress — hit the pause button, close the laptop, and undertake an activity that is self-affirming and that absorbs you.”
Invest in relationships and activities that keep micro-stresses in perspective
Creating good habits with your diet, exercise, sleep, and mindfulness activities like meditation or journaling can help us deal with all levels of stress. One additional element to consider is an authentic, diverse, and broad set of connections. Consider making genuine connections in different areas of your life, “…athletic pursuits, volunteer work, civic or religious communities, book or dinner clubs, friends from the local community, and so on. Interactions in these spheres can broaden their identity and “open the aperture” on how they look at their lives. Key to riding above the sea of micro-stressors are relationships that generate a sense of purpose and meaning in our lives….”
Consciously distance from stress-creating people or activities
Some may think this is easier said than done, but taking a pause and considering if someone or something brings you joy or makes you feel drained is a surprisingly easy process. “Take a step back and evaluate the relationships in your life over which you have control. To be clear, stress-creating relationships are not just negative or toxic ones. They can be people that we enjoy spending time with, but that enable unproductive behaviors or those who routinely leave us stranded with work because they haven’t come through on what they promised.”
Becoming aware of micro-stressors is the best way to eliminate them from our lives. Many of us are unaware they exist, so we can’t do anything about them. Once we start looking, they seem very obvious and we can take steps to address them. If you or your employees need help addressing micro-stress at work and want to create a culture that eliminates them, let us know. Our executive recruiters have a focus on well-being and are interested in engaging with you to learn more about how you are making an impact with your employees.