How many of you got the Bowie song stuck in your head after reading the title? How many of you have it playing in your head now that I mention it? So sorry. If it makes you feel any better, I have it stuck in my head now too. Now onto the actual topic of this blog post: the pressure you put on yourself.
When you are growing up, everyone warns you about peer pressure. Don’t blindly follow others just because you want to fit in. Don’t do things you aren’t comfortable with. Don’t let the pressure control you. What people don’t always teach you is that the pressure you put on yourself can be just as great, if not greater. It can cause your anxiety to build as you look around and see that you aren’t living up to the expectations you put on yourself. Don’t get me wrong. Setting goals and expectations can be healthy, but when it causes self-doubt and self-esteem issues it is no longer beneficial.
I see a lot of this self-inflicted pressure in college. I have fallen victim to this line of thinking as well. College students put pressure on themselves to do well in all their classes, engage in extracurricular activities (preferably in leadership positions), hold down part-time jobs, volunteer, and have a social life all at the same time. If something starts to fall to the wayside, it often becomes a domino effect. You get behind on your homework so you have to catch up, which means you miss a club meeting, which leads to you not hearing about the get together they are all having next Friday. Suddenly everything is off balance and it seems impossible to get back on track. some of this pressure comes from the outside world of everyone telling college students how hard it is to get a job and how all those things listed above are important for building a resume. But that seeps into our brains and suddenly it is us who are putting pressure on ourselves to get it all done. When we don’t, we get down at ourselves and start comparing. This leads to a lowering of self-esteem and an increase in anxiety. The inability to get past the pressure leads to more questions. If I can’t even get through college, how am I going to make it in the real world? Am I actually ready for full-fledged adulthood?
That’s an example of big picture pressure, but we also put pressure on ourselves over smaller things. For me personally, it is this blog. The whole reason I am writing about this today is that it is currently Tuesday afternoon and I am only now sitting down to write my blog post that goes up tomorrow. This happens often because I put a lot of pressure on myself to keep posting content that I’m proud of. I often can’t think of an idea or am not ready to share the ideas that I do have, and therefore I freeze. I stare at my computer and feel the pressure in my chest increase as my anxiety over the fact that I have nothing to share builds. This blog is important to me, but in the grand scheme of life, missing a week wouldn’t be the end of the world. I don’t want to, but the pressure I put on myself makes it feel like it isn’t even an option, which isn’t true. Often pressure we put on ourselves is based on a lie or a half-truth about the situation based on our perspective from inside. Taking one big step outside to look in as an outside observer will help you see the situation for what it really is.
Anxiety loves to make you overthink small things until suddenly the problem seems insurmountable. The other day I was on a drive (something I do when I’m feeling anxious or restless) and the song “So Small” by Carrie Underwood started playing. It really speaks to the tendency we have to lose ourselves in a situation.
Fighting back against that anxiety is difficult. I do it often. But taking a step back and trying to gain some perspective is really helpful. Putting too much pressure on yourself isn’t healthy. Sometimes I like to remind myself that no one really knows what they’re doing. We are all going through life for the first time and if we make mistakes, it isn’t the end of the world. It’s going to happen. But beating yourself up about it isn’t going to help you get past it. Set goals. Try your best. But don’t let the pressure build up to the point where you can’t get past it. Let someone know if it does. Eventually, the sun will rise again and it will be a new day.