Some High Performers Find Ways to Avoid Accumulating Microstresses

(p. C5) Have you had days that exhaust you extraordinarily without any particular reason why?

. . .

There’s a common but little-understood reason for that exhaustion. We call it “microstress”—brief, frequent moments of everyday tension that accumulate and impede us even though we don’t register them.

. . .

One study published in the journal Biological Psychology in 2015 found that exposure to social stress within two hours of a meal leads your body to metabolize the food in a way that adds 104 calories on average. “If this happens daily, that’s 11 pounds gained per year,” noted Lisa Feldman Barrett, a psychology professor at Northeastern University and author of “Seven and a Half Lessons About the Brain.”

. . .

In our research, we observed that some of the high performers—a small subset that we came to call the “Ten Percenters”—were much better at coping with microstress than the rest of those we studied, and perhaps than the rest of us, too. What do they do differently?

. . .

. . ., they’re better at removing themselves from interactions that generate microstress in their lives, whether or not they realize the dynamic. Ten Percenters are more likely to shape these interactions by dealing with simmering disagreements head-on or by limiting such contacts.

. . .

Our Ten Percenters were also thoughtful about not creating the kinds of conditions that cause microstress for others. Think about what happens—to both of you—when you push your child too hard on their grades and it comes back in the form of a rebellious attitude. Or the stress you may create as a manager by unnecessarily shifting expectations. Stopping this cycle helps to prevent microstress from boomeranging back on us.

For the full essay, see:

Rob Cross and Karen Dillon. “Combating the ‘Microstress’ That Causes Burnout.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, April 22, 2023): C5.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the essay has the date April 21, 2023, and has the same title as the print version.)

The essay quoted above is adapted from Cross and Dillon’s book:

Cross, Rob, and Karen Dillon. The Microstress Effect: How Little Things Pile Up and Create Big Problems—and What to Do About It. Boston, MA: Harvard Business Review Press, 2023.

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