Survive and thrive under pressure | Sunday Observer

Survive and thrive under pressure

Do you ever have so much to do that you don’t know where to begin? Maybe you sometimes feel overburdened by others’ expectations of you, or disappointed with the progress you’ve made on a task. When you’re under pressure, it’s easy to feel like this.

Pressure is an everyday part of our working lives. Philosopher Thomas Carlyle said, “No pressure, no diamonds,” suggesting that, in manageable doses, pressure can energize and motivate you to perform and achieve.

Too much of it, however, can tip the balance the other way. The trick to making pressure work for you, and not against you, is to find the ‘sweet spot’ between having too little and too much of it.


It’s not a big deal to find this ‘sweet spot’. First, try to understand the two types of pressure.

Internal pressure stems from pushing yourself too hard, or from worrying too much about your ability to meet your (or others’) expectations. For example, you might drive yourself to get that special award, or doubt your ability to perform at a speaking engagement.

External pressure comes from the circumstances or the people around you – your manager, for example, giving you a hefty workload that exceeds your capacity to deal with it.

Some external pressures have little connection with your job, but the way you react to them can negatively impact how you work. A long commute, illness, financial difficulties, family responsibilities, bereavements, or a dangerous workplace can all weigh heavily on you and affect how you behave.


Now comes the ‘sweet spot’. The National Association for Mental Health, the largest scientific organization in the world dedicated to research on Mental Health, gives some practical and positive actions you can take for yourself to combat pressure. They are quite easy to practice.

Talk it out

When something worries you, don’t bottle it up. Confide your worry to some level-headed person you can trust - your husband or wife, father or mother or a good friend. Talking things out helps to relieve the strain, helps you to see your worry in a clearer light, often helps you to see what you can do about it.

Escape for a while

Sometimes, it helps to escape from a painful problem for a while: to lose yourself in a movie, a book, a game, or a brief trip for a change of scene. Making yourself ‘stand there and suffer’ is a form of self-punishment, not a way to solve a problem. But, be prepared to come back and deal with your difficulty when you are more composed, in a better condition emotionally and intellectually.

Work of your anger

If you find yourself using anger as a general pattern of behaviour, remember that anger will generally leave you feeling foolish and sorry in the end.

If you feel like lashing out at someone, try holding off until tomorrow. In the meantime, pitch into some physical activity like gardening or carpentry, tennis or a long walk. Working the anger out of your system will leave you much better prepared to handle your problem intelligently.

Give in occasionally

If you find yourself getting into frequent quarrels with people, and feeling obstinate and defiant, remember - that’s the way frustrated children behave. Stand your ground on what you believe is right - but do it calmly and make an allowance for the fact that you could turn out to be wrong.

And even if you are dead right, it’s easier on your system to give in once in a while. If you do this, you’ll usually find that others will yield, too.

Do something for others

If you worry about yourself all the time, try doing something for somebody else. This will take the steam out of your worries and, even better, give you a warm feeling of having done well.

Take one thing at a time

To people under tension, an ordinary work load looks so great that it’s painful to tackle any part of it. When that happens, pitch into a few of the most urgent tasks, one at a time, temporarily setting aside the rest.

Once you dispose of these first matters, the others will go much more easily. If you feel you can’t set anything aside, reflect: are you sure you aren’t overestimating the importance of the things you do—that is, your own importance?

Go easy with criticism

Some people expect too much of others, then feel let down, disappointed, frustrated, when another person does not measure up. The ‘other person’ may be a wife, a husband or a child whom we are trying to fit into a preconceived pattern - perhaps, even trying to make over to suit ourselves. Instead of being critical of another person’s behaviour, search out his good points and help him to develop them. This will give you both satisfaction, and help you gain a perspective on yourself.

Make yourself ‘available’

Many of us have the feeling that we are being ‘left out’, slighted, neglected. Often, we just imagine this. Instead of shrinking away and withdrawing, it is healthier - and more practical - to make overtures yourself. There is a middle ground between withdrawal and pushing. Try it.

Schedule your recreation

Many people find it hard to take time out. For such people, a set schedule of hours for recreation would help. It is desirable for almost everyone to have a hobby that absorbs him during off hours—one into which he can throw himself completely and with pleasure, forgetting all about his work.

Parting advice

The quest for peace of mind - or for good mental health, is universal. Yet, few of us are blessed with all the internal qualities and external circumstances that automatically assure it.

We have to work to achieve it. This means striving for a better understanding of ourselves and others. It means working out our problems by ourselves when we can and seeking assistance when we need it.