MICROSTRESS


Do you suffer from chronic stress or burnout, but struggle to pinpoint what's causing it? Feel constantly tense?

It might be that you're suffering from micro stress-if so this article is for you!!

Micro stress is a fairly recent concept, it affects the body the same as major stress, but can be far harder to recognise

With large stresses (ie trauma, natural disasters, illness) the stress arrives all at once and is easy to identify While it can be challenging, knowing where the stress is coming from helps our brain process it

Microstress is totally different - it's the multiple small stresses that occur constantly in our day to day lives and build up- often we don't even realise they're there, but just feel 'on edge'

They're thought to lie behind much of the burnout and chronic stress that's occurring in society, and have two challenges : - they're much harder to identify - they often don't trigger the same level of support or asking for help that larger stress do

This can leave us feeling exhausted, isolated, overwhelmed, and tense

Fortunately there are some great strategies that can really help!


The first step is identifying where your stresses are coming from Try sit down and think through your day, then write down each time you think of something that makes you feel tense or stressed This can help quantify and identify them

If you aren't sure, think of how your body feels when stressed, then think of what day to day situations trigger this feeling

Write everything down in your day or week that is creating a feeling of stress - this gives you an objective place to start from and also helps your brain process it, rather than just feeling overloaded









Next, divide this list into what stressors are fixed (ie kids, work pressure, mortgage) vs which are flexible (ie social media use, rushed schedule, lack of sleep, not getting enough excerise, social commitments etc)

Often many of the stressors we think are unavoidable, can actually be changed or reduced

Learning to say NO to non essential commitments that you dont actually enjoy is part of this - do you really need to go to that social event? Do your kids really need to do all the playdates and after school activities, or can these be cut back? Do you really need to check your emails and social media feed as often as you do?

Asking these questions helps to prioritise what is really important to you, vs what is not that vital

In our society often we feel pressured to do everything and be everwhere, which creates a vicious cycle of stress, and eventually burnout. Stepping back and deciding what gives you meaning, or adds to your life (and the lives of those around you) can be liberating. Similar to reducing clutter in your home and only keeping the things you really need or love





Then, think of ways that you can reduce the flexible stresses (ie prioritising sleep, getting up 5 min earlier to have more time in the morning, changing your commute, getting outside in your lunch break, having regular screen free times etc)

This leads on from identifying the flexible stresses vs fixed ones, and gives you some practical strategies to create space in your life


Even small changes such as shifting around your schedule, adding in a short walk at lunch or on your way to work, and creating boundaries around work/home as well as screen time can make a huge difference. Having clearer 'roles' is part of this - ie sharing household duties with partner/flatmates/family; delegating jobs that can be delegated safely; asking for help from friends/family if you need it; choosing which things you want to do vs those which could be offloaded (ie getting a cleaner or food boxes if this is an option financially, creating meal plans for the week and shopping in bulk rather than throughout the week; sharing after school care/transport to kids events with friends etc)

Things like 'bulk batching' tasks also frees up mental energy - cooking extra portions of dinners that can be frozen/put in fridge for weekday lunches, trying to set aside clear times for jobs at home rather than trying to fit them in, creating 'to do' lists to avoid trying to do too many things at once etc - they can all really help




Lastly, think of ways you you can increase

resilience to fixed stresses

Often we may not be able to change fixed stressors, but we can alter our perception and response to these, which in turn reduces our stress levels

The brain is highly efficient at creating 'patterns', think of it as a river flowing through a gorge that gets deeper the more it flows

When we dwell on stresses and ruminate (going over and over them in our heads), these thoughts become progressively more powerful, which triggers off more and more thoughts of stress and catastrophising. Think back to when you felt stressed recently - did your thoughts start to move from the original stress, to creating more and more stresses or worries that weren't there in the first place? Ie a worry about paying an upcoming bill, led to worrying about other bills, which led to worrying about the mortgage, which led to worrying about never being able to pay it, which led to worrying about not being able to pay for future costs, which led to worrying about not being able to retire etc etc. It can create a ripple effect of stress, where the original stress actually creates many more stresses which dont even exist

On the flip side, learning how to move the thoughts away from stresses doesn't mean they disappear - it just means the cycle of overthinking and creating more stress is broken, and over time this way of thinking becomes stronger

Identifying ways you feel relaxed and less stressed, then trying to link these into high stress times can create automatic 'microbreaks' where you reduce stress when you need it most

Things like deep breathing, stretches, writing down worries, getting out into nature, listening to music or podcasts, exercise are all great ways

A good example is traffic jams or a slow Internet connection - while you may not be able to change this, you can change how you react to it

Rather than letting it trigger a feeling of stress and anxiety, try creating a habit where you practice slow deep breathing or gratitude practice every time it occurs. Then check back with how you feel - did it reduce your stress levels? If so then try remind yourself to do it every time that situation occurs, and with time youll start to do it automatically as the habit is created

Small steps can make a massive difference to overall stress and wellbeing - challenge yourself to try it this week!!

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