Kaveh KavoosiApr 23

Putting Stress Under the Microscope

A close up of a gloved hand using a white microscope.

Feeling stressed?

Without knowing you or your situation, I can comfortably assume the answer is ‘yes’. Most of us feel some level of stress most of the time. It’s a constant companion.

But we rarely if ever take the time to consider that stress beyond merely recognizing its presence:

  • Where are you carrying stress right now?
  • What is that weight?
  • Where is it felt and from where did it originate?
  • How long has it been there?
  • What are you doing to address it?

It’s not until we start asking questions that we can begin to deal with — rather than simply accept — stress.

In an earlier post, I mentioned the biological likelihood that we are hardwired for short periods of stress followed by long periods of rest.

This ‘down time’ should be seen as an opportunity to recuperate, understand, contemplate, and assimilate the stress.

Almost everything we do could be defined as some sort of micro-stress, but we’ve become quite skilled at managing and completing them.

Left unchecked or unfinished, though, and the burden can compound. Too many micro-stresses piling up can amount to a massive weight.

Stress Upon Stress Upon Stress

This daily stress may be necessary, but it’s very important to consider how it is affecting you.

Our bodies and brains are remarkable machines, and we’ve evolved to adapt to our stressors very effectively. In fact, we’re so good at it that we may not even recognize it as stress in the first place.

We adapt. We roll with the punches. Go with the flow. Sometimes better than others, but more or less successful. Just a part of life.

It may be sustainable. For a while. But is it healthy?

Too many micro-stressors build up, and meals might be skipped, coffee intake might go up, and sleep might be sacrificed for the greater good. Everything gets tossed on the back burner.

Too much of that, and we may start to eat more food that’s not good for us (fast food, junk food, snacks). We may reach for a substance like drugs or alcohol to help us cope. We may resort to social distractions.

And that can cause exponential growth: more stress which leads to more unhealthy habits which leads to more stress.

Friends, family, and partners may notice the shift. And they may not. But if they have the permission to ask — and the permission to answer truthfully — it could be very insightful. So set up and grant that permission. Ask those closest to you “do I seem stressed?” and accept the answer in the spirit in which it was intended. Not defensive, dismissive, or deflective.

Only then can stress be addressed.

Address the Stress

Why? Because chronic, unaddressed stress changes both physiology and personality.

It can manifest as emotional and physical exhaustion.

It can make us lash out.

Every stress is different and unique to how we perceive it. It won’t affect two individuals in the same way. But weakness, dysregulation, depression, mood shifts, anxiety, isolation, and more are all on the menu to varying degrees. Mix and match. Choose your poison.

Over time, personalities shift to compensate, and heart attacks, strokes, accidents, and even cancers are even more common in the chronically stressed.

If you’re feeling stressed — and you probably are — remember that it is worth exploring. It is worth taking the time to understand it better. Ask yourself:

How long have I felt stressed?

What am I doing about it?

How is it affecting me? How is it affecting others?

Do I have control over it?

Is there something I’m not doing that could reduce it?

It’s worth exploring your stress today to improve the quality of your life tomorrow. Find someone you can talk to about it. Consider whether talking to a therapist — which is a sign of strength and not weakness — might be the best avenue for you.

Be active in how you deal with even micro-stress.