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Science Has It: Do These 10 Things To Keep Calm Under Pressure

Science Has It: Do These 10 Things To Keep Calm Under Pressure

Have you ever wondered what is the best way to keep calm under pressure? Perhaps you are dreading giving a musical performance, a talk or having to get through an interview. The pressure is relentless and the brain does not seem to help at all as it is overreacting and you are getting more nervous by the minute. Here are 10 ways you can reverse all that, keep really calm and sail through it.

“The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another.” –William James.

1. Learn how to defeat the panic signals

When we are in danger or facing a really challenging situation, our minds and bodies go into the ‘fight or flight’ mode. Neither of these is really appropriate when we are about to give a PowerPoint presentation or turn up for an interview!

Stress hormones flood our system and can really help us overcome an emergency. In the long term, we do not need these at all as they can lead to chronic conditions. I know, because it happened to me and led to a state of permanent anxiety which was mistaken for a heart condition, known as angina. After hospitalization, the message was pretty clear. I had to find ways of combating these ‘fight or flight’ reactions. The best way was to train myself to use a relaxation response.

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2. Learn how to breathe properly

One of the most effective ways to train this response is to learn how to breathe properly. Shallow breathing means that the diaphragm muscles are not being used. Thee secret is to inhale deeply so that the chest and stomach are filled with air. If you are lying down, you can easily feel your stomach rising by placing your hands over your belly button area. Then exhale slowly. As you do so, concentrate on the movement you feel and also repeat a mantra such as ‘breathe in’ and ‘breathe out’. Simply put, you are now channelling the autonomic nervous system into much more productive activity which will be extremely useful in fighting the panic response.

3. Learn how to improve your vagal tone

We mentioned the autonomic nervous system above. The principal nerve involved in the calming nervous pathways is the vagus nerve. This is rather long gangling affair which stretches from the brainstem right down into the stomach, intestines, heart and lungs. It is no accident that people use terms like ‘he lost his nerve’ or ‘he hasn’t got the guts’ when stress takes over.

The best way to stimulate this vagus nerve to calm the whole system down so that we feel safe and secure is to improve its tone. You can do this in the following ways:

  • practice meditation or mindfulness
  • generate positive thoughts
  • do exercise or some physical activity
  • increase omega 3 consumption by eating more fish and nuts

 4. Learn how to get things into perspective

Learning how to prioritize and re-evaluate our talents, skills and experience is a great way of building self-esteem. This can also help us to put things into perspective when we are facing a critical challenge. Dr. Andy Martens of the University of Arizona has done some interesting research in this area.

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5. Learn how to avoid negative people

You are in control but not when you are surrounded by anxious, negative and cynical people. Learning how to avoid these people is crucial especially when preparing for an extra stressful event.

6. Learn how to be grateful

When you are under pressure, cortisol is released and functions well as a sort of lubricant for the nervous system. The problem arises when long term, constant stress produces too much cortisol and this in turn can damage the nervous system.

One great way to reduce cortisol is to regularly practise gratitude. Researchers at the University of California Davis, led by Robert Emmons, found that this practice was very effective in reducing cortisol by as much as 23%. There were added benefits in that people were in a better mood and felt better physically and mentally.

7. Learn how to re-label emotions

Esther Sternberg, a researcher at The NIMH has done a lot of research on mind-body interaction. One of her recommendations is that when, under pressure, you are successfully able to re-label the ‘fear or flight’ emotions. For example, fear can become anticipation while dread can become caution. Being under pressure can be simply re-labelled as being courted! If you are successful with this technique you become watchful and aware rather than being frightened and ready to flee.

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8. Learn how to get in the ‘zone’

Now I know saying ‘practice makes perfect’ can sound banal. Is there any scientific evidence that this is really true? Actually, the more you practise something, the more automatic it becomes. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has given lots of talks about getting in the ‘zone’ or ‘flow’ where extremely heightened focus and immersion in an activity can lead to really superb performances. There is a perfect match between your skill level and the challenge you are facing.

In fact, time is non-existent and you forget your ego and other physical restraints. One of the ways of achieving the flow is not only practice, but overlearning a skill where you can stretch yourself to new limits. This is essential when you are under pressure. You can refer to some of Mihali Csikszentmihalyi’s books which outline the whole ‘flow’ concept with practical examples of their application in daily life.

9. Learn how to get on auto-pilot

There are experiments which show golfers performing lousy swings after being told that they should watch the position of their elbows. The secret here is that our conscious attention is hijacking our perfectly honed motor skills and we normally perform, speak or run much better than this! Ramping up pressure like this is not helpful. If I tell you to watch your grammar before your presentation, then your performance may be less than your best. Sports teams know all about this pressure when their fans get too enthusiastic and noisy, especially when playing at home.

Just tell yourself that your sweaty palms or beating heart are not signs that you are going to fail! They are just the side effects of somebody who is ready to give the best performance in his or her life. Tell yourself that this test/match/interview/presentation is no big deal. Sian Bellock’s book,‘Choke: What the Secrets of the Brain Reveal About Getting It Right When You Have To.’ is a fascinating insight on this process.

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10. Learn to look after yourself

So, you are under pressure. But what steps are you taking to make sure that your body is going to perform well on the day? That means looking after all the essential maintenance such as diet, sleep, exercise, and relaxation. Did you know that if you have too many carbs in the morning, your blood sugar may fall? That can lead to bad temper, whereas if you get enough protein, this can keep you going for much longer without that annoying sugar crash.

“Calm mind brings inner strength and self-confidence, so that’s very important for good health.” –Dalai Lama

Let us know in the comments below how you manage to stay calm under pressure.

Featured photo credit: Keep calm and carry on/Brandbook.de via flickr.com

More by this author

Robert Locke

Author of Ziger the Tiger Stories, a health enthusiast specializing in relationships, life improvement and mental health.

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Published on March 19, 2019

How Your Attitude Determines Your Success

How Your Attitude Determines Your Success


Do you remember the last time you faced a major setback–when you felt so low, that nothing seemed to make you happy? No matter how hard you tried, you just felt like the world was against you. Perhaps it was a bad relationship, or the loss of a loved one… maybe something bad happened at work? Whatever it may be, could you recall how your attitude was towards that situation?

Often when we’re caught in an unhappy situation, we feel limited and sometimes trapped. We want to get out of it as quickly as we can, but it’s never quite that simple.

Unfortunately, some people can remain in that terrible situation for weeks, months or even years; while others may come out strong and ready to start over–or continue from where they left off–fairly quickly.

So what sets these two groups apart?

The answer is their attitude.

Attitude is everything when it comes to achieving a goal, and tackling a setback or problem. 

When you’re able to have a positive mindset, you’ll be able to break free of your limitations that are holding you back.

A positive attitude also goes a long way in ensuring you come out victorious from whatever limitations that were holding you back before. It transforms not just your mental state, but your physical and emotional well being. It is the key to lasting total transformation.

Positive Attitude Brings About Positive Health 

When you’re stuck in a rut, often the first thoughts that run through your head are negative, thus your outlook likely becomes pessimistic. But, if you can transform those thoughts into more positive ones, then you’re on your way to talking yourself out of that rut, which allows you to move forward.

Of course, positive thinking doesn’t mean ignoring all the bad or unpleasant feelings altogether. It just means that you approach unpleasantness in a more positive and productive way–instead of taking everything as a victim to negative circumstances, you see it as an opportunity to learn and grow.

Be aware of self talk!

These automatic thoughts can be positive or negative. Some of your self talk comes from logic and reason, while other self talk may arise from misconceptions that you create. Others could come from external sources such as negative people around you, or messages from the media.

The key is to surround yourself with positive influences that can help turn those negative thoughts into positive, more productive actions.You’ll not only feel better about the situation, but in the long run, positive thinking can lower your levels of distress and depression and give you better coping skills during hardships.

Researchers studying the effects of positive thinking and optimism on health have also found that positive thinking may provide increased life span, better cardiovascular health and reduced risk of death from cardiovascular disease, and even greater resistance to the common cold!

It’s unclear why people who engage in positive thinking experience these health benefits, but one theory is that having a positive outlook enables you to cope better with stressful situations, which reduces the harmful health effects of stress on your body.

It’s also thought that positive and optimistic people tend to live healthier lifestyles — they get more physical activity, follow a healthier diet, and don’t smoke or drink alcohol in excess.

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Suffering is Inevitable, So It’s Best to Accept It 

Now, one thing that everyone goes through at some point, is suffering. It’s a harsh reality, yet you can’t actually avoid it. We experience suffering as the result of unhappiness, fear, anger, loss or frustration. In fact, it would be hard to even imagine the feeling of happiness if we never experienced suffering! How would we ever compare it?

So instead of wallowing in sorrow about the suffering you have endured, take the suffering as an opportunity for change. Did you get laid off from your job? Perhaps this would be a good time to re-assess your career goals.

Rather than feeling negative and stuck, use your time and energy to find opportunities which will put you ahead. With the right attitude, anything can seem possible.

This may sound crazy, but suffering is the secret to being successful! 

Here’s what I mean. It’s impossible to think of new ideas or understand new experiences without stepping outside of your comfort zone. Anyone who has met great successes has also faced many failures, as nobody wins on every try.

To propel you toward success, find a way to track your progress and to set and celebrate small benchmarks. It may be helpful to conduct a weekly review to assess where you are and acknowledge all of the small wins of the week. Every accomplishment, no matter how small, is an achievement; so, be sure to take note of them.

Tracking your progress is also a great way to find and mitigate triggers and hindrances that impede your progress. The point is, you’re making progress; even if it feels like suffering, you can see that it’s leading you to joy.

Remember, don’t compare yourself to others. Only compare yourself to who you were yesterday. Each step you make towards progress is making you a better version of you.

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Gratitude Goes a Long Way in Shaping Attitude 

Now, this may seem difficult to do when you’re already feeling down, but having gratitude is a very useful when you’re trying to navigate your way out of a setback. Being grateful for existing accomplishments and the supports in your life will help you see them more clearly, build your own confidence, and give you a better overall outlook on what your limitations really are and what you have to do to overcome them.

With a grateful attitude, you limit the damage of negative influences, and strengthen the impact of positive ones.

Being grateful, even during the toughest of times, steers your attitude towards a more positive one, allowing you to get back on your feet much more quickly. Many studies done on gratitude have shown positive results for people who practice regularly, such as improvement in relationships and in mental health. There’s even studies that show higher motivation in work settings due to a simple ‘thank you’ from managers to their subordinates.

Believe in Yourself and Your Truth

This is often easier said than done, but is also the most empowering truth to overcoming your setbacks and limitations in life.

Many people find it hard to keep a positive attitude during tough times because they lack inner confidence. They doubt their abilities because of the ‘failure’ that they’re experiencing, and don’t think that they can rise above again.

But, confidence doesn’t just come from talent, luck or easy opportunity. Confidence comes from overcoming difficulties and facing your fears head on. 

Confidence is a result of getting out of your comfort zone. The more you do this, the more confident you’ll be, and the more positive your attitude will be. Confidence will help you see your goals more clearly, find your strengths within, reach your goals and overcome your limitations much more quickly.

Here’s a quick story about my own struggles helping me get ahead:

When I first started Lifehack, it took a long time to gain a solid readership. Just getting 100 visitors was a challenge and took a good bit of time. I had great ambitions for this site, yet it seemed like I was doomed to fail. I received plenty of criticism, too. Some people thought that the world didn’t need yet another self help site, others offered the opinion that there was something wrong with the idea itself and I was making a mistake.

It was hard for me not to listen to them and, at some times, agree. But, persistence is key, and in the end I chose to believe in my truth.

I worked tirelessly changing the site layout, restructuring articles, and making the site more user friendly. Slowly, I expanded to a team with the hiring of some extremely dynamic and talented people. With each determined effort, the site grew in popularity, and a few years later, we had influenced millions–and continue to do so.

Pushing myself out of my comfort zone and facing every challenge head on were the greatest contributing factors to increasing my confidence. So welcome the challenges that come; don’t avoid them, as they’re all opportunities in disguise to feed your growth.

Your Attitude Sets the Tone for Success 

Do you see the importance of having a positive attitude? It is so much more than a mindset or state of mind. Your attitude sets the tone for every action and behavior that follows after, and that will determine how long it takes for you to break free from your current circumstance.

So if you’re currently in an unhappy situation, why not give it a try and look at things from a more positive outlook? As mentioned, not only does having a positive attitude bring about favorable outcomes, it also brings about positive health in the long run.

Embracing hardship as it is, and using it as a learning experience to grow, will also make you stronger. And, whether you’re going through good or bad times, practicing gratitude will no doubt help to limit the damage of negative influences, and strengthen the impact of positive ones.

Lastly, in any circumstance, you are your greatest barrier to success, which is why it’s important to always believe in yourself!

You will always have the power to be in control of your situation because your attitude is determined by you. So start harnessing all that positive thinking to turn those limitations into strengths!

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Featured photo credit: Photo by Jonathan Francisca on Unsplash via unsplash.com

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