Get good grades. Make good money. Make your parents proud. Represent your school, your hometown, your race, religion, or culture. Pressure takes a lot of forms and comes from a lot of different places. But no matter what type of pressure you’re experiencing, it’s going to have an effect on your mental health.
What kind of effect? Well, that part’s complicated. A little pressure can motivate you to do your best—but too much can paralyze you. Let’s try and unpack the pressure you’re experiencing, and try to find a way to make sure its effect on your mental health is a positive one.
Where is the pressure coming from?
Maybe it’s someone you look up to, like your parents or your coach. Or maybe it’s part of your culture, community, or religion. Maybe you feel pressured to live up to the accomplishments of your classmates or older siblings. Sometimes it can be subtle: Even if someone’s never told you that they expect something from you, their body language or the way they talk about other people might say it all.
Pressure and expectations can come from within, too. Do you define yourself in terms of success, popularity, or prestige? Would you have a hard time living with yourself if you failed at something?
What can I take responsibility for?
Now it’s time to start prioritizing. No one can do everything. What’s most important to you? Which expectations are bringing out the best in you, and which ones are wearing you down? Which ones are realistic?
Maybe you can adjust your expectations a bit—instead of saying you have to be the best, commit to doing your best. Or keep the goal intact but change the timeline. You might need to let go of some expectations completely. Whatever you decide doesn’t have to be permanent—your needs and abilities will shift over time.
It can help to talk things through with a trusted friend or family member. If you can have a conversation about it with the person who’s making you feel pressured, that can be really helpful. On the other hand, you can’t control how other people see you. The more important thing is what you’re allowing yourself to be emotionally invested in.
Coping with stress
You can’t eliminate pressure and expectations completely. But you can’t think about them all the time either. Make sure you have some coping skills you can use to unwind. Write in a journal, go for a walk, call a friend, do some yoga or deep breathing… Anything stress-free that can take your mind off things and doesn’t require too much effort from you.
Feeling under pressure all the time can also be a sign of a mental illness, such as an anxiety disorder. (It can also be a cause of mental illness!) Dealing with an underlying mental illness can be life-changing. If you think you might be experiencing something like that, take one of our mental health screens and keep exploring this site to learn more.