“I feel like I’m in a pressure cooker. I feel the heat 24/7.” If you were to come to my office, I’d prescribe five actions for you to take to cool your day, to “depressurize.”
Focus on how good you are at something, not your ranking. You’ll experience less pressure if you focus on your own skill and excellence rather than how you stack up against others. We all know that we live in a competitive world. But we can’t control the efforts of the other guy. Competition encourages us to try to be better than others. The tradeoff is a constant feeling that “you have to be the best,” which can create unrealistic expectations and a sense that you don’t measure up. Focusing on your own excellence, rather than beating out the other person, puts you in control of your destiny. It promotes feelings of confidence, rather than pressure anxiety.
Adhere to your values and personal expectations. You’ve probably seen plenty of films and television shows in which one of the characters feels extreme pressure to live up to the expectations of others. These shows are a good example of art imitating life, and we relate to them because it’s such a common pressure.
Whether because of a fear of rejection or the need to be accepted, attempting to perform to meet the expectations of others helps to exacerbate pressure. It can force you to navigate a different course than you would otherwise. Staying true to your values and honoring the goals and expectations you set for yourself are more likely to reduce the feelings of pressure you experience.
Focus on your interests, not the incentives. Almost everyone thinks about incentives in the workplace, from salaries to bonuses to promotions. Paradoxically, those who focus excessively on attaining them or losing them are more likely to feel stress, anxiety, and fear— emotions that intensify feelings of pressure that, ironically, inhibit their capabilities to attain the very incentives they desire.
Those who pursue and develop their interests in their careers are much more likely to experience positive emotions at work than those who don’t, as well as greater productivity.
The same is true for people who focus on achieving a sense of purpose and meaning through their work. If you are starting out in the work world, follow your genuine interests— any pressure you experience will be buffered by the feelings of curiosity and fulfillment that come from following your passions. If you’ve been in the work world for a while, try to rekindle your purpose.
Appreciate what you “have,” not what you “have not.” Experiencing joy is a great minimizer of pressure. Appreciate the people, events, opportunities, and achievements that enrich your life, but which so many of us often take for granted. Focusing on what you don’t have will likely increase your feelings of pressure. To depressurize, take a few minutes each day to appreciate what you have. You will feel calmer, happier, and more relaxed.
Use any feelings of pressure you experience to modify your thoughts. If you are experiencing pressure anxiety before a key event or action, remember that how you speak to yourself can help you or hurt you. If you have butterflies in your stomach before a presentation you are probably not telling yourself, “I can handle this,” or “Life is great,” but you should. Telling yourself you’re not ready, or imaging yourself failing is not productive. Give yourself practical advice, such as “stay focused,” or “just do your best.” Instead of allowing your thoughts to keep you stuck, repeating and intensifying your fear, train yourself to create feelings of confidence. Those feelings will stay with you as you walk out onto the mean streets of pressure.
We all feel pressure but you don’t have to feel it 24/7—just depressurize.
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