We’ve all felt pressure at different times in our lives. Every day, every week, every month, we come under pressure. There are many different reasons we feel pressure daily. It might be having to pitch for a big piece of work, it might be getting everything finished to a tight deadline or managing a difficult conversation.
Sometimes the pressure is easy to cope with and forgotten about quickly. At other times pressure and stress can feel intense, and we can even physically feel the effects of stress. Being able to remain calm, however, is what we need the most, and I’ve outlined some ways to help to remain calm under pressure.
Why Keeping Calm Under Pressure is So Hard and How Can We Manage It?
When we’re calm, the more sophisticated and developed part of our brain is in control. It allows us to be more logical and eloquent. We can weigh up decisions, and create better relationships.
When we feel under pressure, a different part of our brain starts to take over. This is sometimes known as the ‘lizard brain’, and when we were living in caves, it helped to keep us safe by looking out for danger at all times. It tells us to fight, run or freeze, which may have been useful when faced by a bear, but isn’t useful when we’re trying to sound confident in front of a potential new client.
As we lose our sense of calm, our thoughts can become jumbled, or our minds go blank.
Often we can physically feel the pressure:
- a tight chest
- clammy palms
- a knotted stomach
These are just some of the classic symptoms. All unpleasant at best, and certainly distracting when you’re trying to concentrate.
Something that you know you are capable of can feel impossible; top athletes have all experienced this, serving double faults or missing penalties when they know it’s something they can do in a training session with a 100% success rate.
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So How Can We Remain Calm Under Pressure?
There are different tactics you can use, and experimenting with them all will help you find the ones that are right for you. You may want to use a combination, or different ones at different times.
This sounds so simple it’s hard to believe it’s one of the most powerful tactics we have at our disposal. Yet simple breathing techniques have been scientifically proven to restore a state of calm in our bodies more quickly than anything else.
If you have time before you need to speak, concentrate on taking 20 deep breaths, counting silently to 3 as you breathe in, and again as you breathe out.
If you are in the middle of a presentation, or stressful conversation, just taking the time to pause and take one deep breath will help.
When you’re not under pressure, try focusing on your breath in a quiet room or out in nature. This will help you become more resilient when you do have to face more difficult situations. Your body will associate deep breathing with a sense of calm and relaxation.
One of the problems we have in our lives today is that most of us lead very sedentary lives. Movement has been proven to relieve tension and stress, and sitting still all the time allows feelings of stress to build up in our bodies.
Try to take the time to go out for a walk or run as the exercise will help, and if you get into nature, this has been proven to help feelings of stress as well.
Move as much as possible during your day, either standing up and walking round the room for phone calls, walking about while you’re thinking, or giving yourself regular 2 minute breaks to allow yourself to stretch. Even mini bursts of movement will help.
This may sound strange, but sometimes, things that we’re worried about can be exciting too. Thinking about events in a different way can help remain calm under pressure.
- If you’re not looking forward to doing something, instead of thinking “I have to do a pitch today,” try saying to yourself “I get to do a pitch today,”.
- The nervousness we can physically feel in our stomachs is very similar to a feeling of excitement, and if you think about it as fizzing excitement instead, you can see events in a very different way.
Viewing challenges as learning opportunities or experiments can help to relieve the pressure you feel and keep a sense of calm. Often the pressure we put on ourselves is there because we want to do things perfectly, and get the result we want at the time.
Remember that we do need to fail to improve, and sometimes the greatest innovations and results only arrive after many failed attempts – the Dyson vacuum being a famous example of this. If something doesn’t go your way this time, remind yourself it just means that you’re one step closer to your goal.
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4. Time to recharge!
If you think back to the times when you’ve found it hardest to keep calm under pressure , what would be a linking factor?
Often, it’s hardest to stay calm when you’re exhausted and haven’t had any time to do the things that keep your energy levels topped up.
Think about the things that make you feel energised. We all have different things that help us feel energised, and it’s so important to create that time in the week to do them regularly so that you can feel relaxed. Below are just a few of the ways that we can all recharge our batteries to help us remain calm under pressure. Think about the activities that help you feel energised and do them regularly.
- A regular amount of sleep every night if you can (an obvious one, but so important)
- Eating well
- Regular exercise: in the gym/ going for a run or walk/ playing a team sport
- Getting out into nature
- Regular sessions of mindfulness
- Seeing friends
- Drawing or something else creative
5. Remember the big picture!
Keeping calm under pressure can be hard because we’re so caught up in whatever is going on in our lives at the moment, and part of my job as a coach is to help people stand back and identify what is really important to them.
- Keep in mind your long term goals
- Remember what’s truly important – for example a colleague may not agree to do something your way, but maintaining a good working relationship for the long term success of a project may be the most important thing at that point.
- Ask yourself, in 20 years time, will this really matter to me? Often the answer is no, so there’s no point feeling very stressed.
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Do You Work Well Under Pressure?
Pressure affects all of us at times, so we need to find ways of coping with it so that we can have the outcomes we want in different situations.
How to stay relaxed under pressure is key to your success. You need to find what works for you.
Keeping yourself as energised as possible is a great way to remain calm under pressure, and there are simple techniques you can use when you are under pressure. If you are calm, you are then much more likely to get the result you want.
About the Author
Lucy Chaplin ACC is a qualified and experienced Executive Coach based in the South -East of the UK.
Through 1-1 tailored coaching she helps women with young families achieve promotion and develop their careers so that they can have the professional life they want, whilst also enjoying life as a parent.
> More blog posts by Lucy Chaplin
> Her website lucychaplincoaching.co.uk