Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

18 Sivan 5760 - June 21, 2000 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Home and Family
Living With Pressure
by Rochel Gil

Most people think that pressure is a destructive force and that we must do our utmost to avoid it. James Lauer, an experienced psychologist who deals with pressures both at home and at work, tries to dispel this widespread belief. According to him, be they physical, mental or emotional, pressures can be used as a lever to success. The only harmful thing about pressure, Lauer maintains, is the way we perceive it. Someone who safeguards himself against pressure is weakening his potential. We must use pressure as a stimulus and not as an obstacle in life.

Nobody invites stress, and when we manage to see it looming, we try to extricate ourselves from the situation with all due speed. People who suffer habitual tension daily, either in their private lives or at work, describe themselves as being under constant constraint, which is more or less the dictionary definition for the word `pressure'.

Now and then one hears of the rare creature who actually thrives on pressure, who produces double the amount of work under stress. But on the whole, most of the population view pressure as a threat to their very existence and do their utmost to avoid anything which they feel will disturb the even tenor of their lives.

During the past twenty-two years, Lauer has been working on an entirely different theory, relative to typical stresses which occur during various periods in our lives. He explains how we can learn to embrace pressures and use them to achieve stability in our lives by means of exposure to controlled pressures.

In his "list of existing myths about pressure", Lauer claims that people think that pressure affects their health, constant stress on the mind and body lead to attrition and that relief from pressure makes them happy. He likens someone who tries to shield himself from pressure to those who have a leg in a cast. The muscles naturally become weakened by lack of use. In his opinion, a person's spiritual muscles become atrophied if there is a lack of pressure, and people will be unable to cope with normal stresses of life if they wrap themselves in spiritual cotton wool.

Lauer does not advocate selectivity. He says that every kind of pressure, whether physical or mental, is useful and that it furthers mature growth. It also braces a person to improved performance.

Coping with existing stress successfully is one thing. But it sounds almost masochistic to invite stress. Lauer tries to prove that we would be in a sorry state if the world were devoid of pressures. We would be deficient in self- confidence and lose all fighting spirit if we had nothing to contend with. Personal strengths are built during times of stress and not when things run smoothly.

In fact, every new challenge presents pressure before it is tackled. Spacemen know that one of the yardsticks used to appoint them is their ability to cope with stress. Lauer tells how the crew at mission control in the flight of Apollo 13 helped NASA in one of the most important events in the history of aviation because of their ability to remain calm during the worst crises. During training, these astronauts were given tasks under the most impossible conditions, and often they thought how pointless these trials were, as they were never likely to happen. But when they finally came to the actual test in real life, they admits that the things which were hardest and caused the most stress during training were the most useful.

In the world of business, it seems, managers and directors are under constant stress. They will be the first to admit that they have far too little sleep and that they cannot see a future without the same or an increasing amount of stress. Lauer claims that the only way to succeed in life is not to try and banish the stress, but to acquire a new approach towards it.

An endless traffic jam, loss of a job, a difficult boss or superior - all things which can drive a person insane, happen to all of us. It is how we cope with the situation, or any similar cause of stress, which separates the sheep from the goats. If we learn to control our minds and bodies in these and similar situations, we will find that our whole attitude changes and we will have far less stress and strain in our lives.

Some years ago, a sophisticated experiment was set up in Yale University. Two rats, identical with regards to environment and heredity, were put into cages and subjected to controlled electrical shocks. One of the cages had a knob to control the current. The rats received identical shocks, but one was badly hurt while the other recovered immediately after the experiment. The one who sprang back to himself had found the knob and learned how to switch off the current; i.e. he was in control. The other rat who had received the exact same amount of voltage did not recover completely from the experiment and became very nervous, sensitive and prone to all kinds of diseases.

It seems that it is not the actual trauma of the exposure to certain pressures or strain which does the damage. It is the feeling of not being in control, the thought of "I can't manage this" or "I will never be able to manage this," and even more, "Why do things like this always happen to me?" which weaken a person and can even lead to physical illness.

Tests carried out on victims of the Vietnam war and survivors of the concentration camps revealed that those who managed to focus on something positive during the horrors they endured were healthier and more stable than their fellow sufferers. For instance, "Nobody beat me today" or "They gave us food today." There are well known stories of Holocasust survivors who kept mitzvos and had faith right through their gruesome experiences and emerged strong in mind and eventually in body.

Authorities in the field of stress recommend a few remedies for this feeling of pressure. Do not put the blame on circumstances or on other people. But not on yourself, either. These are dead-end streets. Minimize the lack of confidence that you feel and don't let yourself get bogged down by the situation. Do something, anything. Action is always an excellent antidote. The action actually helps a person refocus and gives them a feeling of strength as opposed to helplessness. If you know you are going to be caught in a traffic jam, use the time for some quiet thinking or planning. The time will not have been wasted and you will feel something positive has come from the stress.

In short, positive, optimistic, oriented thinking, action and feeling in control, are good guidelines for removing negative pressures from our lives, and these even help pressure in providing us with better health, both mental and physical.


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