7 steps to manage micro stress

7 steps to manage micro stress

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The original title for this article was "7 steps to manage stress" but as I walked the neighbourhood this morning and thought about what stress looks like and then thought about my earlier mild anxiety around making sure the kids all had the correct kit for their sports games that afternoon I had to stop and question myself, “how can I legitimately write an article about feeling stressed if my stress is about whether or not the washing gets done?” How embarrassing, what a ‘first world problem’, how completely inconsequential.  Well actually it is and, it isn’t and that in fact is the point.

So just to preface, this is not an article macros stresses, those terrible events that everyone has to navigate at certain times in life. Stress such as health scares, financial problems and grief, stress that is large and tangible and feels like a tidal wave knocking you sideways. This particular edit explores the micro stresses that bombard us every day.  Little, almost inconsequential annoyances that constantly chip away at us, the daily craziness, the constant onslaught and the resulting and very real overwhelm. 

In today’s society micro stresses are so prevalent that we have conditioned our brains to hardly notice them. It's a short term annoyance, we problem solve, we move on. For example, here's a scenario: a poor brief from your boss, leads to wasted time for you and your co-workers.  You end up working late to make up which then impacts the amount of time you have for your responsibilities at home.  Washing gets neglected and the kids have to pull school uniforms out of the wash box to wear that day.  You take on the guilt for your kids wearing unwashed clothes to school and you carry that guilt with you on your commute into work then, the driver who didn’t let you in gets quite the swear laden ear bashing from the soundproof safety and anonymity of your car. Each stress alone is small and appears harmless but as they accumulate they start to wield quite the sucker punch on our health and our relationships.

This damage on our health from micro stressors has come from the fact the world has evolved faster than we have. Our bodies know how to deal with traditional, identifiable stress, our heart rate and blood pressure goes up ready to fight or flight and we get surges of cortisol and adrenaline to stay on high alert. Once the danger has passed our brain kicks in and our body recovers. This works well when we consciously identify the issue, crossing a busy road, meeting a looming deadline we have a short term physical stress response and then recovery. With micro stressors that we have conditioned our brains to not be consciously aware of our bodies are responding in the traditional manner but our brains aren't triggering the same protective, recovery mechanisms. 

What can we do to minimise this damage? In Elissa Epel’s book Seven Days to More Joy and Ease she states we can’t avoid stress but we can embrace and transform it. 


Book cover 7 days to more joy and ease


Here we explore 7 steps to help manage and overcome daily micro stress

Start to problem identify rather than continually solve. Step 1 is to become aware of your stress. Life is so fast paced we often don’t give ourselves the time to recognise how stressed we are. A simple trick is to sit for a minute and check in with our bodies and ask 3 questions:


  1. Where am I holding tension in my body? 
  2. What emotions am I holding on to? 
  3. What am I worried about?


Regularly checking in with yourself will enable you to identify when micro stresses are accumulating and give you the opportunity to put de-stressing techniques in place. 

Give yourself the opportunity to gain perspective.  Taking an inventory of your daily schedule can help majorly shift in your stress levels. Identify all the tasks you have ahead and identify what is and isn’t a priority, this simple activity helps you control what you can control—and acknowledge what you can’t.  Often you’ll likely find at least one thing you can remove or ask for help for creating more ease and time within your day.

Give yourself the chance to transform your stress response. What we tell ourselves and how we react when we’re stressed matters. Take time to evaluate how your body and inner dialogue responds to stress and consider how you can help yourself shift your mindset. For example, if you’re in a stressful situation like a job interview, it’s common to replay thoughts like, I’m probably not going to get this job. Or: I hope I don’t mess this up. If you notice those types of thoughts coming up, pause and tell yourself a more compassionate story: that you are prepared and you’ll do the best that you can.

Find healthy ways to trigger stress response so your body learns how to manage it better.  You can intentionally create a stress response to micro stress which over time teaches the body and brain how to manage it better. There are many options for this: a hot sauna, an ice bath, a cold shower, extreme breathing practices (like Wim Hof’s), or aerobic exercise (which can build stress fitness along with physical fitness). Start with as little as one or two minutes (or more, if you’re able) of any exercise and work your way up. 

Invigorate your senses. Stimulating your senses—as many as you can at once—temporarily removing yourself from the stress gives your mind a break which helps relieve the stress. There are many ways to do this but the simplest one is going for a walk, ideally in nature. Mindfully walk through a park or forest and appreciate the scenery, touch the leaves, smell the eucalyptus, and hear the birds chirping.

Get deep rest. Sleep is when our bodies and brains are restored the most. But our bodies can restore themselves while we’re awake, too. Yoga is a great restorative practice, and if you prolong savasana, it’s even more restful. Take conscious breaths: You can immediately release tension and create a sense of ease in your mind and body with just five minutes of breathwork a day.

Give thanks. Gratitude is an incredibly powerful stress-reducing practice. Expressing gratitude with a daily affirmation, journaling or in conversation with a friend, partner, or family member can be extremely impactful to your well-being and the well-being of others around you.
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