Micro stressors: how they are felt and how to deal with them

Micro stressors can be described as the negative events in your life that are not life-changing. Events that you would choose not to experience, given the choice. A simple enough description but one that could quite easily gloss over the number and effect of them.


Imagine an email from your boss when you have left work, ora delay in travel that causes you to miss an appointment/meeting, or collection from your home being missed. Perhaps finding out in the morning that your central heating has stopped working and you have to get ready for your day with cold water.

These examples and many more can be described as micro stressors and individually they do not seem so difficult to cope with. And here lies the catch! When a day is filled with micro stressors, or a week or longer then they have a much more profound effect. Research from such august bodies as Harvard Medical School and Psychology Today believe that the cumulative effect is as bad, if not worse, than a major stressor. Indeed a major stressor, such as a divorce, redundancy or car accident are easily recognised and although traumatic are dealt with and can be recovered from.

 A persistently noisy neighbour, overcrowded accommodation, a bullying boss or co - worker all seem minor in comparison but their effect can be just as, if not more, damaging. Yet we are encouraged to get a thicker skin, man up, consider how it could be worse! Well intentioned perhaps but not particularly helpful.

Dealing with micro stressors

Having described what these micro stressors are it seems as if there are little widely known ways of dealing with them. Be assured, they may not be widely known (yet) but there are effective and inexpensive ways of dealing with them.

These ways of coping are varied. Strategies such as having a wide group of family and friends who we are regularly in contact with. Another is a hobby that we devote some time and effort to doing. Exercise is another, from full on gym bunny to just taking a walk is enough. A way our body reacts to poor lighting can trigger stress responses so bright and airy work and home situations are a real benefit. Something else is meditation which I will come back to.

Setting boundaries is also very helpful. This might be asking for 30 minutes when we walk through the door after work to just destress and unwind. Not being subjected to our partners detailing how stressful their day, the kids, life has been. Letting our employers know we will not respond to emails/texts outside of working hours. Something I explicitly mention with clients. Taking our lunch breaks and speaking up when we have been overloaded or have unrealistic expectations placed on us. Neither can be easy to do but the benefits are so large that it seems odd to not do so.

If you feel unable to speak to a manager, head of department or HR then perhaps a colleague/co-worker is better initially. Just getting it off of your chest is beneficial and who knows, your co - worker may be feeling the same way. There is a lot of truth in the axiom that a problem shared is a problem halved. Indeed the fact that they might be feeling the same way can go towards breaking the sense of inferiority and isolation you might be feeling.

Micro stressors at home

At home dealing with the instant offloading from the partner can be just as challenging. In this circumstance I would offer that the time you are asking for benefits everyone else immediately. Instead of a grumpy, stressed and inattentive you then those minutes can result in a refreshed, able to cope and happy person to be around. When you have not been disturbed while working from home and are able to complete the workload I would offer that a better/contented you is a benefit. A benefit to you and all and sundry.

So whatever the circumstances I hope I have made it clear that you can take action. You have agency. An empowering and positive thing in itself.

Mindfulness and meditation

So what about meditation? Perhaps you have an image of a Ghuru sitting cross legged, murmuring ohm shanti while being enveloped in the pleasant aroma of scented joss sticks. It can be this but, there are many different ways of meditating.

A way of calming our bodies (stressed bodies ) that I practise and offer to clients is 7/11 breathing. This is very useful as nobody needs to be aware of you using it and it can be used in any situation. I breathe in fully through my nose and breathe out through my mouth six times. On the seven breath in I hold it while counting seven thousand, eight thousand to 11 thousand and then breathe out. This is totally safe and can be repeated any number of times. Physically it has been shown to redress the imbalance of stress chemicals in our bloodstream and brain. In a lived way the benefits can be felt immediately. Recognising when to do this and doing so make this a really useful tool.

Another method I use is a body scan meditation. In a quiet space I loosen tight clothing (belt, shoes etc.), sit comfortably, uncross my legs and hands and close my eyes. Then, starting with my feet I breathe deeply into them. This is followed by calves, thighs, and sat upon bones (! ha ha), back, shoulders, upper arms, lower arms, hands. Do you follow me? I do the same for my neck, head, face, jaw, tongue, throat and chest. Finally I breathe into my core (belly) and after having done this I sit quietly and try not to focus on any specific thought or feeling.

Our minds are used to being busy so when “monkey mind” keeps drawing my attention I recognise the thought and rather than try to ignore it I tell it I will come back to it later.

This simple practice has benefitted me immensely and it can do the same for you. If it does not appeal or is ineffective then search out other meditations. There are lots and I am sure you will find one that works with you.

To sum up then. We all have micro stressors and perhaps we always will. We can change how they affect us and should we choose to do so we will benefit. Benefit ourselves as well as others. Change does not by chance but by effort.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Chelmsford CM1
Written by Steve Fayers, Counsellor / Therapist | Certified Trauma Therapist
Chelmsford CM1

I am a person, a counsellor, a parent, a flawed human being who has struggled with life. Struggled with addiction.
I would rather struggle than give in and accept a life that does not meet my needs and wants.
I am trying to be the best person I can be.
"I will not go quietly into that goodnight " (paraphrased Dylan Thomas)

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