What is 'snowball stress' and what's most likely to cause it?

What is snowball stress? [Photo: Getty]
What is snowball stress? [Photo: Getty]

You haven’t had the greatest of days, but then you get home to find your house is a mess, you’ve got major FOMO from scrolling Insta and that new boilersuit you just ordered turns out to be way too snug.

While many of us would chalk it down to a bad day and move on, for others these seemingly insignificant events could in fact tip us over the edge, causing something psychologists are now referring to as ‘snowball stress’.

"The simple fact is that stress breeds stress, sometimes there is not just one major source of stress, but rather a million tiny ones,” explains Dr Becky Spelman.

"If you feel tense about something small, this will have both a psychological and a physiological impact on you. Think about building a snowman by rolling a snowball up a hill.

"You start out with a tiny ball of snow that fits in the palm of your hand, but by the time you reach the top of the hill, your ball has picked up enough snow to start building your snowman."

And it can be something apparently small and silly that can get the whole stress ball rolling, sparking a ripple effect that can make the whole day feel like a write-off.

A new survey of 2,000 adults, commissioned by Poppy’s Picnic, revealed that running for the bus and just missing it, spotting an unflattering picture of you on social media and noticing your partner checking out someone else, all have the power to cause an instant spike in our stress levels.

Ditto, getting caught in the rain without an umbrella and leaving your lunch at home in the fridge. Been there, done that, got the £15 Leon receipt to prove it.

READ MORE: Burn-out has now been officially recognised as a medical condition, here's how to spot the symptoms

Running for a bus and just missing it was given as one of the top triggers of snowball stress [Photo: Getty]
Running for a bus and just missing it was given as one of the top triggers of snowball stress [Photo: Getty]

Unsurprisingly, the top snowball stress trigger factor was stepping in dog mess, but that was closely followed by an unsuspecting car breakdown and the resultant row with your partner about it.

Another stress flashpoint that ranked highly on the survey was checking your bank balance to see you’ve spent more than you thought. Probably on that too snug boilersuit.

On average, Brits have 60 bad days every year, and the effects of the bad day run deep, with 70 percent of people saying they are unable to hide it if they're in the midst of a doomed day.

On the upside, 36 percent of Brits say that their partner is the one person who can make them snap out of a bad mood, 31 percent said their pet does the trick, and slightly more than the 29 percent say their kids help most.

And it appears that some human contact can make us feel better, with 44 percent saying that a cuddle is most likely to cheer them up, followed by someone making them laugh (40 percent), watching TV (33 percent) and playing with their pet (30 percent).


  1. Stepping in dog poo 49%

  2. The car breaking down 36%

  3. Having a row with your partner 33%

  4. Checking your bank balance to see you've spent more than you thought 32%

  5. Losing your keys 30%

  6. Coming home to a messy house 26%

  7. Running as fast as you can for the bus and JUST missing it 26%

  8. A work colleague being mean 25%

  9. Catching your partner checking someone out 24%

  10. Getting caught in the rain without an umbrella 21%

  11. Leaving your packed lunch at home in the fridge 19%

  12. Someone posting a terrible picture of you on social media 19%

  13. Finding out your friends are doing something fun without you 18%

  14. Having a bad skin day 18%

  15. The scales saying you've put on a few pounds 18%

READ MORE: Surprising signs you could be suffering from a mental health condition

Getting caught in the rain is another snowball stress trigger [Photo: Getty]
Getting caught in the rain is another snowball stress trigger [Photo: Getty]

What can we do to combat ‘snowball stress’?

According to Dr Spelman, who worked on the survey, a good starting point is trying to let go of the things you can’t actually control.

"Sometimes your day starts out OK, but then you drop your toast and jam (jam side down, of course) on your freshly washed floor, and it all seems to go downhill from there,” she says.

"Because human beings are naturally made to engage in symbolic thinking, it's very easy to develop the feeling that nothing is going to go right today, so there's no point in even trying.

"We all have to deal with little setbacks in our everyday lives, but they don't actually have to cause a ripple effect that destroys the whole day.

"Taking control over the things we can change, and practicing techniques like mindfulness, can help us to get back on the right track."