If we don’t manage pressure effectively it will impact every area of our lives. The perpetual weight of pressure can negatively impact our well-being and happiness. In fact, if we allow pressure to build up, it can even kill us!
We are not designed to be under constant pressure. Yet in this day and age, we experience pressure from all angles. Pressure from parents, teachers, and employers. And the pressure to do and be a certain way. We are subject to peer pressure and pressure from partners. Even someone lying poorly in a hospital bed feels pressure to get better.
Luckily, we can learn how to stay calm under pressure. This article outlines the physiological impact of pressure and what causes us to choke under pressure. As a solution, I will provide 5 tips to help you function optimally when under pressure and remain calm.
How does constant pressure impact your mental health?
Feeling under pressure has an impact on our physical and mental wellbeing.
Most of us feel under pressure at various stages of our lives. Think of the child whose parents accept nothing less than an A+ or for them to excel in sport. Or the business person who is responsible for a multi-million dollar bid. The pressure on both these individuals is enormous.
The short-term impact of pressure is similar to symptoms of stress.
- Raised heart rate.
- Foggy mind.
- Headaches and muscle pain.
- Sleep difficulties.
- Concentration issues.
- Perpetual worry.
If left unchecked, the long-term impact of pressure can be catastrophic and can lead to:
- Heart attack.
If we succumb to the physical impairment associated with pressure, we reduce our chance of overall success.
What happens when you choke under pressure?
It happens to us all. Sometimes the pressure gets the better of us.
Think of the football player who misses a penalty kick. The outcome of a game, perhaps a league or world cup rested on this one person. The pressure is palpable.
Consider the actor who forgets their words and gets stage fright on the opening night of their theatre performance.
choking under pressure can happen to the best of us. At the 2004 Olympics in Athens, in the men’s 50 m rifle event, Mathew Emmons was one shot away from a gold medal. When he took his shot, it turned out he hit a bull's eye, only at the wrong target.
Years later, at the Olympics in 2008, Mathew Emmons needed a 6.7 to win gold. He fired and scored a 4.4, far below his standards. This goes to show that nobody is immune from choking under pressure.
Perversely, the pressure to get everything right can lead us to make mistakes.
So, what is actually happening when we choke under pressure?
Ultimately it is all of the symptoms described in the earlier section and more. This article suggests that psychological stress causes a distraction so unavoidable that we choke under pressure.
5 tips to stay calm under pressure
We often hear someone described as “works well under pressure.” I guarantee these people are not naturally good under pressure. Rather, they take purposeful action to help them improve their ability to work under pressure.
They recognize that our ability to stay calm under pressure requires a holistic approach. Not only do we need to work efficiently and effectively at a given time, but we need to be able to relax and recharge and set ourselves up for future pressure.
Here are 5 ways you can learn to stay calm under pressure.
1. Breathe rhythmically
A fascinating TED X talk by Dr. Alan Watkins outlines the importance of breathing during high pressured situations.
He suggests that we have mistakenly been led to believe that a raised heart rate is detrimental in all circumstances. However, he compares situations that would cause our heart rates to elevate and highlights that not all the situations result in poor performance.
For instance, our heart rate rises during exercise, sex, social situations, and through the excitement of a breakthrough on a project. Our heart rate also raises when we feel anxious, scared, or threatened.
Dr. Watkins clarifies that the difference between our heart rate rising in what we construe as a positive situation versus a negative situation is in its rhythm.
Negative situations result in an erratic raised heart rate. Positive situations result in a rhythmic raised heart rate.
And this is where the importance of breathing comes in.
Dr. Watkin’s research concludes we must breathe rhythmically, to control our heart rate.
If we feel nervous in a high pressure situation, breathing exercises will help. If we use rhythmic breathing to control our heart rate, it will help us keep our cool and not buckle under pressure.
2. Write it down
Journalling is fast becoming one of the most popular means to improve our wellbeing. Did you know writing is also a tool to help us stay calm under pressure?
This article explains the success of journaling in high pressure situations. When participants wrote down their fears and worries about an upcoming high-pressure situation, it served to boost their actual performance.
So get it all out. Write down what is on your mind, and you're likely to find yourself more calm when under pressure.
3. Talk things through
As well as writing about our worries, talking also helps.
Talking about our fears gives us the opportunity to hear ourselves. We may receive reassurance. This process may show us that our fears aren’t as bad in reality as they sound in our minds.
Talking through our problems also helps us feel lighter. In fact, a problem shared is a problem halved, or perhaps quartered. Studies found when we share our problems, 26% of us feel immediate relief and 8% of us experience the problem vanishing entirely.
Maybe it’s time to open up and get talking. Bottling things up may hinder your ability to cope under pressure.
4. Focus on your basic health
If we expect to function optimally in difficult situations, we must treat ourselves optimally.
This means we must look after ourselves and focus on the following aspects of our lives:
- Sufficient relaxation.
- A healthy diet.
- Enough movement.
- Healthy sleep habits.
These may sound obvious, but when we are under pressure we are often unable to relax. We may over or under eat. We might not make time to move and perhaps most significantly, our sleep may be disrupted.
Whilst this may seem a duplicate of the above section, I believe it is important enough to have its own section.
Exercise is incredibly important in the management of stress and our ability to work under pressure.
Any form of exercise can distract us from our worries and release feel-good hormones.
Scientists have found that regular participation in aerobic exercise will:
- Decrease tension.
- Elevate and stabilize mood.
- Improve sleep.
- Improve self-esteem.
You could always mix it up with different types of exercise. Aim to get at least 30 minutes of exercise a day.
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Life is full of deadlines and expectations. The pressure can build leaving us feeling overwhelmed and unable to cope. Luckily, there are many ways we can help train ourselves to stay calm under pressure. We can prepare ourselves for high-pressure situations.
Do you find it hard to remain calm while under pressure? Do you experience pressure a lot? I'd love to hear from you in the comments below!