Pressure!  We all have times when it seems like there’s just too much.  In his blog The Wise Mind, Rick Hanson uses the image of the Red Zone to describe the over-stress that we all face in the modern world.  There are outer pressures, demands from work, family, and the world, and there are inner pressures, the “oughts” and “shoulds” that we put on ourselves.

Hanson points out that body systems, hormones and neurotransmitters, that evolved to help us deal with dangers in primitive times are still at work in our bodies today.   But nowadays, stresses mount up and we seem to be under constant pressure so we find ourselves living more and more in the Red Zone. The hormones that flood our bodies in times of stress can drive us beyond our capacity to function, causing distress and weakening, rather than enhancing, our abilities and responses.

For a useful discussion about how stress leads to distress, and also how inadequate stress (or challenge) can also disrupt our functioning, read this post about Stress, Eustress and Distress.

Hanson offers action steps for turning back from the Red Zone and de-stressing our lives and our responses.  We can listen to “that quiet background knowing in all of us” that tells us when we are over-reacting to stresses, or creating our own inner tensions from unrealistic expectations that we place upon ourselves.

“In the world, try to slow down and step back. Speak carefully. Buy yourself some time. Drink some water, get some food, go to the bathroom. Before acting, raise your level of functioning (i.e., move from Red toward Green), the center from which effective action flows. Try not to act from fear, anger, frustration, shame, or a bruised ego. Don’t add logs to the fire.”

A favorite technique of mine is to take frequent “two minute breaks” throughout the day. This doesn’t take much time but can be remarkably effective at preventing stress from going into the red zone.

Another strategy is to give up ownership of the outcome of whatever project you are working on. Often what raises our stress level the most is feeling responsible for how something turns out (a conversation, a business meeting, a group project) where we do not have control over the outcome because it depends on what others do and say. By focusing on our own effort and participation (what we can control) and giving up (or giving  to God) the outcome, we may feel less distressed, and, ultimately,  be more effective.

Pressure is a part of life, and learning to manage it is an important skill set for living creatively

For More Information

Stress, Distress and Eustress

Two Minute Meditation