Brain Hacks

10 Ways to Keep Your Cool Under Pressure

When the pressure is mounting, at work or at home, it’s sometimes easy to panic. But learning how to stay calm under pressure has a whole host of benefits.

Keeping your cool will help you to deal with challenges more effectively and solve problems more wisely, as well as making you feel better within yourself.

Here are ten ways to ensure that you stay relaxed and in control, no matter how stressful the situation.

1. Be Flexible

Rigid thinking and behavior means that we don’t give ourselves the chance to solve problems effectively. If we only have one solution, and it fails, we feel out of control — and then panic can take over. If Plan A doesn’t work out, don’t think it’s all pointless. Start thinking of a Plan B instead.

The more you practice flexibility, the more readily you will be able to think up alternative solutions. Reading poetry and playing chess can help your mind to become more flexible and can open your creative channels.

2. Remember to Breathe

Sometimes, when we’re stressed, we forget the most basic calming mechanisms. Your breath is a powerful tool for naturally de-stressing the body. Take deep breaths, allowing the out-breath to be slightly longer than the in-breath, to engage the body’s parasympathetic nervous system. This will release chemicals in your brain which will signal to the body that everything’s OK.

Controlled breathing for several minutes can help you stop panicking and start feeling more in control. Do it regularly, so it becomes a habit you can rely on to keep you feeling calm at all times.

3. Be Realistic

Sometimes we invest far too much value in whether certain things go right or wrong. We stress ourselves out unnecessarily, as if we will fail at life utterly if this one thing doesn’t come off successfully. Remember, whatever happens, nothing is the end of the world. Pretty much anything that goes wrong is unlikely to jeopardize your safety or wellbeing catastrophically. You can recover from most things.

Ask yourself the question “Will this kill me?” If the answer is no, you’re probably going to be OK.

4. Ground Yourself

If it feels like things are spinning out of control, it’s very important to ground yourself and stay present. There is no point worrying about the past, the future, or indulging in fantasies of how everything may go wrong. Make yourself feel more stable by becoming mindful of reality and the situation as it is right now.

If you’re feeling especially anxious, press your feet into the floor to feel more in control. Imagine your feet have roots, and you’re firmly planted in the ground, so the winds of stress can not blow you over.

5. Focus on What You Can Control

Instead of panicking about things you have no influence over, direct your focus towards things you can control. Use your energy to take positive action on situations that are within your sphere of influence. Anything else is just a waste of your resources and brainpower. Be wise enough to stop worrying about things you can’t change anyway.

Remember, ultimately you can’t change other people or what decisions they make. Instead, change how you respond to those decisions, and you’ll feel much more powerful and in control.

6. Do the Next Right Thing

If you have a monumental challenge, break it down so it doesn’t overwhelm you. Split the problem into all its components, and focus on tackling each issue one by one. Ask yourself what the next small thing you can do to improve the situation is — and do it. Systemise what you’re doing, by planning a series of small steps. If any steps are too demanding, break them down again, or ask someone to assist you.

Make progress one day at a time, one hour at a time, one minute at a time, if necessary. Just focus on doing the next positive thing you can, which will get you out of bother much more effectively than worrying.

7. Validate Yourself

Sometimes when we’re stressed, we forget how strong we actually are. We also discount our skilful decisions and positive actions. When in the midst of troubles, remind yourself of times you’ve succeeded before. At the end of the day, congratulate yourself on what you have managed to achieve and what you did especially well.

If you’re struggling to find positive things to say about yourself, ask yourself what someone who loves you, or a close friend, would say about your character and achievements.

8. Look After Your Body

No matter how high the stakes are, you must give your body all the things it needs to be able to function healthily. If you don’t nourish and care for your body, you will start to fall apart — mentally and physically. Sleep enough, eat wholesome foods, and stay hydrated to allow your body and mind to function at their best. If you don’t do these basic things when under pressure, you’re sure to suffer burnout.

Calming snacks that can help you sleep include turkey sandwiches, milk and oatmeal cookies, rice pudding, and yoghurt sprinkled with cereal.

9. Focus on the Good

When we focus on negatives more than positives, we can become paralyzed and unable to cope. Instead of seeing difficulties everywhere you go, look at the opportunities you have instead. If things seem too overwhelming to handle, focus on what this situation is teaching you. Whether it’s patience, resilience, or a reminder not too overstretch yourself, every seemingly negative experience is an opportunity for learning and growth.

Focusing on what’s good is not the same as being optimistic, which can lead to disappointment and disillusionment. The trick is to have neutral or balanced expectations, and to focus on the good stuff when the situation actually occurs.

10. Be Kind to Yourself

Sometimes the pressure we exert on ourselves is the most damaging of all. You’re human, not a robot. You’ll sometimes get things wrong — and that’s OK. Have compassion for yourself, rather than beating yourself up, when things get difficult. Your best is good enough. Remind yourself of that constantly, whenever you feel out of your depth. Focus on making progress, rather than being perfect, and you’ll find it much easier to deal with stress.

Make up your own self-compassionate mantra for when things get especially tough. Good examples are: “You’re doing fine. Keep going.” or “Just do your best. That’s all anyone can ask.”

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