Tips for Staying Calm under Pressure
Think about the pressure you might feel during an interview for a job you really want. Or the fear of falling flat on your face when giving a presentation. Or the gulp-inducing stress of asking your boss for a raise.
The positive thing about worries like these that are associated with an upcoming event or experience is that you can prepare. Planning ahead can make a huge difference in keeping that stress under control.
So if a high-pressure situation is approaching, you can prepare by making sure you get enough rest and eat healthy food. You can solicit the help of coaches or peers who can suggest how to handle the situation. You can also rehearse. For example, by rehearsing your responses to possible interview questions—out loud and projecting your voice so you sound confident—you’ll be better able to respond from a position of strength in the actual interview.
Breathing can also help when facing high-pressure situations. In times of extreme stress, the heart races, stress hormones are released, and breathing becomes shallow, and these reactions make it impossible to think clearly and rationally. To prevent these reactions—or to gain control over them before they turn into a full-blown panic attack—take several long, slow, deep breaths.
It sounds simplistic, but the very act of breathing deeply can short-circuit the stress responses and let you concentrate on the task at hand. Moments before you walk into the interview or begin the dreaded presentation, breathe deeply. Doing so won’t make the experience itself pressure-free, but it can enable you to focus on what you’re saying and how confident you sound. And by the way, it’s entirely possible to look and sound confident, even if you don’t feel it.
On occasion, I've heard that contemplating the worst that can happen will relieve pressure because you’ll quickly realize that whatever you’re contemplating is most unlikely. The implication is that the worst that can happen is that you’ll die, and of course, in most situations, that's not probable. But for some people, the fear of being humiliated or coming across as a total jerk is far worse. And how can the fear of failure do anything but amplify the pressure you already feel?
Instead of imagining the worst-case scenario, focus on a positive outcome. As you prepare, visualize yourself succeeding. Breathe deeply and picture yourself standing or sitting tall, fully prepared, exuding confidence, and ready to take on the challenges that await. With the pressure under control, you may actually perform better than you ever expected.