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noun [mass noun]
1. Continuous physical force exerted on or against an object by something in contact with it.
That’s exactly how I felt when I transitioned from A-Level study to University. I had been exerting a phenomenal amount of pressure on myself for a long time at that point. My academic expectations were constantly being pushed, my physical and emotional expectations, too, and felt exhausted.
Starting a whole new chapter of my life was the last thing I wanted to do.
In October 2014, all I wanted was to take a big nap!
One often expects that when you achieve a goal, especially one that has been held for a long time, that a lot of the struggles and problems experienced in the build-up will disappear or at least subside because the achievement will make everything better.
I was ecstatic to have made it to my favourite University, but I was shocked to find that the problems — the extreme sadness I felt a lot of the time — did not subside. In fact, it continued to grow.
My mind couldn’t comprehend the sheer amount of different things I was having to deal with: much harder academic work, new friends, diet, exercise… My mind just couldn’t keep up!
I attribute the fuzziness of mind I often experience in my present life as a direct result of this overloading and overworking I experienced as an 18-year-old.
Soon after it manifested itself in a quite sudden and severe depressive anxiety feeling, something which I’m still dealing with to this day.
Of course, I tried to get a handle on this new pace of life and give it my best go. Being and working at this University had been my dream for so many years before that point; surely I shouldn’t give up without a fight!
I learnt that exercising every day wasn’t going to be possible, and some days I actually felt ok about that.
I tried to spend more time with friends so that I wasn’t spending all my time working or sleeping, that was mostly good. But, deep down, I was putting pressure on myself even in those situations.
It was like neither working nor relaxing was good enough — a middle ground didn’t seem to exist!
Perspective is another ‘P’ word I often think about in addition to ‘Pressure’. Obviously, some pressure is good in everyday life. It’s kind of like ‘Challenge’: if you don’t have something you are pushing towards in your life, some goal you want to achieve in either your professional or private life, you may feel as though you’re stagnating. This was certainly the mentality I had during my degree, anyways.
I was missing the crucial perspective I needed to see that I was exerting too much pressure on myself to perform at my best all the time in all areas of my life.
This is something I think a lot of people find hard to strike a balance with. I certainly still do at times. I can see now that I prioritized my academic success and public persona miles ahead of my personal wellbeing and it clashed so much with what I truly wanted.
I spent years showing others and convincing myself that I worked hard all the time and constantly sought the best results. It was when my first relationship failed, I think, that I finally realized I wasn’t going to get everything right every time.
It made me sad because I felt I’d failed at everything I wanted, or that I’d gotten something seriously wrong at some point and hadn’t been able to see it.
I am, of course, only human so I’m going to make mistakes, but I couldn’t see this at the time.
Since graduating I’ve decided to take an entire calendar year to give myself time to learn how to not put constant pressure on myself. I won’t pretend I get it right all the time. Indeed, I have to actively try not to pressurize myself into not feeling pressured!
The trickiest thing most of the time is spotting when I’m putting a bit too much pressure on myself in a situation that doesn’t require it. For example, at the moment I’m not doing any academic work so reading is just for pleasure. Most of the time I don’t feel like sitting down with a book (I’ve had enough of them over the past three years, to be honest!) but I sometimes pressure myself to read because it’s what I think I should be doing. Small though it may be it still makes me feel incredibly guilty that I’m not being good at everything.
In situations like this, I remind myself that I’m always trying my best, and that’s all I can do.
The depressive episodes still rear their ugly heads from time to time, and at those times the perspective I mentioned can be difficult to focus on. Taking pressure off of myself was one of the best things I realized I needed to do.
I’m realigning my self-worth with things that aren’t connected to success or proficiency. I’m good enough just as I am.
Share your story
Emily is a 21-year-old Music graduate who is taking time to focus on her mental health and wellbeing before undertaking a Masters in Music. She is living Free From Pressure after hiding from her feelings of anxiety and defining what it means to be yourself away from public successes. She enjoys maintaining an active blog and Instagram account, which both address mental health, particularly in academic situations.
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