Pressure At Work: How To Stay Cool When The Heat Is On

What is it about our jobs that make us want to do so well that we end up stressing ourselves out? Perfection? Effectiveness? Responsibility? Loyalty? No matter what it is that brings that pressure on, we have to remember one thing: The only thing we can control is ourselves. So how do you take that power away from the pressure?

In the mental health field, I witnessed and fell victim to something I like to call the “need to save tunnel.” It is a far less intense version of the Messiah Complex. The first time I found myself in this narrow tunnel I did not realize how much it was affecting my decision making. I met a client who I became rather fond of because she reminded me of someone I knew. I never treated her any differently than the other clients, however, I did end up having different expectations for her outcome. I felt responsible for her and put too much pressure on myself. It was so subtle that I didn’t realize it was happening. As soon as I started feeling responsible for her, I was sucked into the tunnel. The walls were paved with negative thoughts leading to a lack of confidence in myself. I blamed myself for her lack of success in the program. Once I saw this happening to some of my new co-workers, I was able to analyze it more clearly from the outside. I saw more than just their disappointment in themselves when the clients weren’t progressing. I also saw their stress levels rising at work throughout their time with clients. I saw them doubting themselves. I saw them crawling through the tunnel!

“Why can’t we save them?”

In most healthcare industries, our job is to help our clients the best possible way we know how. Unfortunately, because we are so human, we start to put too much pressure on ourselves to be their “savior.” Healthcare professionals tend to be compassionate and/or empathetic to a fauIt. It wasn’t until I was training new counselors and saw them being pulled toward the same tunnel at , that I became determined to build an exit!

This metaphorical tunnel can be just as powerful in other pressure situations as well, so take your workplace pressure and see how it fits. Maybe it is the “Presentation Tunnel,” or the “Meeting With A Boss Tunnel,” etc. . . As soon as you start feeling the pull of that tunnel your thoughts might sound something like this:

“That is a terrible idea, I can do better.”

“She will never like this, I have to start over.”

“I must get this right or my students won’t pass.”

“Don’t forget that one line. I can’t mess this up.”

“He won’t be impressed.”

“I have to help him.”

Notice the terms, “I must. .  .” or “I have to. . .” These are clear indicators that you are putting unnecessary pressure on yourself in that situation. But you have to catch yourself in these thoughts. Most of these thoughts can easily lead to poor decision making. Your “tunnel vision” will only allow you to hear these negative thoughts and shake your confidence. Even more so, they will make you forget why you’re doing what you do to begin with. Believing in yourself is only half the battle, so try to remember that you didn’t get your job because you’re terrible at it. You do what you do because you know what you are doing. So instead of second guessing yourself, let’s build that exit!

I could sit here and tell you that “nobody’s perfect.” Or I could say, “Don’t worry about what other people think,” but what good would that do? You already know those things. I want to offer you something different but relevant. I’m here to help you recognize the pressure when it first arises, and then start to accept it.

I say you should work with the pressure, not against it.

Sound crazy? Well maybe it is, but what have you got to lose?

Recognize Your Symptoms:

Reactions to pressure differ among people so you’ll have to first learn yours! Here are some of the more common “symptoms” to notice:

  • Nervous: Sweaty Palms; Jittery; Dry Mouth
  • Irritable: Snappy; Annoyed with others
  • Appetite Changes: Eating more or less than usual
  • Unsure: Lack of Confidence; Second guessing yourself; Unsatisfied

These are only a few, but as you can see these reactions to pressure are linked to symptoms of stress. Putting too much pressure on yourself can and will lead to unwanted stress that is harder to deal with in the long run. Recognizing these reactions is key to your escape from the tunnel; so try to catch these symptoms early. The earlier you start to notice, the easier it will be to create a bright red sign: EXIT, and get out of there.

Feel Without Judgment:

This part is a little difficult, so work hard at this. Once you catch yourself feeling the pressure you’ll want to find a quiet space for about 2-5 minutes. Going outdoors would be ideal for releasing pressure. If that is easy for you, great! But if you work in a busy office, try to go to your car or a single-person bathroom.

Find a comfortable position (this can be sitting or standing) and begin to feel your symptoms whatever they might be. This is where being mindful comes into your life. Close your eyes and acknowledge the way your body feels. What parts are tensed up? Is your jaw tight? Notice the pace of your heart and the pulse in your neck.

Breathe into your most tense areas and exhale completely. Do this consistently and slowly, breathing into each part of your body and exhaling it all out. Don’t judge yourself for having sweat on your hands or snapping at your co-worker or partner. Just notice that you are irritated. The emotion is there, and that is okay. Sit with these feelings and accept that they are a part of you in this moment, and that is just fine. Be present without judgment. Don’t fight it. Just let it be.


Keep Your Awareness Going:

As you feel yourself becoming more calm you can start slowly opening your eyes and moving your body. Slowly stretch a little bit and try to give yourself a positive affirmation. Say it out loud a couple of times before you go back to face the situation that pulled you into the tunnel. It will probably take you a few times before you start recognizing it early enough. Like with any new skill, you have to practice! These are your tools and resources for creating your exit strategy from the tunnel, so work hard at it. I promise it will be worth it!

When you go back to the original pressure situation, remember how you felt in that moment of acceptance. Remember that it is okay to be nervous or overwhelmed, and do what you do best: your job. As you remain aware and accepting of the way you feel (physically and mentally) you can free yourself from the negative thoughts. Without the pressure, you can work to your highest potential. Most importantly, remember that you cannot control your surroundings (person, place or thing); you can only control yourself and your reactions to your surroundings. So if you end up in the tunnel, surrounded by those negative thoughts, build an exit. Your brain is like a powerful muscle, and when you are present in the moment without judgement, you will strengthen it.

Keep loving yourself and stay strong. We struggle, we hope, we share and we help each other grow!


Get To Know Our Guest Author:

Sara Marsalis

I am a freelance writer for hire with a passionate voice. I use my professional experience in the mental health field as well as my personal experience with mental health to make every piece of work personal and informative.

Here are ways to find me: Facebook, Twitter, SaraMarsalis.Com, My Portfolio

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