How To Choose Peace When You’re Under Pressure

“Let us fill our hearts with our own compassion.” ~Thich Nhat Hanh

“Mom’s concentrating,” I tell my kids as I clean up after dinner. I suggest a game to keep them occupied. “How many words start with A?”

As I inspect the crumbs under the kickboard, I pay just enough attention to hear them play along.

Mom. L!” (I must have drifted off.)

“Right. L is for?” And they’re off again. Be more present, be more present, be more present, I think.

M…N…O…I laugh to myself when we reach P. P is for pressure, that’s what, I think as I remind myself that I really need to print off those tax documents tomorrow. And call the doctor. And send off those emails. And register for that training.

The fact that I can share this with you today reflects true progress. I’m learning to notice the pressure now, examine it, and reduce it where I can, trusting that I can still address the valid concerns that are within my control.

But before, pressure just felt normal. Necessary even. I used to tell myself that this is what discipline and motivation looked like, as if I didn’t believe I could do the things that mattered without the stress.

It’s only in the last few years that I’ve dared to be honest with myself about what goes on in my body and mind.

Now, I accept that this is pressure, and it isn’t helping. Now, I know that my thinking patterns and actions can either bring more pressure or more peace. And now, I truly believe that I have the power to choose which way it goes even when nothing else is in my control.

This doesn’t mean I’ve perfected the process. Far from it. But now I have the clear intention to at least try.

Recognizing the pressure was the easy part. The warning signs were clear enough: headache, tension, irritability, worry, fatigue. This doesn’t always stop me denying it or trying to power through.

Recognizing that my thoughts and actions might be intensifying it was a little harder.

There’s always a kernel of truth (or more) in the pressures we feel. Pressure comes from the real, daily things that keep life running smoothly. It also comes from the deeper, scarier problems we face. A serious diagnosis. Unemployment. Divorce. Loss. Trauma. And either way, whether it’s an everyday concern, a traumatic event, or what we’ve learned to label as a “silly” worry, we feel pressure when we care. The pressure we feel tells us so much about our values, priorities, and expectations.

However, in my experience and…

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