19 August 2012

Do You Monitor or Explode?

It is said that without pressure there would be no diamonds [Thomas Carlyle]. Pressure is good - nothing can be achieved without pressure. After all; a tyre can't function without pressure; it was pressure which drove the pistons of the industrial revolution; we need pressure to pump the blood around our bodies. Pressure is necessary, and who can argue with that?

I thought I’d resolved all when I decided to stop spinning in circles trying to solve everyone else’s problems, regardless of whether they were in my power to solve. I still cared (probably too much), but I decided to channel my efforts more carefully, and towards that which was within my control. I stepped off my hamster wheel having shaken the weight of the world from my shoulders; my journey would be so much simpler from now on. So I thought.

Instead I found that everything I tried to do was an effort. My insides felt like they were turning inside out, constricted and tight.  This wasn't me; things that I was finding hard were normally simple tasks for me, but my body was crippled. I wasn't functioning properly. Why?

Greater truths are buried underneath the polished philosophy I have described above. Indeed there would be no diamonds without pressure, but is it really that simple? Diamonds do not materialise like they did in one of the superman movies where superman picked up a piece of coal and squeezed it into a beautifully cut and polished diamond. It takes the right amount of pressure and heat to transform carbon into a diamond. If you put a tyre under too much pressure it will burst; a piston put under too much pressure could explode; it was the pressure of the ice against the unsinkable Titanic's hull that caused it to sink at the cost of 1,517 lives. Too much pressure can cause disaster; ill health; it can be dangerous; and how can that be efficient? For pressure to produce efficiency; it must be closely monitored; it must be the right amount of pressure.

Excessive pressure stops things functioning as they should - and that was what was happening to me. I’d been putting pressure on myself to do everything at once, do it perfectly, and succeed as dictated by my dreams - immediately. You cannot achieve to your dreams while putting this much pressure on yourself, because you can’t be effective. I was lucky to recognise this so quickly, but then I have form in this area. I know what professional burn out feels like, and I wouldn't recommend it as a sensible way to reach your goals. It doesn't work. It achieves nothing.

A human body under too much stress – mental or physical - will break. Too much mental stress can impair memory and ability to learn; increase risk of heart disease and diabetes; impair the immune system and the digestive system; cause significant fatigue and headaches. This is just the tip of the stress iceberg.

According to the American Psychological Association/American Institute of Stress, NY, 77% of people regularly experience physical symptoms caused by stress. In the United Kingdom, according to ACAS; in 2004/5, 12.8 million working days were lost to stress; each new stress absence averaging 29 days off work.

So what was my solution? Should I give up on my dreams because they are putting me under too much pressure and I was a stress risk? For me that was no solution. I do not have to remove both the pressure and my dreams from the equation. I had to find a way to remove the unhealthy pressure from the equation, while keeping sight of my dreams. I have to be the tortoise and not the hare. The hare can get to places quicker – but he can’t keep it up long-term. The tortoise may get there slower – but he will get there - his speed causes less pressure on his body.

To relieve pressure we need to know our goals well. We need to break them down into small chunks, and tackle them like tapas – a nibble at a time. If we set ourselves to big a task at one time, we’ll become disheartened when we don’t see immediate results. If we put less pressure on ourselves with a small task to complete, we will see results quickly, and feel achievement without excessive pressure. We know we’ve planned out the rest of the tasks – they are in the diary and we don’t have to worry about them now, because they are for later. If we put ourselves under a little pressure at a time; a healthy and manageable pressure; we're likely to get more done, be more efficient, and achieve the little, and consequently the big goals more quickly.

Think about the total force the Flying Scotsman needed to put it’s pistons through to achieve a journey from London to Edinburgh. If you apply all that pressure at once, that beautiful marvel of engineering would have exploded. When applied bit by bit, we have an unforgettable achievement in rail engineering. I was about to explode, but now I’m feeling fine. I still have the same mountain in front of me, but I’m no longer overwhelmed.

It is so easy to forget when we are working 9-5, but we all have an internal pressure gage, and for many of us it is screaming. We must take positive action when it rises to the red, or even the orange. Positive action will mean stopping; and taking stock of the situation first to work out the appropriate action to relieve the pressure. If we neglect to do this we are in danger of breaking, and becoming one of the above mentioned statistics. Nothing is worth becoming that, especially when taking stock in good time could lead you to become an unforgettable achievement of your own.

How do you manage your stress? I’d love to hear from you – why not join the discussion and comment below?

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The Poet's Soapbox said...

An ex work colleague used to say "Stress is the major cause of stress related illness." It may be a truism but it always raised a smile!

Good luck with your stress management. Understanding yourself and planning accordingly is more than half the battle :)

Richard said...

I find what makes me happy and I keep it close or keep doing it, depending how what it is. :)