Micro-pollution of the mind. How it causes negativity and poor performance

What are micro-stresses and how do they affect you?

Micro-stresses are the abundance of minor annoyances and small adversities we experience throughout the day. The driver who cuts you off in traffic, the colleague who slows down your time-sensitive assignment, the broken coffee machine that messes with your refreshment pause.

Each occurrence on it’s own does not seem like a big deal. It’s the accumulation that weighs on you like a stein-holding contest. Added up, they are a whole lot of straws resting on the proverbial camel’s back. They are often the reason we’re exhausted at the end of the day (in HBR. July 2020) or why we will snap at the most minor of inconveniences.

In this short read you will learn that micro-stresses only get to you if you let them and what you can do to develop a teflon-skin from which stressors just roll off.

Why “micro” and not “macro“?

While macro stress manifests more directly and instantly, micro stress will nibble at your subconscious over a prolonged period. Wearing you down bit by bit until you feel overwhelmed by the sheer weight of it all. Managing these micro stresses could be the key to unlocking a heightened sense of worth.

There are many facets to the world of micro-stress. One aspect is purely psychological: how we interpret actions, how we manage situations, and how we will dwell on minor irritations. The link between both is Emotion.

The salient stressors in the lives of most human beings today — at least in the industrialised world — are emotional. Just like laboratory animals unable to escape, people find themselves trapped in lifestyles and emotional patterns inimical to their health.

― Gabor Maté, When the Body Says No: The Cost of Hidden Stress

But this only represents half of the story. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle is also paramount to overall wellbeing. A healthy level of diet and exercise will have a doubling effect on mental health. These activities promote and maintain overall health and create a fulfilling feeling of achievement, which goes a long way when dealing with stress of any kind. 

The effects of stress on overall health

Stress plays a massive part in our overall mental welfare, but people often don’t acknowledge its effect on physical health. Many studies have proven stress to cause increased heart rate and blood pressure. It is estimated that stress negatively impacts the lives of up to 85% of the population, and 60-80% of all doctor visits are for stress-related ailments and complaints.

In strong cases, stress can manifest as panic attacks, paranoia and poor mental health along with a weakened immune system. And more frequently than you may realise, unmanaged stress can lead to physical burnout.

How to train yourself to deal with micro stress

The first step to dealing with micro-stress, is identifying and acknowledging its existence. Due to the sheer volume of micro-stresses, some studies claim that we are on the receiving end of between 20 and 30 micro-stressful situations on any given day. We can analyse these occurrences, determine the common factors and learn how and when to disengage when we encounter them. 

A helpful habit is to halt what you’re doing and gather yourself for a moment or just a few seconds. As micro-stresses impact our daily lives, then conversely, micro-affirmations can have a positive effect. Small pauses can have big impacts.

Engage in short activities that generally induce a calming effect on your personality. Everyone has their preferred method. Standard practices include listening to calming music, taking a walk, or practicing some simple breathing exercises.

The important factor is to take a break from what you are doing. If you work in an office environment, get away from that screen. Set a timer if you need to. Get up and stretch, take in some nature if possible, or talk to a friend—but avoid any topics that generally get you riled up.

Conclusion

Micro-stresses are NOT a genuine problem endemic to today’s society, even though it is impossible to prevent them altogether. The stress only arises within our SELF (after all the coffee machine is not stressed at all about it’s poor performance) and we can adopt several ways to avoid becoming overwhelmed.

Amongst those ways are mindful attitudes like kindness, acceptance and patience. Moreover, it is essential to respect and listen to your body, feelings and emotions: maintain a healthy diet, regularly engage in physical activities and work on getting a good night’s sleep. 

We no longer sense what is happening in our bodies and cannot therefore act in self-preserving ways. The physiology of stress eats away at our bodies not because it has outlived its usefulness but because we may no longer have the competence to recognise its signals.

― Gabor Maté, When the Body Says No: The Cost of Hidden Stress

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