Stress kills.

Stress has been indicated as a key factor in heart disease, stroke, and cancer. It breaks up relationships and ruins careers, and ultimately, it seems that the only thing you need to know about stress is this: get away from it.

A lot of people think that stress and pressure are the same thing, so when they feel pressure, they try to do the same thing as when they feel stress: just get away. The thing is, stress and pressure are not the same, and they don’t affect you the same way. How can you tell them apart? It’s simple: if the feeling goes away as you remove yourself from the situation causing it, it was stress. If, as you try to move away, the feeling hunts you down, chases after you, and even gets worse, it’s pressure.

By that measure, pressure sounds far nastier than stress, but pressure can actually be a useful, good sensation. Pressure is a messenger: it’s trying to help you, and has vital information that you can use. Stress is just mean—it just causes pain with no real purpose behind it.

I Always Loved My Dentist Until…

Dentists get a bad rap: everybody seems to associate them with drills and needles, but I liked my dentist  when I was a kid. Dr. Bauer was friendly and kind and he had an amazingly gentle touch. And, to a boy, the dentist’s office was full of some really cool contraptions. Oooh, and they had Highlights magazine in the waiting room. Yup, it was just a place for adventure.

Of course, I had pretty much only been there to have my teeth cleaned. One day, my best buddy John came around looking all sad, and was in a fair amount of pain too. “What happened to you?” I asked my sad friend.“Oh, I just got back from the dentist. I had to have a tooth pulled.” Hmm, I had all my teeth, so I had no perspective on this. “So how’d it go?” I inquired. “Well, he practically crawled up on my chest to pull that thing.” That didn’t sound good. “But he used anesthetic, right?” I asked hopefully. “Well sure, but it’s not like it helped.” What? Anesthetic didn’t help? This was starting to sound ugly.

“He whipped out these big pair of chromed pliers and started yanking. Then he said to me, ‘John, what you are feeling is not pain (grunt), it’s pressure.’ Let me tell you something, it sure felt like pain to me.”

Of course it did. For what might have seemed like good reasons, John associated that pressure with pain and so pain is what he got.

I Only Make Associations Because They Are Associated

In that moment, John wasn’t too open to the idea that the association he made between pressure and pain was completely of his own choosing: he went into the experience expecting pain, and so, whatever he felt, it was going to be linked to pain. The good dentist even attempted to decouple the two for him but he would have none of it.

What do you associate with pressure? Pain? Defeat? Depression? Anger? Restriction? I am guessing that your list will look something like that one, with each association more negative than the last. So, let me whisper a little secret in your ear: Cut it out!

You can make any associations you like so let me make the case for making some positive associations, like: learning opportunity; wake-up call; early warning; and protection.

Pressure Is Communication Without Language

Pressure is a feeling. Since it doesn’t come in words, we might not feel it if it’s elevated to the level of reasoned thought. But feelings are thoughts; merely thoughts that are expressed in your body instead of in your mind.

So when experiencing pressure, you have to be more like a veterinarian than a doctor. My apologies to all the doctors out there but vets have a harder job—they have to do all the same healing work as you do, but their patients can’t tell them what’s wrong. Any decent vet will probably come to the defense of all their doctor friends right now saying, “Oh but my patients do talk to me, just not in words.” Yup, vets are such nice people.

Listen Up

What really matters is that you listen. Pressure is a feeling that’s trying to help you, but it doesn’t have a vocabulary, so it uses the only means available to it. Granted, those means are generally uncomfortable, but you have to admit that they are effective.  Pressure does get your attention. So now what will you do? Brush it off? Run? Argue it down? Instead, give listening a chance.

Just asking the question, “Why am I feeling this pressure right now?” will likely result in an immediate answer. So ask. Then ask if there is more, and don’t stop until you are clear about what the message is. How do you know when to stop asking? Simple: stop when the pressure subsides.

This would be good enough advice if the only result was that your pressure went away, but it does far more for you than that: it now allows you to wield the pressure as a tool that will help to reap fruitful results. We use tools to accomplish work so why not make pressure work for you rather than cause you suffering?

Have you listened to your own inner pressure? Tell us about it by commenting below.

Featured photo credit:  Young business woman tormented via Shutterstock

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