Unexpected stresses afflict us routinely, and then there are those we seem to inflict on ourselves. When we are trapped between the calm control we crave and the panicking uncertainty that stress brings, it creates a sort of pressure. Athletes and business leaders thrive on that pressure. Firefighters and military troops are trained to work through pressure. Students deal with it before big exams, loved ones before difficult conversations, me when I get pulled over for speeding.
How do you hold up under pressure? Or more importantly, how can we learn to be graceful under pressure?
Refrain from adding more.
Psychologists find that when we put pressure on ourselves–say, before a big exam–by saying, “I can’t afford to screw this up,” or “This is super important,” we don’t perform as well. What does work, however, is reinforcing our self-esteem with thoughts like, “I’ve got this,” and “I’m very good at XXX.” The positive affirmation builds our confidence and makes us approach the challenge with less stress and more self-control.
By the way, that never means ‘don’t study,’ it just means you don’t have to add onto the pressure, it adds onto itself just fine.
Get some perspective.
You might be under pressure, but guess what? So is, was, and will be every other human being ever. Take a moment to remember you come from a long line of survivors. Think for a moment about your family tree: maybe your great grandmother survived a revolution, and her children lived through a global depression, world wars, diseases, and an emigration from across the Earth. And you, here you stand, right now. This current challenge… this is nuthin’.
Release the pressure.
Exercise is proven to release the chemicals in our bodies that make us calmer and get rid of stress. Of course, you can’t excuse yourself to go to the gym in the middle of a high pressure situation. But that’s not what you need. It turns out that by burning off stress when you can (though exercise), you actually make new pathways in your brain that keep the brain calmer when stress and pressure appears.
Practice a relaxation mantra.
When you have the time, relax. One great way to do that is by having a mantra, song, or piece of music that you find relaxing. It can become something that plays in your head when you’re feeling pressured, and can bring about a calmer mind. Practicing relaxation by incorporating breathing exercises and deliberate relaxing of muscle groups makes it more likely that you can use these methods ‘on the spot’ when pressure appears.
Embrace it (pressure makes diamonds!)
My personal technique for achieving grace under pressure is to embrace the pressure. I’m not claiming to be a guru here, but I do perform well in situations where everyone else is running and screaming. When the pressure rises, I do my best to embrace it, and use the opportunity to ‘step up’ to help others. In short, I look at pressure as a natural, unavoidable thing that might allow me to do some good.