Feeling pressure

Feeling pressure

Tuesday, 22 June 2021

Life can feel full of pressure sometimes. Especially while we figure out who we are, what we want, and how we want our lives to be.

Young people who come to Jigsaw often talk to us about the pressure they’re feeling. Some of the things they feel pressure from include:

  • Fitting in – Having to change who they are to be included in a group.
  • Supporting friends – Feeling they have to respond to friends’ difficulties, even when it interferes with their own wellbeing.
  • Conforming – Falling in with an education system that feels unfair and out of line with everything else in their life.
  • Performing well in exams – Comparing results and achievements.
  • Competing and doing well in sports or other hobbies – This can be to the point where they no longer enjoy it.
  • Future plans – Feeling they should know what career path to choose.
  • Fulfilling the expectations of others – Living up to the expectations of parents. Or matching the achievements of siblings.
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Where does this pressure come from?

There are many reasons to feel pressured or under the spotlight. Everyone experiences this sometimes, to a greater or lesser extent.

The expectation to live up to siblings or friends’ achievements that comes from parents and teachers can weigh on us. We can also feel it from our friends when we compare grades and achievements.

Many of us are led to believe our achievements, such as in exams or sports, make us valuable as people. Even our parents can sometimes be fooled by this. They can think they need to push you to achieve for you to be happy.

Feeling pressure to fit in

Fitting into rigid systems like school can be difficult, especially if it’s not important to us. We may feel we’re not getting anything from it. Or feel we’re not understood within that system.

It can be even tougher if we’ve experienced trauma. Or if our home life isn’t as structured or stable as other people’s.

School and competition is not for everyone. There’s a risk that we lose the joy of sport or hobbies by pushing ourselves to achieve at all cost. Making life all about that achievement can have the same effect.

Supporting friends

In our friendships, we often think that selflessly giving support is a part of life. We can feel pressure to be responsible for our friends’ happiness and wellbeing. When really, we’re just one small part of that.

Supporting others doesn’t have to be damaging to our own mental health. Establishing boundaries in friendship is important, for you and your friends.

Fear of missing out

It’s a thing. We can feel it at any age. Unfortunately, some what help us feel connected can also add to our sense of being left out.

For example, young people coming to Jigsaw told us Snapchat or Whatsapp can be a source of social peer pressure. Other people’s posts can make it feel like everyone is having a great time without us. Images of seemingly perfect lives and appearances can cause us to feel pressure to be a certain way

Picture of a group of friends with arms around each others shoulders
Images of seemingly perfect lives and appearances can cause us to feel pressure to be a certain way.

How can feeling pressure impact us?

Pressure can come from different sources, including from ourselves. For some, an overwhelming sense of pressure can cause feelings of awkwardness, worthlessness or hopelessness. We may feel down or lose motivation.

It can force us to abandon what is important to us, disconnecting us from our ideas of who we are and our identity. This can then cause us anxiety in social situations. So what can we do when we experience pressure from friends, parents, teachers?

Figure out what’s important to you

When we ask our clinical staff what helps young people they work with, they often emphasise figuring out what matters to the individual.

What are your values and interests? Spending time on what’s important to you reduces pressure you might feel when doing things you don’t value.

Ask yourself, what do you need?

Problems at school or pressure with exams sometimes just need a bit of help to resolve. Other times it might be necessary to see what’s needed to survive a system, like school, that you may not suit you.

Can you work with your parents and the school to find ways to get what you need out of it? Do you need to spend so much energy on one or two subjects, leaving no energy for others?

It’s difficult getting through the week if we’re running on empty. Eating a healthy balanced diet, getting regular exercise and quality sleep will always help our general coping skills. Developing a tool kit to face the day can be useful. A playlist of music that lifts your mood before you head into school or college could be part of this.

If changing ourselves to fit in is making us miserable, is it worth it?

Coping with social pressure

If we’re under pressure to conform for our friends, it could be time to stick up for ourselves. Recognise what we believe in, not what our friends think we should. 

This can be very hard, and scary. Sometimes, with real reason, we can be afraid our group will exclude us or make us feel different. If that’s the case, maybe it’s time to think about who we’re trying to fit in with.

If changing ourselves to fit in is making us miserable, is it worth it? Are there other groups we can try and be friends with? If it’s just 2 or 3 people in the group that we get on with, can we focus on them? This is easier said than done, but we do have to think about being true to ourselves.

Identify what matters

Finding out what matters to us can help manage feelings of pressure that come from others. Identify what is meaningful to us and what kind of person we want to be. 

Connecting with ourselves, what brings us joy and what our values are, figuring out the things we need to do to get through. These are the type of things that will help us to survive the pressures all around us.

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