Are you feeling microstressed?

A new book talks about the everyday microstresses that make it difficult to control our lives or have any kind of break. Will they be the straw that break the camel’s back?

Woman looking stressed at her desk


I’m reading a book about microstress: the stuff that builds up and up, for instance, changes to your job which seem small when taken on their own, but can be the straw that breaks the camel’s back or the emotional baggage that comes with constantly adapting to a changing playing field at home and at work.

The authors say they see a lot of people, particularly managers, who are on the edge. It chimes with another book I have read recently, The I can method, where the author Sarah Pittendrigh describes talking to middle-age women managers and business owners and finding they break down in tears often because they are finding it hard to keep up with all the demands on them.

She writes: “Often these people who look like they have it all from the outside – the designer bag, the nice car, the house straight out of a magazine – don’t want to admit it isn’t working out so well on the inside. They are so exhausted from pretending they have it all under control that when they come to me, either in person or over video call, they break down. They often cry. It is like turning on a release valve; the tears come flooding out. They are so relieved to finally admit what is really going on for them, to get the weight of their worries out in the open. It is a relief to them that I understand, that I get it.”

And that’s at the top of the work ladder. We know that the cost of living is leaving many lower and middle earners in real financial crisis and that labour shortages, combined with public sector cuts, are stretching everyone to the limit.

While some might say this is a temporary blip, due to the coming together of a whole host of factors, from Covid to the war in Ukraine, it feels like it is much more deep-rooted than that. A large part of the problems are economic and political ones, but there’s something else about the nature of work today, our ability to keep up with change on every front and how we view ‘success’ that needs looking at.

Parents know this more than most. They are constantly running to keep up with not just the ages and stages of their children, but all the different messages they and their children are bombarded with and the different technological ways their children can be at risk. It’s exhausting. And it’s the kind of exhaustion that the odd lie-in, if you could get one, would not cure. That’s why things like the four-day week should be given serious consideration. Of course, a four-day week doesn’t work for every person or every job, but reducing our hours – but not our pay – allows more time for rest on a continuous basis and recognises the fact that the five-day week of the post-war period has no resemblance in terms of intensity to the way we work now. It would also give us more time to think generally. As it is many people are grasping for Friday on Monday [if they don’t work at seven-day week pattern] and spend much of the weekend preparing for Monday in any event. Burnout is real and the status quo can’t hold.

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