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  • Writer's pictureGeorgina Sturmer

How to cope with 'micro-stress' at work

Updated: Jun 20, 2023

I spoke to Yahoo News about 'micro-stress', the idea that small or minor stresses at work build up to create bigger problems for us. In this article I look at why this happens, and offer some tips on how to manage it.


Why might small or minor stresses at work build up to create a bigger problem?

Stress at work is part and parcel of everyday life. Indeed, for many people, a small amount of stress helps to drive ambition and productivity. But what happens if small stresses at work build up to create a bigger problem?


Maybe you’re taking on too many projects and working long hours. Perhaps you’re feeling out of your depth, or you’re worried about a mistake that you’ve made. Maybe there are the signs of financial difficulties. Or perhaps you have a challenging relationship with a client or colleague, and it’s really bothering you.


The next thing you know, this minor stress has grown and it’s becoming overwhelming. Why does this happen?

  • Your work identity. This is more than just your name, age, qualifications, and experience. It’s about how you relate to your role and those around you. Are you a people pleaser? A perfectionist? Do you need to complete a task the moment you’ve been asked to do it? If we think about how we relate to our workplace and colleagues, we notice the pressure that we put ourselves under. These roles and patterns often reflect how we are in life in general, and behaviours that we learnt when we were growing up. This sense of identity built on a set of beliefs, and sometimes fears, about what might happen if… what happens if we don’t please everyone … what happens if we don’t do things perfectly… what might happen if we don’t complete a task as quickly as possible.

  • Unrealistic expectations around success and ambition. What expectations are you placing on yourself? These might be realistic. But many of us place unrealistic expectations on ourselves which we are unable to meet. This can lead to a sense of failure, which feeds into existing stress levels.

  • Life outside of the workplace. Work doesn’t happen in isolation. When things become stressful, it’s easier to cope if other things are going well, particularly relationships with family and friends. If you’re feeling angry, upset, or worried outside of the workplace, chances are that this will feed directly into your stress at work.

  • What are your coping strategies? Are you proactive about looking after yourself? Or does that just sound like another task on the endless to-do list? Maybe after a long hard day at work you turn to something familiar to relax. Perhaps it’s exercise, rest, seeing friends or chilling out in front of the TV. Or perhaps it’s something that isn’t so healthy for your body and mind, like drugs, alcohol, unhealthy food, or endlessly scrolling through social media. Be honest with yourself and reflect on how you feel afterwards. Do you feel less worried? Or does it compound your stress?

  • Are you realistic when things go wrong? Often work stress begins with a small problem. A piece of work that hasn’t gone to plan. An unhappy client. An unsuccessful pitch. Are you able to be realistic about the consequences. Or do you catastrophise so that a minor stress becomes a major one.

  • Keeping quiet about stress. It can be tempting to keep stress under wraps. This can be for a whole host of reasons, including fear and embarrassment. But when we keep a lid on things, it doesn’t make these feelings go away. It keeps them inside where they can simmer and gather speed.

How can you manage these small stresses, so they don't have a negative impact on your health?

  • Share your stress with someone you trust, and who will listen to you without judgement. This might be a friend, relative, colleague or a trained counsellor.

  • Enforce boundaries around your time. We are all used to being contactable 24/7. Can you find moments to turn off your devices and think about something else.

  • Enforce boundaries around your workload. Don’t take on more than you can realistically deliver. This might involve saying ‘no’, and it might feel unfamiliar or scary. But it may reap rewards if you often find yourself drowning under your workload.

  • Make sure you have realistic goals in place. Not just the professional goals that you might set with your manager at work. But your internal measures of success.

  • ‘Catch’ the catastrophising. Notice when you’re overthinking and find ways to step away, to gain some perspective about what’s happening.

  • Notice relationship patterns. Maybe the work itself is fine, but there’s something about a colleague or client that leaves you feeling stressed. Challenge yourself to explore what’s going on for you here.

  • Focus on what you can control and try not to stress about things that are out of your control.

  • Self-care. Think about what you need to fuel your body to stay healthy. Good food, water, exercise, fresh air, and healthy relationships.


Keen to explore more?

I love working with people to help them to understand themselves. In counselling we build a relationship where we can look at what might be causing your stress and how you can work to overcome it, so that you can feel more comfortable and confident in everyday life. If you’d like to learn more, click here to contact me, or click here to book a free 30-minute introductory chat.


Click here to view the article on Yahoo News.



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