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Five Reasons You Might Be Sweating the Small Stuff

spotSometimes you find yourself reacting strongly to relatively minor events.  It happens to everyone.  But if it’s happening to you with more regularity, there could be something more behind it.

Here are some potential culprits:1)  You’re actually frustrated/angry with people in your life but you don’t want to admit it to yourself.

It’s a lot easier to rage about traffic than to have to take stock of your relationships.  Once you admit to yourself that you are upset with the people closest to you, there’s that whole business of having to actually do something about it.

Sometimes denial seems easier.  But it does have its drawbacks–for example, getting unreasonably stressed about all manner of silliness.  The up side is, if you do get honest with yourself and handle the actual underlying problem, you CAN start doing something about it.  Denial sucks up a lot of emotional energy.

2)  The stuff is not actually that small.

Well, maybe it is to other people, but it’s not small to you.  And you know, that’s okay.  Sometimes we do care deeply about little things.  We might feel like we shouldn’t care about them, but in fact, we do.

If you can stop judging yourself, you’ll be better able to generate solutions.  Accepting what actually matters to us–regardless of how we imagine others would feel about the same things–is an important way to begin feeling better and more compassionate toward ourselves.  That will definitely lower stress.

3)  You feel stuck and stagnant in the big picture (your career, your marriage, etc.)

That might lead to you putting a lot of emphasis on small things that should seemingly be within your control. Then, when you’re not able to control those, you’re especially upset.  They might feel like stand-ins for the bigger issues, or like bad omens (if you’re superstitiously inclined.)

4)  You’re depressed, anxious, or experiencing some other mental health symptoms.

Sometimes we only become aware of those deeper symptoms when we recognize that we are behaving differently than we usually would.  People often have certain ideas of what it means to be depressed and anxious and might not feel like they fit into those limited categories (or don’t want to admit that they do.)  For example, a client of mine recently said that she thought anxious people had to have physical symptoms (like tight chests or upset stomachs); she didn’t realize that anxiety could just be rumination.

Mental health problems can be very individual in their presentation.  Consider what your level of distress really is, and if you might need to consult a professional or try a self-help guide or workbook.

5)  You’re feeling lonely, or unsupported.

Things often seem more overwhelming (i.e. small things become big) when we’re shouldering the burden alone.  Whether you have a partner or not, consider your support network, and whether you can draw them closer.  Maybe you’d like practical help; maybe only emotional.  You might need some of each.

Our feelings and reactions offer clues all the time.  We’ve just got to figure out how to solve the mystery.

Ink stain image available from Shutterstock.

Five Reasons You Might Be Sweating the Small Stuff

Holly Brown, LMFT

Holly Brown is a marriage and family therapist in the San Francisco Bay area. She has a private practice in Alameda ( ). She is also a novelist ( Her latest is HOW FAR SHE'S COME, a workplace thriller which received a starred review from Publisher's Weekly: "This provocative tale will resonate with many in the era of the #MeToo movement."

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APA Reference
Brown, H. (2014). Five Reasons You Might Be Sweating the Small Stuff. Psych Central. Retrieved on May 30, 2020, from


Last updated: 26 Feb 2014
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