Being under pressure doesn’t have to give you headaches or sleepless nights. A psychotherapist says that you can instead learn to harness the energy of pressure to make you more successful and less stressed.
There’s no shortage of stress these days at work, which is why many workers have turned to yoga, meditation, exercise and even aromatherapy to handle the pressure.
But what if we’re making a mistake by trying to look at stress as something to be conquered and suppressed in our lives? What if we thought about pressure as something that can energize and help us, instead of something to be feared?
“Pressure has really gotten a bad reputation, but pressure can be a very good thing,” says Aimee Bernstein, a psychotherapist and executive coach. “Think about it this way: A tire wouldn’t go anywhere without pressure.”
Bernstein explains that pressure arrives when we’re asked to handle more than we’re used to, but it’s how we respond that makes the biggest difference in our lives. If you look at pressure as an energy that can help you get something done, then it also will make you feel alive and joyful. On the other hand, if you don’t want to get close to pressure, you may become uncomfortable, stressed – and even ill – when it comes knocking.
Part of the problem is that the strategies we use to handle pressure, such as yoga or taking a walk outside, aren’t always possible when racing from meeting to meeting. That leaves us vulnerable to pressure building uncomfortably, instead of letting us go with the flow, she explains.
So how do you let pressure into your life that will be beneficial and not detrimental? Bernstein, author of “Stress Less, Achieve More: Simple Ways to Turn Pressure into a Positive Force in Your Life,” offers several suggestions. Among them:
- Remember to breathe. Post a “BREATHE” note to yourself on your computer monitor. Bernstein says that when we get busy we often start holding our breath or breathing very shallowly, which is enough to keep you alive but hardly adequate to maintain your energy and be able to deal with stress.
- Center yourself. When under pressure, we may react by attacking others, spacing out or distracting ourselves with drugs, alcohol or even shopping. Once you start to notice you’re reacting poorly under pressure (you yell at a colleague, or stare endlessly at a tree outside your window), then you know you’ve got to get out of your own head and pay attention to your body. Try setting your phone or timer to go off every 60 to 90 minutes. Stand up and sense how you are. Breathe deeply, move around by walking across the room to do something or even laugh at what a jerk you’ve been. This will help you regain the power of focus and master your energy.
- Grow angel wings. Remember John Travolta in “Michael” and how the huge wings bloomed from his back? Bernstein suggests envisioning your own wings, letting them expand wider than your body, to feel the tension release and have a greater sense of the strength in your back. Then, “imagine that you have a large, thick dragon tail growing from your lower back and resting comfortably on the ground,” she says. “Notice how this helps drop your tension into the ground so that you are moving with gravity instead of resisting it.”
- Get unstuck. “When things are bad, most people hunker down, contracting their energy or fighting desperately for control,” she says. “The more they resist the pressure, which is there to help, the more they stifle their power, perceptions and ability to navigate through their challenge.” You can empower yourself by acknowledging aloud your concern about something. Give it a name and it will become manageable, she explains. Then, you follow it with the word “and.” For example, you might say, “The cost of this project is getting too big and what information do I need to find out why?” That way, instead of getting mired in the negative, you are creating energy because you’re shifting your mindset to look for clues.
- Dig deep. Conflict can be draining, but Bernstein says it can become a “gift” that helps you understand yourself and the other person involved if you identify the core of your pain. (She advises that you keep questioning yourself until you find your emotional reaction to the conflict has dissipated. That means you’ve found the real reason you’re so upset.) “When you identify the core of your pain, it frees your energy and empowers you to address the conflict with more power, understanding and compassion,” she says.
- Know your triggers. In the book, Bernstein discusses how we all believe that our way of seeing the world is correct and objective, while others are obviously defective when they don’t take our point of view. This leads to a judgmental attitude that creates pressure for us and everyone else. By looking at the different personality types (“perfectionist”, “ observer”, “giver”, etc.) we can better understand what motivates each person and appreciate how different personality types are necessary for various jobs.
“Most of us believe that we need to live in our heads,” Bernstein says. “We try to stay contained in the same space, but the pressure builds. I’m trying to introduce a new conversation that we are living in a world of energy and we can master our own energy flow. It’s time to let go of the control and move into a world of ease.”