What is pressure? In psychological terms, it is when our own comfortable flow is interrupted by a contradictory flow. It is the child who naturally wants to play, but has to do their homework. It is the adult who naturally wants to remain free, but has to make a commitment. Pressure arrives when life seems to be saying to us: ‘You have to make yourself uncomfortable now, in order to fulfil my requirements’.
THE EFFECTS OF PRESSURE
What happens to our bodies and minds under pressure?
- We feel we have to speed up – there is a sense of ‘too much to do, not enough time’.
- Our ability to think temporarily improves at optimal stress, but then declines at excess stress. We first feel a hit of adrenaline, and then, later, we collapse in a heap.
- Our range of vision narrows, so that we can only see what is in front of our noses.
- We become alert at optimal stress, but then fearful or despairing at excess stress.
Burnout happens when persistent pressure or stress becomes too much for our systems, and we cannot recover our original rested state. This has various manifestations, including adrenal fatigue, high blood pressure, and migraines. All of these are signs of a body and mind that have been exposed to excessive demands, and not been given time to return to normal.
REMAINING PEACEFUL UNDER PRESSURE
To stay peaceful, even under pressure, we need to remain in control of our bodily and mental systems. This is inherently difficult, because many of our systems are autonomic, and not readily within our conscious control.
- MEDITATION – We can develop regular peaceful routines, which we practice in the same way each time. This teaches our body and mind, even under pressure, to return to the peaceful state cultivated by the practice. This is a key health function of meditation. We return to a mind state which is balanced rather than pressurised.
- ASSERTIVENESS – We can cultivate the ability to say no to others when relevant, to tell them we are taking some time out. To do this, we need to get control of our intense social wish to please others. We need to learn to control other people’s expectations.
- COMPASSION – Pressure usually becomes acutely painful when we are over-concerned about our own selves. Conversely, the pain reduces when we become compassionately concerned for others. This is because we are better aligned with a universe of competing forces, and are not so ‘me against the world’, which is a highly pressurised way to think.
- WISDOM – Pressure also usually becomes cognitively confusing when we lose sight of the big picture, and get overly focused on minutiae. When pressurised, we are almost always allowing ourselves to be a victim of a small system, instead of keeping in mind the big system of the whole universe.
In summary, to get better at remaining peaceful under pressure:
- Develop a meditation habit, and practice regularly
- Develop the ability to say no, to manage others’ expectations
- Turn our minds to concern for others rather than for ourselves
- Keep mindful of the big picture – the universe is unfolding as it should
That’s not to say it is easy – it’s not. But if we are prepared to put in the work in those four areas, we have a better chance.