Life is messy, demanding, and confusing. It’s safe to bet that most of us experience stress, anxiety, and panic on a regular basis, and when crappy things happen, in a moment we can find ourselves close to the edge. All too often, we make decisions from this state of stress. If you’re like me, you often find yourself smacking your forehead in disgust, asking, “why did I say/do that? I wish I would have stayed calm under pressure.
Staying calm under pressure is key to surviving these turbulent times. Choosing to respond thoughtfully, rather than react emotionally, will help you create a more intentional outcome. Intentional outcomes can lead to lower stress, better relationships, and higher productivity. In short, staying cool, calm, and collected when you want to freak out will improve the overall quality of your life.
Cool, calm, and collected
Wikipedia defines calmness as “the mental state of peace of mind being free from agitation, excitement, or disturbance. It also refers to being in a state of serenity, tranquility, or peace.” Doesn’t this sound wonderful? Even better, when you make high stake decisions or respond to a high-stress situation from a state of calmness, the quality of the outcome tends to be better. Who doesn’t want that?
Five Ways to Stay Cool Under Pressure
- Stay Present
Take a deep breath and think about your feet. Seriously. Think about your feet. Feel them on the floor and wiggle your toes. Then breathe deep into your belly. Staying present in your body helps you stay out of your head, which is a dangerous place to go when stress levels are high. Staying present simply means focusing on what’s happening in front of you in the moment. You are breathing, listening, and letting the situation unfold. You may have thoughts, fears, and anxiety pop up, but let these emotions come and go; instead, refocus your attention on what is happing right here, right now.
- Ask More Questions
Asking questions does two things. First, it helps you understand the situation better. With deeper understanding, you’ll jump to fewer conclusions and tell yourself fewer false narratives. With knowledge comes understanding. Second, asking questions allows you time to process without saying something you might later regret. When dealing with a conflict, my favorite question is, “what you mean, specifically?” When dealing with myself, I ask, “why I am I really feeling this way? Do I absolutely have to make a decision right now?”
- Avoid the Downward Spiral
“What if XYZ happens? What will I do? What if I get in trouble? What if I get fired? How will I survive? What will people think?” These are downward spiral “what if” questions and they will lead you to panic if you let them consume you. Instead, call upon your knowledge and experience, or that of others whom you admire and respect. Recall a past mistake that you handled with grace: what did you do, how do you respond, what was the outcome? Coming up blank? Think about a person you admire: what would she do; what would she say, how would she influence the outcome she wants, how can I emulate her calmness?
- Change Negative Language to Positive
Stressful situations cause us to use negative language to describe what’s happening. “I can’t do this; it’s going to fail; I’ll never overcome this.” This type of language leads to self-fulfilling prophecies. As Henry Ford once said, “if you think it, it will be.” Instead, acknowledge the difficulty of your situation but affirm how you are going to get through it. “This is stressful, but I know I will figure it out.” “If I stay calm and think through this, I will come up with a great solution.” I am angry and hurt, but I know I can overcome this.”
- Take a 2 Hour to 24 Hour Cool Down Period
When you find yourself wanting to hammer out an email, send an angry text, or go off on the person in front of you, stop. Give yourself a cool-down period. Take a walk, don’t respond, and see how you feel a few hours later. I have found that if I wait 24 hours, my responses – if I even choose to respond – are less emotional and are more thoughtful and professional. I tend to create better outcomes, build healthier relationships, and feel less judgmental about myself and others. I am not advocating for ignoring conflict; I am simply suggesting that a cooling down period creates clarity around what’s important so that when you do address it, you can communicate effectively and resolve issues productively.
Like this? Check out my blog on how to reflect forward to become a better leader.
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