How to Deal With Pressure
As far as I can tell, a life without stress is pretty much non-existent. Between work, hobbies, family, friends, and the general ups and downs of the human condition, the only way to completely avoid stress seems to be taking a trip through the pearly gates.
Stress is just part of being human. As we go through life, it is inevitable that not everything will go our way at all times and so it is to be expected that stress with rear its ugly head from time to time. Often, stress will be caused by the pressures of responsibilities at work or at home, which can sometimes feel dauntingly inescapable, and even if you can get rid of one source of pressure, another will probably not be far behind.
Ok, so far this might not be the most positive article you've ever read but, in fairness, I’m not in the business of sugarcoating stuff. Pressure and stress are facts of life and if you spend all your time trying to avoid them then you'll waste your time, and I don't want you to do that. Trust me, I’ve been there, tried that, got the t-shirt.
The thing about stress is that if it can’t be avoided, then you have to deal with it instead. Here’s how.
Recognise the inevitability
Realising that pressure and stress are unavoidable is actually the first step to dealing with those negative feelings on a long-term basis. Many people, myself included, are prone to getting hung up on the fact that they have a deadline due or a responsibility to meet, which actually makes them more stressed than they would have been in the first place.
We get stressed when we feel threatened or under pressure. It’s basically our body setting off our basic ‘fight or flight’ response so that we can either meet the threat head-on or run away from it. That's why stress will sometimes fill you with energy and make you work harder than ever, but other times you'll kind of shut down and avoid doing anything productive.
Stress isn't just natural, it’s a vital survival mechanism that modern humans still use on a regular basis. That's why it's unavoidable. We think of stress as being something that comes from the outside world and encroaches on our mental state, but that's not true. Stress and its associated responses are a completely internal affair.
Recognising the inevitability of stress won't make it go away, but it might help to make it easier to deal with. Instead of running from stress at every turn, we can meet it head-on and try to find solutions to whatever triggered the stress response.
Basically, people who are never stressed probably never do anything worth being stressed about, and that seems like a pretty sad existence to me. So, next time you're stressed, wear it like a badge that shows you care about something enough to have such an emotional reaction to it.
Break things down
This is stress management 101 stuff that you could read in a million self-help articles online. While that is not necessarily indicative of good advice in general, in this case, the internet at large has nailed it.
We start to feel pressure when we feel threatened and overwhelmed by whatever challenges are ahead of us. This most commonly happens when too many disparate tasks get put on us all at once. Our attention becomes fractured and our confidence in our own abilities to succeed starts to diminish. The work left to do looms above us like a titan, casting a shadow over our lives and taking over our minds with nervousness and fear.
Here’s the thing — stress is a psychological response that has physical effects, but the root of the issue is very much in the upstairs department, A.K.A. your noggin, A.K.A. your brain. Because of this fact, reframing your perception of a situation may well be enough to alleviate some of the symptoms of stress, even if only for a while.
This is why to-do lists are actually a really good idea from a psychological perspective. By breaking down tasks into manageable chunks, you can reframe the challenges ahead and make them less daunting, thereby reducing the grip of your ‘fight or flight’ response on you and allowing you to get down to more productive work. Writing tasks down and then ticking them off as you achieve them is even better as the act of completing a goal, even one you made intentionally easy to achieve, releases a bunch of ‘happy chemicals’ in your body like Dopamine, which makes you feel good and helps to keep you motivated.
The fact is, even though this is not always the case with common advice on the internet, the tactic of breaking up your tasks into small chunks to improve productiveness and reduce stress works. The science proves it.
Don’t take stress from others
People can be super stressful. They always want things and have opinions and they are so rarely thinking and doing what we want them to be thinking and doing…. or is that just me?
Anyhow, it’s safe to say that, for most people, at least one prominent source of stress will be other people. Sometimes it’s a boss, other times it might be a coach or teacher, or perhaps it’s even friends and family. Either way, most of us will have someone in our lives who puts our stomachs in knots of stress. This is perfectly natural and is one of the side effects to talking to and living with other human beings, however that doesn't mean that you just have to accept this kind of stress whenever it comes your way.
Like I said before, stress is an internal response to external events, which means that the only person who can directly influence your stress levels is you.
I’m not saying that you can just wish away stress, that would be a lie. Stress is a biological response that can't be totally controlled through willpower alone. However, the way you understand stress and the effects it has on you might help you to avoid taking stress from other people. If the only person who can exercise any influence on your stress levels is you, then your boss or your family or anyone else who might put pressure on you can’t be making you stressed. They simply do not have that much power over you. The way in which you respond to their pressure is in your hands and your hands alone. Sometimes stress will be appropriate, but other times it won’t be.
For me, one of the hardest things I have ever learned was how to not let other people impose their feelings onto me. If someone wants you to be stressed, they can only achieve that with your cooperation. If someone wants you to be scared, or angry, or happy, or sad, they can't do that without your help. Basically, it's your life, so you're in control.
Emotions are complicated and getting them under control, or not allowing others to influence them unduly, is an incredibly difficult skill to learn. True mastery may not even be possible for a thinking, feeling human being. We are emotional creatures and that's ok. But getting to the point where people have just a little bit less influence over how you feel on a day to day basis is definitely doable.
Stress has its place, but it shouldn't control you
Stress is an important tool in humankind’s arsenal of ingrained, biological responses. Without it, we would not have made it as long or as far as we have. Not even close. However, in this modern age, high levels of stress and anxiety are a real problem, and more and more aspects of our 21st-century lives are making us feel like we’re endlessly running away from a sabre-tooth tiger.
I don't think living a life completely free of stress is possible, or healthy, for that matter. However, we can employ certain tactics to at least make it easier to deal with as we make our way through life, one achievement after the other. By reframing problems, understanding stress as a response, and not allowing others to negatively influence our emotions as much, we can get our stress under control and channel it towards a happier and more productive life.