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Pressure Cooker Syndrome

I am taking this week to spend time with family, engage in self care, and celebrate the 4th, so this week we are taking a look at favorite posts from the past. Third this week is ‘Pressure Cooker Syndrome’.


I remember, as a child, my mom canning green beans or tomatoes. The pressure cooker she would use had a silver lid on it. As the pot boiled, and as the pressure rose, the steam would escape through a valve, and would eventually cause the valve to whistle and dance on the pot.

Some of us struggle with this same phenomenon – something called Pressure Cooker Syndrome. We try so hard to keep our lids on, and to stay in control; to keep it all together, and to do everything right. From the outside, our lives look perfect, solid, sturdy, and well-constructed… but, on the inside, our lives are full of pressure, steam, and anxiety.

When we live our lives in a pressure cooker, our lives become All or Nothing.

Black and White.

Right and Wrong.

We lose perspective.

We lose ourselves.

I have a tendency to go into pressure cooker mode; it’s one of my stress modes, and something I have to really be aware of. When I enter pressure cooker mode, I find myself looking for quick fixes, and reaching for external ideas to ease the pressure (e.g. food, wine, mindless video games) – ANYTHING to numb out and ease the pressure… but these external modes only provide limited temporary relief.

Real relief from the pressure only comes when I admit to myself that I can’t keep it all together. I can’t do everything – and, in fact, I am pretty miserable. Sometimes, I can catch myself in this mode after a single day. Sometimes, it takes two weeks or more.

I know my signs:

  • Numbing out
  • Constantly looking for something ‘fun’ to do – but either not taking the time to do it, or, when I do it, I am so worried about doing it right that it isn’t fun.
  • Having ‘If I get this then I will be happy’ thoughts.
  • Being overly to-do list focused.

Ways to Relieve the Pressure:

  • Admit to myself I can’t do it all.
  • Give myself A LOT of compassion
  • Share what I am feeling with someone safe.
  • Do something nourishing – take a walk, take the afternoon off, say NO to something I don’t want to do.
  • Revisit my values and remove the stuff that is on my list that doesn’t serve my values

I would love to hear from you: Do you suffer from Pressure Cooker Syndrome? What are your signs? How do you relieve the pressure?

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