Microstresses: How Small Stressors Can Have a Big Impact on Your Life

We all experience stress at some point in our lives. It can come from various sources, such as work, relationships, or daily life events. However, what many people fail to recognize is the impact that even small stressors, or microstresses, can have on our overall well-being and performance.

What are Microstresses?

The term “microstresses” originated in the field of materials science, where it refers to the internal stresses that occur within materials at a microscopic level. These small-scale stresses can significantly impact the mechanical properties of the material, such as its strength and toughness.

Over time, the term has been adopted in other fields, such as psychology, sociology, and organizational behavior, to describe small-scale stressors or sources of tension that can accumulate over time, cause chain reactions, and negatively impact our well-being and performance.

Examples of Microstresses at Work

There are many factors that can contribute to the occurrence of microstresses at work. Some common causes include interpersonal conflicts, unclear expectations, imbalance in personal and professional life, lack of support, heavy workload, and tight deadlines.

A one-time microstress usually doesn’t cause a problem. We compensate for it. For example, when you skip lunch to attend an urgent meeting. You will be able to snack in between meetings. If this happens once, it might not be an issue. But if we regularly neglect our need for breaks and healthy food, the consequences can be more severe, like mood swings that lead to angry behavior.

Or imagine you lead a team. At the end of a workday, you request changes to a presentation for a customer meeting the next morning. A team member stays late to complete the changes. As a result, she arrives late to pick up her child, which was crying for half an hour. Day care management gives her a hard time, because it wasn’t the first time that they needed to compensate for her being late.

When your team member finally arrives at home, she gets into a dispute with her partner, who doesn’t approve of causing the child stress because of last-minute work requests. Due to the fight your team member misses her fitness class, which will result in lower energy levels at work the next day…

What Can We Do About Microstresses?

It is important to recognize the impact of microstresses and take steps to minimize their effects. This can include setting clear boundaries and expectations, seeking support from a manager or HR department, practicing mindfulness meditation, taking regular breaks, and seeking social support. And sometimes it can help to unplug and be unavailable.

While microstresses may seem small and insignificant, their impact can accumulate over time, leading to negative consequences for our well-being and performance. By identifying the sources of microstresses and taking proactive steps to address them, we can improve our overall quality of life and create a more positive and productive work environment. Remember, taking care of ourselves is essential, and addressing microstresses is an essential step in that direction.

Main image by Nate Dumlao