How to be calm under pressure Featured

Have you ever wondered what is the best way to keep calm under pressure? Perhaps you are dreading giving a musical performance, a talk or having to get through an interview. The pressure is relentless and the brain does not seem to help at all as it is overreacting and you are getting more nervous by the minute. 

Stress is a normal part of modern life, but if you’re often faced with stressful situations and feel panicked or overwhelmed trying to deal with them, you may benefit from learning some coping strategies that can help you to stay calm.

Pressure can put the body into “fight or flight” mode – an evolutionary tactic that releases hormones designed to get you ready to either fight or run from danger. In modern times, stress triggers these hormones but they’re not so helpful when the “danger” comes from giving a presentation at work rather than being faced with a wild animal. If you frequently find yourself feeling anxious, or panicked, your fight or flight mode is probably being triggered too easily and it’s helpful to learn how to calm yourself down when you’re entering this state.

1. Take a Deep Breath

Breathing deeply and slowly triggers the body to stop releasing stress hormones and start to relax. Concentrating on your breathing can also help to distract your mind from whatever is bothering you so that you focus only on what is happening at that moment.

Breathe in deeply through your nose – you should breathe all the way into your belly and not just your chest. Hold for a moment and breathe out slowly through your mouth. Take a few minutes just to breathe and you should find yourself feeling calmer quickly.


2. Focus on the Positives

Always imagining the worst case in every scenario is clinically known as catastrophic thinking and can increase anxiety and feelings of panic.

Rather than dwelling on negative aspects or outcomes, try to spend a few moments thinking positively. If your bathroom has flooded and you have to replace all the flooring, for example, this could be a very stressful situation. Yet try to focus on the fact that it gives you the opportunity to update and renovate, and the repairs should be covered by your insurance.

Staying positive allows your brain to avoid stress and stay calm.

3. Get Plenty of Sleep

Everything seems worse when you’ve haven’t had a good night’s sleep. Stress and anxiety can often lead to insomnia so you end up in a vicious cycle – not being able to sleep and then feeling worse because you haven’t had enough sleep.

Make sleep a priority, especially if you’re under a lot of pressure. Go to bed early and ban electronic devices from the bedroom. Lavender essential oil can also promote feelings of calm and help you to sleep at night.

4. Go for a Walk

Exercise is just as important as sleep when it comes to keeping stress in check and dealing with external pressure. Exercise prompts the body to release feel-good hormones and helps to clear your head.

If you’re under pressure at work, just five minutes of fresh air and a change of scenery could help you to feel calmer and gain a new perspective on the situation – you’ll probably realise it’s not a case of life or death anyway.


5. Meditate

Meditation has been proven to reduce stress and actually changes the brain over time so you can manage your emotions better and stay calm when you need to most.

If you think meditation is all about sitting cross-legged for hours and chanting “om”, you couldn’t be further from the truth – even a few minutes of sitting quietly and concentrating on your breathing is a beneficial form of meditation. You can also try apps like Headspace and Calm.

6. Practice Gratitude

Staying grateful for everything you have in your life – no matter how small – can keep things in perspective and help you to maintain a positive attitude.

Studies have shown that people who keep a daily gratitude journal have lower levels of cortisol – the hormone responsible for stress. Try taking a few minutes at the end of each day to write down 5 things you feel thankful for and see how much better it makes you feel.

7. Surround yourself with positive people

You probably have a few people in your life who can make you feel stressed just by being around them. While it’s not always possible to cut these people out of your life entirely, when you’re under pressure try to spend more time with friends and family who are helpful, positive, and will lift you up rather than drag you down

Retrain Your Brain for a Calmer Life

You can’t control what life will throw at you next, but you can learn to cope with pressurised situations and deal with stress in a healthy way. Making an effort to practise some of these strategies the next time you feel under pressure can help you to feel calm and able to deal with any situation.


Use Neuroscience to Remain Calm Under Pressure

Great leaders always seem to remain calm during situations that make mere mortals fall to pieces. Conventional wisdom says that the ability to remain calm is a character trait that most of us lack. Neuroscience, however, has recently revealed that remaining calm under pressure is not an inborn trait, but a skill that anybody can learn.

Here's how it's done:

1. Understand the biochemistry. 

The opposite of remaining calm is the state of "fight or flight," a physiological reaction that occurs in response to a perceived harmful event, attack, or threat to survival.

The reaction starts when two segments of your brain called the amygdalae interpret a situation as a threat. This perception causes your brain to secrete hormones that tell your nervous system to prepare your body to take drastic action. Your breath gets short, your body floods your muscles with blood, your peripheral vision goes away, and so forth. 

Since neither fight nor flight are appropriate in business situations, your body never gets a release. Instead, your hyped-up body tells your brain "Yes, this is a real threat!" and you end up with your brain and body in a feedback loop. To put it colloquially, you freak out.

In this state, chances are extremely high that you'll either remain frozen in fear like a deer in headlights or, driven to release the pressure, you'll say or do something stupid.


2. Label the emotions.

To calm yourself and remain calm, you need to interrupt that feedback loop.

As explained above, the fight or flight reaction begins in the amygdalae, which is where your brain processes memory, interprets emotions, and makes what are often (inappropriately) called "gut decisions."

It's now understood that you can reduce the "fight or flight" signals from your amygdalae if you assign names or labels to the emotions that you're experiencing at the time. As Jon Pratlett, a pioneer in using neuroscience in leadership training, says, "Reflecting on your feelings and labeling them may assist in calming the amygdalae, allowing you to move out of the fight/flight mode and free up energy allowing [you] to think more clearly about the issue at hand, rather than worrying."


3. Slow your breathing.

Now that you've interrupted the "brain" part of the feedback loop, you interrupt the "body" part of the loop by consciously breathing slowly and deeply. Count from 1 to 10 as you inhale, then count from 1 to 10 as you exhale. 

These deep breaths bring more oxygen into your lungs and thence into your bloodstream, which is the exact opposite effect of the fight or flight reaction. You're telling your body and brain that it's no longer necessary to increase the intensity of your fight-or-flight reaction.

According to Esther Sternberg, a physician and researcher at the National Institute of Mental Health, quoted in an article, slow, deep breathing negates the fight-or-flight reaction by "stimulating the opposing parasympathetic reaction--the one that calms us down."


4. Re-label your emotions.

At this point, you've interrupted the feedback loop at two levels. In this step, you eliminate the emotional impetus that created the fight-or-flight response.

Go through the list of emotions that you identified in step 2 and assign them labels that are positive rather than negative. For example:

  • Fear=>Anticipation
  • Frustration=>Desire
  • Worry=>Concern
  • Dread=>Caution
  • Flustered=>Excited
  • Alarmed=>Curious
  • Pressured=>Courted

When you re-label your emotions, you are using controllable parts of your brain to convince your amygdalae that this is not a fight-or-flight situation but instead a "stay aware and watchful" situation, or even a "sit back and enjoy" situation. 

As you continue to breath slowly and deeply while holding the relabeled emotions in your mind, notice the speed at which your heart is beating. You will find that it gradually returns to a normal pace. You've regained calmness.

While this technique does take a little practice, it's well worth the effort, because this skill will both make you a more effective leader and vastly increase your ability to enjoy the natural ebb and flow of pressure in your workplace.

Don't be surprised, though, if your team starts referring to you in private as "our fearless leader." Trust me, they mean it as a compliment.

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Last modified on Monday, 02 November 2020 13:39

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