What are micro stresses? The hidden triggers that impact your mental health every day

Micro stresses might seem innocuous but they can have an impact on mental health. (Getty Images)
Micro stresses might seem innocuous but they can have an impact on mental health. (Getty Images)

You spot a ladder in your tights just as you're about to head out the door. You're late for an important meeting because you were stuck in traffic. You forget to take the washing out of the machine and now it smells so you have to wash it all over again.

These kind of day-to-day irritations happen to all of us, but though they may seem harmless, 'micro stresses' can actually have a pretty big impact on our mental health.

Some 71% of Gen Z admit to experiencing micro stresses – those small, seemingly insignificant triggers that occur in everyday life. Innocuous though they might seem, 81% admit that a build-up of these mini stress triggers makes them feel defeated and burnt out, the new research from Extra Gum also reveals.

"Micro stresses are the daily little stressors that seem small and insignificant at the time, but the accumulation of these little stressors can result in you feeling drained and stressed out," explains Alison Goolnik, Integrative psychotherapist at www.therapyhere.co.uk.

"Being late for work, missing the bus, not being able to get your Wi-Fi to work or losing a key are all considered micro stressors. Individually, they are a small annoyance. However, cumulatively they can have a big impact on your mental and emotional wellbeing."

Getting stuck in traffic is one of the top everyday stresses. (Getty Images)
Getting stuck in traffic is one of the top everyday stresses. (Getty Images)

So how does something that seems so insignificant at the time have such a big effect on our health?

"If you think of the game of Jenga, the structure of the tower weakens as pieces are removed and the tower gets more and more unstable and eventually collapses," explains Goolnik.

"A micro stress can be likened to a piece being removed and so over time, as more of these pieces (mental and emotional resources) are removed, we feel depleted and drained and just want to collapse. Not having the inner strength to cope with stress can cause you to feel anxious, overwhelmed and depressed."

According to clinical psychologist Dr Daniel Glazer, we're more likely to feel the effects of micro stresses during periods of broader uncertainty in the world, like now, for example.

"Struggling economies, social tensions – these lingering anxieties leave us less equipped to smoothly manage the micro stuff," he explained.

Throw in the busy festive season and it's little wonder a traffic jam can tip us over the edge.

"The holiday season can heighten sensitivities too given all the year-end tasks on top of usual routines – expenses, shopping, travel, etc. It's enough to strain anyone's coping skills," Dr Glazer adds.

Woman who has spilt her coffee down her top. (Getty Images)
Micro stresses are having an impact on our wellbeing. (Getty Images)

The good news? We aren't powerless here.

"Taking a few minutes to actively calm the nervous system with deep breathing or meditation helps us hit reset after feeling frustrated," he explains.

"Carving out pockets of restorative time amid the busyness also goes a long way. And talking candidly with trusted friends to reality-check the small stuff can keep things in a healthier perspective."

By tuning into micro stress cues early and regularly and giving ourselves some TLC to take the edge off, Dr Glazer says we can keep our wellbeing intact and even bolstered during this demanding time of year.

"A little self-care can truly help us all stay merry and bright," he adds.

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How to cope with micro stresses

Identify the micro stress

Finding out what makes you feel stressed is an important first step. "When you are more aware of the triggers, you can then look at ways to manage them," explains Goolnik.

Practice mindfulness

Take a break from the micro stress and do some mindfulness, relaxation and breathing exercises to de-stress.

"There are many relaxation techniques available so find one that works best for you and practice it regularly so that when you do need to use it, you are prepared," suggests Goolnik. "Go out in nature at least once a day," she adds.

Get moving

Exercise is a great way to help reduce symptoms of stress so go for a walk or a run, go to the gym or do some stretching. "Just a few minutes of regular exercise will have a positive effect on your wellbeing," Goolnik explains.

Woman getting a good night's sleep. (Getty Images)
Getting a good night's sleep can help us cope with micro stresses. (Getty Images)

Practice good sleep hygiene

Sleep can get affected when feeling stressed so Goolnik suggests trying to keep good sleep hygiene. This involves having a bedtime routine, avoiding large meals and caffeine and alcohol before bed, turning off your phone at least an hour before bed and relaxing with a bath, a good book, or doing some yoga/meditation or stretching. "Feeling well-rested will enable you to cope better when you are stressed," she adds.

Talk it through

Goolnik suggests reaching out to a friend or family member to share how you are feeling and checking what support your employer offers. "A chat with another person will boost your mood," she explains.

Draw up a stress-less list

By making a list of what helps to reduce your stress levels. "It is hard to think clearly when we are feeling stressed, so it is helpful to have a list at the ready," Goolnik explains.

Eat healthy and well-balanced meals

What you eat can make a difference to your general mood and wellbeing. Goolnik suggests trying to avoid caffeine and alcohol as these can worsen stress symptoms. "Drink plenty of water as even mild dehydration can affect your mood," she adds.

Woman stretching after getting up out of bed. (Getty Images)
Practicing mindfulness can help us better cope with everyday stresses. (Getty Images)

Cut yourself some slack

Be kind to yourself, prioritise self-care and learn to say no. "Make time for activities that you enjoy, that help you relax and connect you with others and be around people that make you feel good," Goolnik says. "All this helps to reduce stress."

Challenge your negative thoughts regarding the micro stressor

Often negative thoughts feed stress, so Goolnik recommends challenging these thoughts and replacing them with positive ones instead.

Get professional support

If you are struggling to manage your stress levels on your own, reach out for help. "It is important to not suffer alone and get overwhelmed by how you are feeling," Goolnik says.

"Asking for help is a sign of strength and courage and with help from a professional, you can learn to manage your micro stresses and positively change your mental health and emotional well-being in as little as a few visits."

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