How to Use Stress and Pressure as Motivation

pressureCulturally, we’ve had a conversation going on for quite awhile about the ill-effects of stress, but new research suggests that it’s our relationship with stress that causes the problems, and not stress itself. This is something I’ve suspected for a long time, because in my own life, I thrive when the heat is on. I like a little pressure, a deadline, a reason to show up. I don’t know if it’s the Type A in me, but I have always been this way. In college, I’d write papers in my head, but wouldn’t put them on paper until the day before they were due, so I could feel that tiny bit of frenzy. I think sometimes that just the right amount of that brings out the magic.

Today, I experience it in a different way. I write when my kids are in school. If I don’t get it done then, it isn’t going to happen. The pressure is built-in, but I no longer like to over-extend myself, or say yes when I need to say no. When I wrote the last book, I turned in the final draft two weeks ahead of schedule. Leaving things until the last minute is not appealing at this point in my life. I think a lot of our distress results from how we deal with pressure, and not the pressure itself.

Sometimes we’re suffering from pressure that we take on from our own expectations. We might think we “should” be able to give our all at work, and at home, and still find time to exercise, cook a great meal, nurture our friendships, and make sure the house is spotless. Sometimes you really have to pick your battles. Check yourself around the word “should”, because that’s a word that creates a lot of pain. Should you be happy around the holidays? Should your family of origin be able to sit around the table without anyone ending up in tears, or three sheets to the wind? Should everything look like a Norman Rockwell painting? I mean, all of that would be nice, but that doesn’t mean it’s in the cards.

You might remember that diamonds are made by high heat and lots of pressure. It’s good to think about where the pressure you feel is originating. Is it coming from within you, from your own thinking, or is it coming from your environment, partner, family, friends, or society at large? Are there things you’re feeling pressured about that you could put in your DGAF column? Are you overly worried about what other people will think if you drop your need to show up in a particular way?

I always think a great question is, “Who am I going to be in this situation?” because it puts you in the power seat. Instead of feeling victimized or overwhelmed, you get to think about what is being asked of you, whether it’s reasonable, and how you want to respond. Ultimately, I’d get very selective about the things you’re going to prioritize, because your time and energy are finite. When possible, I try to have a sense of humor about feeling the heat. If something doesn’t get done (or something doesn’t get done “perfectly”), is the world going to end? If you don’t show up the way someone else wants you to, but you’re at peace with yourself, isn’t that enough? If someone is going to judge you, have they lost sight of what it means to love you? Most of the stuff we freak out about is really meaningless. If you can take those things off your list, you’ll free up energy for the stuff that truly matters.

Sending you love, and wishing you peace,

Ally Hamilton

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