An Antidote to Stress and Pressure? To Seek More of it

Toby Hazlewood

When pressure promotes results

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Woman Leaning on a Rain-streaked windowPhoto by Milada Vigerova on Unsplash

Most of us grow to understand what makes us tick and figure out what works and what doesn’t through the passing of time and the gaining of experience. One such lesson is in how we cope best in times of stress, pressure and adversity.

A charmed life?

By all reasonable measures I’ve got it easy. What possible cause have I to feel stress?

I wake in a comfy bed, usually to the sound of birdsong outside rather than gunshots or sirens. There’s always food in the refrigerator and we have clothes, shelter and the essentials of life at our disposal. There’s money in the bank account, paid work to do and leisure time to look forward to. My kids are receiving a comprehensive education and have grown up with an abundance of opportunity, love and support, protected from fear and threat.

Why then should life cause me stress or suffering? In spite of the lack of mortal danger, stress strikes often, just as I’m sure it does for you.

Over time, we adapt in our capacity to deal with the hardships we face. We learn to function with whatever our ‘norm’ is. When we take on more or when life presents us with a hurdle to overcome, we can either rise to the challenge or crumble before it.

What we become used-to in life shapes our tolerance for stress and hardship. It determines our ability to cope with the challenges we face.

More is less

In times of stress and overwhelm I’ve figured out that my best course of action isn’t to retreat into myself, or to let off the pressure in a gesture of personal kindness and self-care. Instead, the answer for me is to seek out more pressure.

I cope better and am way more productive when I’ve got a to-do list of 100 things than if I’ve got 2 things to do. If the list is short, I’ll procrastinate over each and every task. I’ll fixate, debate and worry rather than getting on with the task at hand.

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If I’ve got lots to do I’ll find the groove, the sweet-spot where I get stuff done and plough on from one thing to the next. When I’ve got more on my plate, I take more action and feel better as a result of it.

When I get out of my head and out of my own way, I remember that I’ve got more than this situation requires. I prove to myself that I have the capacity to push on and I do what needs to be done. I take action.

“The path to success is to take massive, determined action.” -Tony Robbins

Having a load of different things on my to-do list doesn’t overwhelm me if I treat it as a vast source of potential ways to take action and make a difference in my life.

Action breeds confidence whereas procrastination breeds fear. Taking action yields results and results equate to progress. Progress leads to success.

To act is to take control and ownership of the situation rather than to fret and worry. When there are multiple things to be done, and many tasks requiring attention, it becomes easier to take that massive action since there’s no limit to the potential gain. Any step forwards is a step in the right direction.

Think of it like bailing water out of a leaking boat. When there’s just a little water swilling about in the hull it can be frustrating to scoop it up and throw it over the side. You may even decide not to bother doing anything at all until the situation gets worse. When you’re up to your ankles in water however, there’s no shortage of it to scoop out and more progress to be made more quickly; the massive action yields bigger results.

It’s often easier to take this massive action when the pressure to do so is greater.

Taking on more and more isn’t a universal recipe for success, but neither is hiding from the world, vainly hoping that the situation will improve.

I think of it as weight-training for my mind and my inner resilience. Pushing beyond the comfort zone, rather than retreating into myself is how I build the capacity to cope under pressure. Each time I complete another task it gives me more mental ammunition and another powerful reminder of success that came about as a result of overcoming adversity or inertia. It’s another time when I took action, got a result and made progress. By taking on more, I build self-belief and reaffirm that I have the capacity to get things done.

Suffering for our art (or work)

Dealing with stress and managing its effects in our life are a form of suffering. Out of suffering comes growth (if we respond to it effectively).

As one of my favourite bloggers, Tim Denning puts it here:

“When you see suffering as a necessity and you learn to use it to your advantage, that same suffering becomes fuel for your goals and dreams. All of a sudden, when suffering enters your life, you know what to do with it.”

When there is less going on in our life, our capacity to handle things also depletes. Things that we once took in our stride become matters of great importance and sources of disproportionate worry. When our world-view shrinks and we become accustomed to living life on a smaller scale, that becomes our norm and our ability to handle more is reduced.

When we grow through adversity and build strength through suffering stress but taking action anyway, we’re able to handle more in life. It is that simple.

Remember also that Parkinson’s Law ensures that things in our life expand to fill the available time and space. Something whose significance should occupy only minimal attention or energy will expand if we don’t keep ourselves busy and fill our lives with the things that will make a difference and take us in the right direction.

My advice then; seek out more pressure, not less. Build your mental strength and resilience in times of hardship and stress, just as you’d gradually build your physical strength through progressively lifting heavier weights. It will feel uncomfortable at first, there will be the growing pains, but ultimately it’ll be worth the effort.

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