Manageable Articles

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Is it stress or microstress that you need to manage?

When it comes to stress, we tend to think about big challenges and setbacks. However, managing microstress is just as - if not more - important. These are small, difficult bumps in the road that we often dismiss as trivial, but they may be more significant than we think.

Rob Cross and Karen Dillon, authors of The Microstress Effect, explain how microstress is a "relentless accumulation of unnoticed small events". They identify three broad categories, including microstresses that:

  1. Drain your capacity to get things done: such as misalignment about roles and priorities, or unpredictable behaviour from a person in a position of authority

  2. Deplete your emotional reserves: such as confrontational conversations or a lack of trust in your network

  3. Challenge your identity: such as a pressure to pursue goals out of sync with your values, or attacks on your self-confidence, self-worth or sense of control

CEOs on the Manageable Conversations podcast provide practical advice on managing microstress. One strategy is to take time to have a clear understanding of your approach to work and set boundaries. Gillian Harrison, CEO of Whitefox, says: “Be prepared to listen to your own instincts, believe in your own way of doing things and develop your own style.”

Mark Billige, CEO of Simon-Kucher, talks about the inherent “stress in the system”. A starting point for managing the heavy load is sharing it with others, either by acknowledging that you aren’t sure how to work it out or if it feels overwhelming. Sharing the work helps him to take a step back and look at things in perspective, acknowledging "I'm only human".

“We all have different levels of stress we are comfortable with”, adds Mark Makepeace, CEO of Wilshire. Some of us may indeed feel as though we can handle higher levels of stress, but this can become unsustainable. Mark advises: “You have to learn to switch off.” This becomes more important when it comes to managing microstress, as we might not be consciously aware of the toll that it takes. Taking breaks helps to reduce the impact of microstress.

The additional responsibilities of managing others can be another trigger of microstress. Finding sustainable ways of handling leadership responsibilities may begin with managing yourself better. Janthana Kaenprakhamroy, founder and CEO of Tapoly - Insurance On Tap, says: “I think that is one of the key characteristics of a good leader, to be very self-aware.” Self-awareness helps you to be more conscious of how you are affecting others. The boomerang nature of microstress means that the stress we cause others often bounces back to us. As Rob Cross and Karen Dillon advise, "emitting less will mean we receive less in return".

To hear more, tune into Manageable Conversations on Apple Music and Spotify.