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.


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


Dipabhavan Meditation Centre, Koh Samui, Thailand
You might be interested in silent retreats to deepen and broaden your practice of mindfulness meditation, but can’t seem to push yourself for the usual routine.
10-Day retreats seems to be the standard lengths in buddhist terms with lots of temples and centers for example in Thailand offering exactly this or even longer retreats up to 21 Days.
Many practitioners find 10 days off work difficult to arrange on a regular let’s say annual basis – being constrained by limited annual leave, family commitments and let’s face it, not willing to be offline for ten consecutive days due to business demands and other responsibilities.
So you want to find shorter silent retreats in Asia, but expect the same “quality” as the 10-day ones. And by quality I mean: 24hr noble silence, insight meditation and guidance, rules and agenda aligned with buddhist values and principles (i.e. vegetarian food, donation based, simple accommodation).
The Insight Meditation Society (www.hkims.org) offers short retreats on Lantau Island here in Hong Kong. They usually split the participants into English and Cantonese groups. Get onto their mailing list to receive the latest updates!
Together with my wife I attended the 4-day silent Vipassana retreat at Dipabhavan Meditation Centre (link) on Koh Samui, Thailand. The Centre provides a clear standardized schedule and experienced guidance in English featuring mainly sitting and walking meditations and well presented Dharma talks – partially held by international monks.
Things that make us want to go back to attend their 7-day retreat next time are:
the tasty vegetarian food
the beautiful lush green location
the clear and easy organization (incl. pick up and drop off)
the talks with explicit references to latest neuroscience articles
the two units of daily yoga exercises
Note: This is not a luxury resort – there is very limited electricity and no running water and you will sleep on wooden planks under a mosquito net.
Tip: Go during low season – yes its slightly warmer – but you will benefit from smaller groups and hence easier handling of bathrooms, kitchen and meals and less distraction during
Transport: We found the flight times with Bangkok Airlines extremely convenient – and were happily surprised by their red rice meals onboard.

Brain Disease

Addiction – The Brain Disease. D. Carlson (2010).
Great book! Recommend it to clients.
It’s actually written for teenagers. Hence, hands on, concise and explicit:
“Addiction is dependency. It’s the fear that breeds pain, the fear of the loss of what we depend on, whether that’s a drug or a boyfriend or an achievement. This fear of loss, of not getting enough, then breeds anger. We get angry at who or what we depend on – the threat of loss can create great rage. …
Addiction is dependency, fear and anger.”
Moreover, Dale Carlson raises clear questions to ask yourself and make treatment very practical. Believe me, for many books I read, this is not the case.