Both my grandmothers had them, and my mom too. I learned to use one by middle school, though the pressure of it scared me a little. Still does today, but now I know its value.

Enter: the lowly pressure cooker.

Introduced for patent back about 100 years ago, it wasn’t until the 1938 World’s Fair that Alfred Vischler introduced it to the public. Since then, pressure cookers have been prized for their time and energy-saving qualities thanks to the steam pressure that builds up inside.They’ve made a stunning comeback in recent years after a technological upgrade to the modern InstantPot.

Common sense tells us that pressure’s not good, especially if it’s hot! With the rush of deadlines and back-to-school, the incessant drama of news cycles filled with polarizing political ads, climate catastrophes, or fear of runaway inflation – you’d not be alone in feeling the effects of pressure in our current lives — though not the good kind.

I often feel like I’m inside a pressure cooker, and it can be scary.

The pandemic and politics — all of it — are serving as a human pressure cooker. We’re feeling the heat build-up.

Whether it is your:

  • Career (no job/uncertainty/new job/overworked)
  • Kids (at school/home-school/childcare)
  • Exercise and weight (never enough/too much/aging/illness)
  • Relationships (home/work/community/polarization)
  • Mental health (anxiety/depression/insomnia/isolation)
  • Finances (pandemic recovery/inflation/looming recession)

                      . . . the pressure’s intense. It can build to a point where, unless you change it, something’s going to give – or should I say blow up?


Feeling the Heat

When things get to a point where it’s too much – mounting bills, fatigue, a side comment from a colleague, or simply watching the news – you may have felt the internal pressure creep up.

Perhaps, like a woman I’ll call Judy.

“I was always the strong friend. The one who didn’t show much emotion was never affected by anything, a great shoulder to lean on. These past couple of years have been pretty hard on me mentally, and I just… can’t… bear to feel it all. I can feel it all in my chest—the stress, fear, anxiety, depression, and loneliness that plague me every day. But would you know it by looking at me?

No. That stoic persona I’ve had all my life is so fixed in place, it’s not letting me release any of these emotions. I want to burst into fits of tears, curl into a ball and scream, and hyperventilate. It’s all bottled up, and I can’t even muster a tear. I just want some release.”

Sure sounds like a pressure cooker effect, yes?

So, maybe like Judy you steeled yourself for a bit, you tried harder to get a grip and make the changes because you’re ready to try just . . . about . . . anything to alleviate the pressure.

You know what things are good for you and they drop the pressure. It works for a while. You feel less stress, drop weight, feel more connected, and generate a bit of hope.

Yet when the pressure dropped, your focus dropped off too. Less than helpful habits crept back in. You’ve fallen off the practice wagon. You want to stay consistent, but you’re human after all, so you can begin to slip on your practices when the pressure was low.

Then the pressure slowly but surely ramped up again. And you find you’re back to where you started. You forgot the positive possibilities of the pressure cooker.

So what can be done? How can you turn down the heat, lower the flame?


Working with the Heat

The reality is that life is stressful, and has its share of emotionally charged, even traumatic, moments. Many of us are feeling dispirited and drained, life wearing us down, throwing us off our game, and out of our good habits and practices.

Our experience of pressure is both emotional and physical: feelings of fear, helplessness, guilt, confusion, and mood swings have come and gone, along with other behavior changes like difficulty sleeping or troubling interactions with others.

We often move through these stress symptoms of over time, and if not, it’s important to get support from a therapist or physician.

Yet, what if we chose to work with the heat by taking our lessons from the pressure cooker, designed to create quick, tasty food with simplicity? Even our traumatic experiences in the pressure cooker of life can be turned into tasty life-giving experiences.

Remember, it’s the heat that causes the pressure to build and transform the ingredients inside the cooker into something nourishing.

Called by various names – grit, stress hardiness, resilience, post-traumatic growth – it can all result in transformation. In fact, those who undergo post-traumatic growth flourish in life.

They have a greater appreciation and more resilience in the wake of struggling with highly challenging life circumstances because they choose to change their relationships with the struggle.

By finding the purpose of pain and looking beyond the struggle, you gain access to more inner resources that you didn’t, perhaps, know you possessed. ‘How’ obviously depends on where you’re feeling the heat the most, and remember, you control the flame that applies the pressure.

You can shape the moment, and then the next, offering yourself a break, keeping life a bit more manageable by adjusting the heat.

When the pressure becomes too much again, you can re-assess and look for ways to turn the heat back down.

Four things you can do, immediately, to move from the pressure cooker to possibilities:

1) The first step is to note where you actually are, right now, however stressful or pressure-filled. Zero in on your particular stresses. You can actually change the entire stress reaction cycle before you do anything.

2) Tune into your body because your body takes the hit when you’re stressed. Feel where the heat is causing tension, tightness, pain, and resistance.

3) Spend time reflecting on what’s most important to you. Are you giving focus to things that don’t matter much to you out of habit or expectations? Get clear on your focus.

4) Set your intentions for today and this week. It’ll keep you honed in on your priorities and values.

There are many possibilities for adjusting the heat and keeping the pressure at a more comfortable level in your life and career. Start with the steps above to grow your post-traumatic resilience.