Join the mailing list for weekly wisdom and updates.

Pressure Cooker Syndrome


I remember as a child when my mom would be canning green beans or tomatoes. And the pressure cooker she would use had this silver lid on it.  As the pot would boil and the pressure would get too much the steam would escape through this 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. Stay in control; keep it all together and do everything right.  So from the outside our lives look perfect, solid, sturdy and well put together.  But on the inside our live 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 is 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 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 1 day sometimes it takes 2 weeks or more.

But 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 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.
  • Re-visit 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 relive the pressure?

If you live in Central Ohio, please join me for a Live Happier Wine Night on August 27th from 7pm-9pm.   For the cost of $20 you get 2 glasses of wine, hors d’oeuvres and a presentation by me on Tips to Live Happier.  Advanced registration is required.  To register or for more information go to:

Hope to see you there!

2 Responses to Pressure Cooker Syndrome

  1. The new site looks FANTASTIC!!!!

    I know I’m in pressure cooker mode when I am constantly shuffling my iPod and nothing sounds good.. It sounds funny but I connected it a few years ago…. If I can’t get through a single song, something’s wrong. (Hey that rhymes!) I think it’s probably an indicator that I am looking for something to “take me away” from how I’m feeling. And the worst part is I can put myself in pressure cooker mode for no reason–not deadlines or projects to complete, but even something as simple as how “productive” I’m being with my free time. I (try to) relieve the pressure by giving myself permission to do something that is a complete waste of time like playing a video game or reading a book that’s “not a classic.”

  2. Nancy Jane Smith says:

    I can TOTALLY relate to the constant shuffling on the i-pod meaning something’s wrong!! Whenever that happens to me–as soon as I recognize it I just shut off the radio (which is honestly the LAST thing I want to do) and drive in silence just breathing. I am always amazed at how much it helps–because I am so resistant to doing it.

    I hear you on the productivity thing too! That is a great trick to do something mindless that you just enjoy doing for the sake of doing it! I try to remind myself that these ‘rules’ of productivity are just mine (or more likely something I heard from a parent or teacher growing up) that there really is no judge and jury out there in the sky looking down on what I am doing and rendering a verdict–ha!