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What’s The Difference Between Internal And External Pressures And How Do I Deal With Them?

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Pressure is unavoidable. We experience it every day: the pressure to produce, the pressure to get work done, the pressure to be a good friend, the pressure to be a good parent, son, daughter, sibling, or partner, the pressure to be a good member of society, the pressure to be your “best” self, and the pressure to…well, you get it. The list goes on. 

That begs a few questions: How do we exist under such pressure, especially when those pressures are overwhelming, contributing to burnout, or having a negative effect on our lives? How do we live happy, successful lives when so much pressure can feel overwhelming?

One thing that’s been helpful to me is identifying what type of pressure I’m dealing with and adjusting my mindset accordingly. First, I look at which pressures are normal or expected and which ones are short-term or long-term pressures. Then I break those into categories: internal pressures and external pressures. Finally, I take that list and ask myself if there are any that I can let go of or reduce. 

I know I’m not the only one who can benefit from this exercise, which is why I’m writing this post. Below, I’ll answer these questions:

  • What’s the difference between internal and external pressure?
  • Does it matter what kind of pressure I’m under?
  • I don’t have time to deal with these pressures. Can I just ignore them for now?
  • How do I alleviate or eliminate some of these pressures? 
  • What do I do now? 

Before I dive in, I suggest removing any pressure you might be feeling around this article. For example, do you only let yourself read posts you can finish in one sitting? If so, ask yourself if that’s really a requirement and if you can let that go and just read as much as you can now and pick up the rest later. If you can take a break and that would be better for your schedule, then let yourself do that.

OK, let’s dive in. 

What’s the difference between internal pressure and external pressure?

I want to clarify what I mean when I’m talking about internal and external pressures here. In this post, I’m defining internal pressures as the pressures we put on ourselves and external pressures as ones put on us by other people or by society. 

Internal pressures can include:

  • Setting unrealistic expectations around what you can get done in a day
  • Thinking you have to or should be able to show up for every single person in your life every single way they might want you to
  • Feeling the need to be perfect in every aspect of your life

With internal pressures, you want to reflect on your mindset as it relates to the expectations you have for yourself. Are they realistic? Are they fair to you?

External pressures can include:

  • Working under conditions where you feel that your boss wants you to get 80 hours of work done during your 40-hour workweek
  • Having to keep up appearances and maintain a certain wardrobe, weight, hobby, or lifestyle in order to fit a narrow definition of success

With external pressures, think about what you’re doing as you’re doing it. Then ask yourself who or what—your loved ones, your boss or coworkers, society—put them on you.  

Does it matter what kind of pressure I’m under?

Pressure is pressure, right? Right! That means that the physical and psychological symptoms you’re experiencing while under these different types of pressure can be the same or very similar. So, in that way, the type of pressure doesn’t matter as much.

However, different types of pressure do affect you differently when it comes to the impact they have on your happiness, well being, or mental health. It’s also important to identify what your pressures are because the way you alleviate those pressures will depend on what is and isn’t in your control—and that can vary greatly from person to person and from pressure to pressure.

I don’t have time to deal with these pressures. Can I just ignore them for now?

Our bodies process pressures and stressors even when we’re not actively thinking about them. If you ignore the pressures, you’re ignoring the potential solutions to alleviating or eliminating those pressures

As I hinted at above, that can greatly impact your physical and mental health. You can deal with the pressures now or you can deal with the impact of not dealing with the pressures later—which one would you prefer? Which one would better serve the quality of your life in the future?

How do I alleviate or eliminate some of these pressures?

Once you’ve identified what pressures you’re under and what type of pressure they are, it’s time to think about how you can alleviate or even eliminate some of them.  

To do this, start with asking yourself questions like:

  • Are you doing things because you truly enjoy them or because you are trying to impress someone or look “good” in their eyes? To earn their praise? What happens if you give up some of these or scale back on what you’re doing? Is that trade off (less pressure, more time back in your day, more control over your self worth) one that will positively impact your life?
  • Are you doing things out of habit? If so, which of those pressures are supporting habits or goals that aren’t realistic or relevant to your life anymore? What would happen if you scaled back and set new goals? What positive habits would you form then? 
  • Are your goals or standards achievable? Do you expect perfection from yourself? And do you think that it’s possible to even be perfect? Spoiler: It’s not. So, what would your life look like if you weren’t “perfect” or you couldn’t do “everything” or “have it all”? 
  • Are there boundaries you can set that would remove some of these pressures? What do those look like? How will you enforce those boundaries? These can include turning down invitations to attend certain social events that would drain your energy or turning down work you don’t have time to do.  

If you’re feeling guilty about passing off certain tasks or responsibilities to other people, that’s OK. That’s completely understandable. You might think that you’re making other people’s lives harder by delegating tasks, but that’s not always the case. 

In fact, by asking for help, you’re inviting people to support you and freeing yourself up to be a happier, healthier person—something that will benefit everyone in your life. Ask yourself: Who in my life can help me tackle these tasks? Then ask those people if they can help you and tell them how they can do so. 

The key is to be selective about what deserves your time, energy, and attention. Think about what those things are and then decide which ones you think are worth tackling. Then, you guessed it, focus on those.  

What do I do now?

In addition to what I mentioned above, I have one more piece of advice: Don’t put pressure on yourself to do this work overnight. Set your goals, make sure they’re realistic, enforce your boundaries, and take care of yourself. And remember to trust yourself. You know what you want your life to be, look, and feel like. Pursue the path that makes you happy and successful by your own definition—not anyone else’s. 

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  • Thomas Zachariah

    Well said. It might be more interesting if provide real-life situations here to tackle these pressures
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