‘Microstresses’ can cause major health issues

We all experience “microstresses,” some of us more than others: bumps in the road of our lives so small and brief that we barely register them. Not like macro stresses, such as racing your birthing wife to the hospital and having your car break down or seeing the bridge ahead has washed out.

But while micro stresses may seem harmless individually, cumulatively they can sap our energy and damage our physical and emotional health, warn three U.S. researchers.

In an article in the Harvard Business Review, based on research on 300 “high performers” in multinational organizations and a global sample of more than 11,000 people, the three – Rob Cross, Karen Dillon and Kevin Martin – lay out ways to identify the sources of your microstresses and lessen their effect.

Cross and Dillon are co-authors of the recent book “The Microstress Effect: How Little Things Pile Up and Create Big Problems – and What to Do About It.”

Here are three of the ways the researchers recommend to get your microstress under control:

1. Start with little things

It’s best to begin by addressing one small microstressor a week, the researchers said. If you feel you can’t fully trust your co-workers, for example, you could have a friendly chat about what you’re all working on that week, and ask how their work is going. This can help build trust and ease your mind.

2. Manage your relationships

The chief microstressor named by most of the subjects in the research was “draining or negative interactions” with family or friends. Addressing this microstressor doesn’t mean breaking off contact with these people – often they can’t be avoided – but shaping the interactions to limit the microstress, the researchers say.

One subject recalled regular 2.5-hour visits to their parent’s house on Saturday or Sunday, especially stressful as the time was undetermined until the last minute. The remedy was a 1.5-hour lunch with mum after early release from work on Friday afternoons. This kept the subject’s weekend open for other priorities too.

3. Live ‘multidimensional’ life

Be it volunteer work, a new hobby or widening your social circle, adding dimensions to your life can help reduce the impact of microstress, the researchers found. Their happiest interviewees were better able to put microstressors into perspective and recognize trivialities, in large part because they belonged to two or three groups outside of their work and family that involved activities meaningful to them.

This essentially “inoculated” them to microstress and helped them to “rise above” things they couldn’t control.

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