When we talk about stress, most of us jump straight to talking about the big things. You know, those large, overarching stressors in our life that loom in the shadows and weigh us down.
To start, there’s our mortgage, income and taxes. Then there’s our marital problems, parenthood and friendships. And to top it all off, we have to try and keep ourselves happy and healthy.
Those things are all stressful. We know that. What often goes unnoticed, though, are the smaller, less-daunting things that populate our day-to-day lives. Or, as Dr. Rangan Chatterjee calls them, micro-stressors.
A micro-stressor might be a bad night’s sleep. It could be a traffic jam on the way to work. Perhaps it’s an argument at home.
Whatever specific situation crops up throughout our day, one thing is for certain. No matter how big or small the stimulus, these stressors add up. Together, they stand to jeopardise our happiness, mental health and just about everything that’s important to us in life.
Missing the Mark
It’s ironic, really. In all of our efforts to mitigate stress by cutting down our working hours or attending marriage counselling with our wife, we forget entirely about the other things that cause us to feel stressed. We ignore micro-stressors in favour of macro-stressors.
Indeed, it’s important to take care of the big things, too. But whilst focusing so incessantly on minimising the impacts of such situations, we leave a lot of loose ends untied.
As Victoria Woodhall puts it, we’re exposed to dozens of micro stresses every single day — and they all add up.
‘For example, your alarms blares, you check your Insta feed and see a colleague sunning themselves on a Greek island, you check the news and see some distressing images, you feel a bit groggy after last night’s late pizza and half a bottle of wine and reach for the paracetamol and before you know it, you’ve had 20 micro-stress doses before breakfast.’
What’s the sum of all of these stress doses? Well, they leave us feeling drained, exhausted and on the verge of burnout — all without us really knowing why.
In the words of Dr. Rangan Chatterjee, author of ‘The Stress Solution: The 4 Steps to Reset Your Body, Mind, Relationships and Purpose’:
‘We think we can get away with burning the candle at both ends, but the reality is very different. Every day I see patients who are literally stressing themselves to an early grave.’
There are many things in life that are beyond our control. Our employers, the onset of disease and the opinions of other people, for instance, are all variables which we have no power over.
What we can control, however, are our own actions. It’s our decisions and behaviours that stand to dramatically reduce our stress levels — providing that we take the right actions.
Instead of allowing micro-stressors to add up and join forces with the bigger, macro stressors, it’s crucial that we do something about our situation. But what exactly should we do to mitigate that chronic anxiety that we carry with us throughout our daily lives?
Well, to start, we can take measures to increase our organisational skills, minimise conflict in our relationships and keeping our body healthy.
As well as that, though, Dr. Chatterjee offers five other ways that we can all work to minimise stress. Let’s run through them in detail.
1. Make Time to See Friends
With the advent of digital technology, it’s become very easy for us to keep up to date with our friends through instant messaging and social media. As a result, we rarely make time to see our friends in person.
Loneliness is on the rise in the modern age. It affects young people just as much as the elderly, and being isolated socially is a stressor of its own.
As Chatterjee suggests,
‘One of the simplest things you can do to destress is to set a date to see one or two of your friends in person. Get a date in the diary — even if it’s in two months’ time.’
Friendship is essential to our mental and physical health, so start making time to see friends and watch as your stress levels begin to dissipate. You’ll be amazed by the results.
2. Exercise the Right Way
Whilst exercise is incredibly good for the body, it can be a stressor of its own if conducted improperly. The right amount of exercise, on the other hand, can put you in a positive and healthy mental state.
When considering which types of exercise to engage in on a particular day, it’s important that we have to also consider how we’re feeling.
If we didn’t sleep well, a vigorous, high-intensity sprint followed by an hour of strength training isn’t going to sit well with our mental state. Something like yoga or a woodland stroll would be far more appropriate.
Exercising the right way can give us a huge emotional boost via the release of happy hormones called endorphins. More, exercise can act to reduce stress, elevate energy levels and increase overall happiness.
3. Minimise Stress-Inducing Drinks
Alcohol and caffeine can be enjoyable to consume — especially in the company of good friends and in comfortable settings. Too much of either, however, will ramp up our stress levels and leave us feeling tired and burnt-out.
Many people experiencing stress use alcohol and caffeine as a crutch. A morning coffee acts as a supposed compromise for sleep deprivation, whilst a night cap is used to send us off to slumber sooner.
Realistically, though, these things rarely help. In moderation they’re okay. A Friday wine with friends or a catch-up over a coffee is nothing to fret about. In excess, though, both of these things can start causing problems for us — particularly where stress is concerned.
Making a conscious effort to monitor your intake of stress-inducing drinks like caffeine and alcohol will enable you to remain in a stable mental state, navigating through your day without having to contend with energy spikes, dips and hangovers.
4. Make Use of Your Breath
Breathing serves an essential function: to keep us alive. More than that, though, the breath can be used as an anchor with which to minimise stress and relax our mind.
As Chatterjee writes,
‘If you have a work deadline that’s imminent, your breathing will start to speed up. Any time our stress response goes up, it’s because on a primitive level we feel under attack. Even though a deadline is not a physical threat, your body perceives it as that, and tries to get more oxygen to the muscles by increasing breathing and heart rate, as if you are running away from a lion.’
Simply by making the conscious decision to counteract these instincts, taking a long, deep breath during moments of stress, we can work to keep ourselves calm during tense moments.
Breathe in for three seconds, hold for four and then breathe out for five. Use that method whenever you start feeling stressed to prevent your body from entering panic mode, breathing in the same 3-4-5 cycle until you start to feel more relaxed.
5. Keep Your Gut Healthy
Did you know that your large intestine is home to more than 100 million neurons? It’s like a second brain.
That being said, what we eat can have a direct impact on the way we feel, since the gut and the brain communicate based upon the foods we consume.
When we eat something unhealthy or highly processed, the gut literally sends stress signals up to the brain, letting it know that whatever we just ate didn’t agree with it.
Conversely, when we eat whole nutrient-dense foods, the gut sends calming signal to the brain. As Chatterjee puts it,
‘A diverse microbiome is a resilient one, which sends calm signals up to the brain.’
Simply making an effort to fill our diet with more of the latter and less of the former will provide us with a healthy mind-gut connection, working to reduce our overall stress levels.
Keeping fit and healthy can also help dramatically. After all, whatever we put into our bodies, we’ll be sure to get back out.
Stress is something that all of us have to deal with in our lifetime. Many of us attribute our tension to large problems, like financial troubles and marital issues.
According to Dr. Rangan Chatterjee, though, stress usually occurs when lots of smaller things, such as a bad night’s sleep or lack of social interaction, add up. Individually, they often go unnoticed. Together, they can drive us to anxiety, burnout and even an early grave.
By making use of the tips above, we can all take action and work to mitigate our stress levels. As a result, we’ll feel happier, healthier and better equipped to handle life’s challenges.
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