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Dangers of Microstress: What is Microstress, and Why is it Dangerous for Community Leaders?

Two firefighters putting out a fire which represents the danger of microstress in our lives
Putting out lots of little fires is like microstress that burn away at our mental and physical health

We often feel we are constantly putting out fires. Sometimes these may be little and easy to put out, but as each wears away at our mental and emotional capacity, they count as microstress. Individually, these stressors may not have a big impact, but as we try to deal with all we face daily, it can be overwhelming and take a toll on our mental and physical health.

What microstressors affect community leaders?

Microstress can be caused by each item on our to-do list and by emotionally charged daily challenges. Community leaders are typically trying to juggle a lot of hats and face small and big stressors from many different angles. Consider the following list:

  • Constant emails and messages

  • Conflicting priorities and demands on your time

  • on-call 24/7 for emergencies or urgent issues

  • Balancing the needs and wants of different stakeholders

  • conflict or criticism from community members

  • difficult team dynamics and interpersonal relationships

  • financial or resource constraints

  • supporting community members who are experiencing difficulties

  • difficult decisions with limited information or uncertain outcomes

  • scrutiny from social media

Do you face any of these in your daily life? Any one of these can cause us stress, but in reality, we face many of these each day. Each microstressor requires time and mental energy, which can wear down our reserves and endanger our mental and physical health. It may not seem as obvious as some big, giant stressor in our lives, but it is actually a much more common and almost invisible form of stress with ripple effects on our health and relationships.

What are the dangers of microstress for community leaders?

As each individual event seems manageable, we often don't address microstress. Most of us community leaders are highly productive, task-oriented people who get things done. However, we want to create sustainable habits, and by not addressing microstressors, we allow them to build and take a toll on our health. If we don't address microstressors, our current work habits will not be sustainable, and in a worst-case scenario, could lead to burnout or a heart attack (I have personally seen both happen in friends!!).

Think about how water formed the Grand Canyon. One drop of water doesn't seem to make a difference, but when you combine every drop over all the years, you have a massive impact.

In case you consider the above-mentioned outcomes as too extreme to happen to you (although my friends never thought it would happen to them either), consider the other impacts of microstress:

  • Inability to focus: as your brain is pulled in a million different directions, you cannot focus on challenges and develop well-thought-out solutions.

  • Drained emotional reserves: you cannot connect with people or care about their issues. Without making an emotional connection, you cannot inspire trust and lead people in the direction you want to take your organization.

  • Sapped motivation: it can drain you from your desire to even continue with your work.

How can I avoid the dangers of microstress?

Fortunately, we can take steps to mitigate the dangers of microstress in our lives. In short, we want to be intentional and choose how we spend our time rather than feeling like we are always reacting and putting out fires. Here are some simple strategies you can start with today.

1. Build rest into your day

Building in small moments of rest is basically recharging your batteries. When you jump from stress to stress, you have to take from all your reserves, but by taking time to recharge, you will have more energy to tackle whatever comes your way. Think about the 7 types of rest you need to recharge, and intentionally build in time in your day. Sometimes it can be as simple as using the 'Breathe' app on your Apple watch or staring out the window for 3 minutes. Although it may seem like you are taking away time to do these things, these moments of rest will recharge you so you can think and work more effectively.

2. Turn off notifications (Batch them)

Each time your phone pings you, it distracts your attention and breaks your focus. You can now change notifications on iPhones to batch together at certain times of the day. Even without an iPhone, you can set an intention to batch all emails or messages at certain times of the day so that you aren't distracted by them throughout the day.

3. Set a focus each day

Instead of just jumping into email and other tasks, take a few minutes before you sit down to work, and decide what is most important for you to do that day.

How will you manage microstress?

Commit to taking charge of microstress today! Pick one strategy and do it every day for the next week. Imagine feeling in control of your time and intentional about your day.

Want help in managing your microstress?

Become a founding member of our community of leaders. You will get a weekly focus, community support, and monthly calls with Cordes to help you reach your potential to increase your impact. Cordes cuts through the noise and brings you simple, impactful steps you can take to make a difference today.

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“The Hidden Toll of Microstress.” Harvard Business Review, 7 Feb. 2023, Accessed 3 May 2023.


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