Year of Resilience Tip 3: Beware of Micro-Stressors

Micro-stressors are like bees. One is annoying but a swarm could be deadly. It’s rarely the crisis events that derail you. It’s the small unseen stressors that accumulate until you are overwhelmed. The resilient tip this week is to identify and manage those micro-stressors and prevent long-term stress events.

What are micro-stressors and how can you manage them?

When most of us think of stress, we think of massive traumatic events such as financial calamity, job loss, devastating health news, and sudden severe accidents. Psychologists categorize these as traumatic stressors. This is a helpful category. By using this vocabulary we can separate out the big events from the small daily stressors.

The good news is that most people handle big events with resilience.  Because we are accustomed to seeing these events on the news or in the lives of friends and family, we’ve already done mental preparation for when disaster hits. Also, this is when our communities and networks step up and assist us in these tragic moments.

Think about the most recent natural disaster you’ve seen on the news. Last year where I lived, a massive tornado swept the state around Christmas.  Wind destroyed homes and towns for over 200 miles. Large swaths of devastation ripped through neighborhoods. Many people lost their homes and several lives were lost.  Within hours people from all over the country descended upon these communities cleaning and rebuilding. Food, water, and gifts showered these towns so much that they asked them to stop.

Even today, a year later, networks have helped most people rebuild their lives. While the survivors of this tragedy will always have scars on their hearts, they picked up the pieces and rebuilt and even thrived.

Humans are amazingly resilient in the face of catastrophe but we are crushed under the pressure of little things.

Because the little stressors are so easy to ignore we underestimate their impact. Yet they build up inside our hearts and minds and eventually overwhelm us. This is what leads to burnout and anxiety in the workplace. It’s what causes many to quit or underperform.

The buildup of micro-stressors not only damages our mental health but impacts our physical body and leads to a wide range of physical symptoms like high blood pressure, chest pain, insomnia, decreased immune function, gastrointestinal issues, etc.

If you want to tackle stress in your life you must start with the small stuff. Managing the small stuff prevents large-scale stress collapses.

Identifying Micro-stressors

According to research published in the Harvard Business Review, there are 12 main drivers of micro-stressors that can be broken down into 3 main categories.

  1. Drain to our personal capacity
  2. Deplete our emotional reserves
  3. Challenge our identity or values

Micro-stressors that drain our personal capacity would include tensions in the ways we work with other people. You’ve felt this when you are asked to do more work than you expected or have limitations placed on your ability to do your job.

Those that deplete our emotional reserves cause negative thoughts and feeling to bubble up inside. A great example would be stressful or confrontational conversations or interactions with negative people.

When we feel internal friction because someone damages our confidence, forces us to violate personal values, or disrupts our network, these cause stress by challenging our identity.

Most of us have accepted these as a part of normal life, and rarely find ways to manage their impact internally or externally. However, your ability to be resilient is dependent on addressing these daily stressors.

So how do you begin managing those micro-stressors?  
Cultivate self-awareness

First, realize your stressors are as unique as you. It’s easy to see in others but hard to see in ourselves. Do you know the stress buttons you can push on friends to stir up their emotions?  Of course, you do. In fact, you probably push them occasionally, sometimes intentionally (for fun).

What are the buttons people push that get under your skin and even send you into high anxiety?  Take some time to do a quick inventory of the events and actions that irritate you. Use the three categories of micro-stressors to help spur the process.  Reflect at the end of the day for a week or two and notice what increased your agitation.  Shortly, you will have a list you can begin managing. Until awareness happens you can’t manage it.

Unfortunately, even for the most self-aware among us we still have blindspots. In fact, those blind spots are the ones that really damage our inner peace and lead to higher levels of stress. How do you uncover those blind spots so you can develop a strategy to manage them?

Develop external resources

This is why therapy or honest friends can be so helpful. They can help you find the areas you can’t see.

Over the past several years research has been done to find biomarkers that indicate a stress event in your life. Not only do stressors impact your mental peace and internal state but impact your physical health. Various hormones elevate, blood pressure rises, and heart rate increases during times of stress. One key indicator that continues to appear in research is heart rate variability or HRV. The beauty of HRV is that it has become easier to measure due to wearable tech like Apple Watches and Fitbits.

Noticing spikes and anomalies in all these biomarkers indicate a micro-stressor has happened in your life.

Now you can have a microscope on your inner world.  Matching up those events to your daily calendar can help you discover those blindspot stressors

If you need a tool for finding blindspots and micro-stressors, Fierce built one for you. The Pulse App is built on the latest stress biomarker research. It syncs with wearable tech and connects to your calendar to find these hidden stress events.  We compiled the experience of 20+ years of helping the Fortune 500 manage conflict, create personal connections, and navigate workplace relationships into a library of stressors you experience. An AI coach matches the information in that library and directs you to skills fully customized to what stresses you so you can manage it.

In summary, if you want to build true resilience, pay attention to your micro-stressors and use them as a personal development tool for greater workplace success.

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