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Micro-Stressors: What They are and How They Work

Woman holding her head in exasperation

Big stressors are easy to spot: the pandemic, losing a job, major illness, war. 

But although minor everyday stressors can be difficult to pinpoint right away, recent insights suggest that they can build up over time and have a cumulative negative impact on our physical and mental health; virtual meetings that don’t seem to end, a microaggressive snipe from a coworker, rush hour commutes, that roommate that continues to leave their jacket on the floor even though the hook is right there

On their own, some of them may not seem like a big deal, but the very fact that they can exist in the background, often not overtly detectible, can make it difficult for us to identify where our anxiety comes from. 

See also: 10 signs you are suffering from imposter syndrome.

Woman holding her face, deep in thought

Three main categories of micro-stressors:

  1. Stressors that limit your personal capacities, such as time and energy. For example, this can happen when people we live with aren’t carrying their fair share of the household chores. 
  2. Stressors that strain our emotional reserves, which allow us to moderate our emotional responses and keep calm under pressure. For example, this can happen when we witness a violent incident, or when we are around someone who is constantly negative. 
  3. Stressors that challenge our identity or values, causing us dissonance with how we see ourselves. For example, this can happen when we are pressured to do something that goes against our core beliefs, such as lying. 

See also: Why you get nightmares and how to stop them.

The researchers behind the insights also note that the nature of our stressors is changing. Where in the past, it may have been the long rush hour commute, now with many people working from home, it can take the form of unpaid labour or lack of clear boundaries between when the workday ends and home life begins. 

Layer on top a “macro-stressor” such as a pandemic or a natural disaster (or both), and the micro-stressors can become harder to handle. Macro-stressors can increase the risk of depression, and negatively impact sleep, motivation and even impair our decision-making,  leading to fatigue and possible burnout, leaving us with fewer internal resources to manage life’s smaller stressors. This can lead being more irritable, more arguments, road rage and just more people acting more irrationally than under normal circumstances. 

You may also like: 8 manifestation methods you need to try ASAP


Woman sitting and facing a setting sun on the beach

Tips on managing micro-stressors:

  • Limit your exposure to hard news when you know you’ve had enough. 
  • Limit your time to people who are persistently negative. Still see them, but shorten your visits or conversations to the length that doesn’t feel too emotionally taxing. 
  • Embrace a mindfulness practice. It has known benefits to helping us keep level and manage our emotional responses. 
  • Keep in mind that others are likely going through their own struggles during this pandemic, so factor this into the expectations you set. 

See also: Why  bullet journaling may be the best tool for your mindfulness and organization.

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