How to stay calm under pressure (and why it's important)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 8 July 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Stress is a normal part of everyday life, but that doesn't mean it's normal to feel overwhelmed or panicked. There are many different ways of managing stress in both the short term and long term. Learning how to use these can limit the effect of stress on your mental health, performance and happiness. In this article, we identify several different coping mechanisms to teach you how to stay calm under pressure and provide additional tips.

How to stay calm under pressure

Knowing how to stay calm under pressure is useful in both your personal and professional life. Follow these nine tips to remain in control of stress:

1. Take a deep breath

Taking slow, deep breaths encourages your body to stop releasing stress hormones, allowing you to relax. Taking a moment to focus on your breathing can also distract your mind from the situation which is causing stress, giving you a chance to redirect your concentration. Begin by breathing in deeply through your nose and holding this for a few seconds. Then breathe out slowly through your mouth. Repeat this process for a few minutes and you may find that you feel calmer. Aim to breathe all the way down into your stomach and not just your chest to get the most out of this exercise.

Feeling stressed or panicked can sometimes cause hyperventilation which leads to a decrease in the amount of oxygen that your brain is receiving. Taking a moment to breathe not only refocuses your mind but increases the amount of oxygen in your bloodstream so that you can think more clearly.

2. Focus on the positive

It can be easy to identify the negatives in situations, but this is counterproductive. Changing your mindset to focus on the positive aspects of the situation that you're facing is one way to help you remain calm under pressure. For example, if your laptop has recently broken, you may feel stressed about how much it's going to cost to replace it. Focus on the positives instead by remembering that it's likely that your insurance is going to cover the cost and that this provides you with a great opportunity to upgrade to a new model.

3. Get enough sleep

Not getting enough sleep can make it more difficult to stay calm under pressure. Anxiety and stress can lead to insomnia and trouble sleeping, which can result in a cycle of feeling stressed due to lack of sleep and not being able to sleep because you're stressed. It's important that you aim for a minimum of eight hours of sleep per night and that you make this a priority.

Maintain a consistent schedule in the evening and turn off electronic devices an hour before you plan to sleep. The blue light from phones, computers and TV screens can fool your body into thinking that it's daytime. This means that your brain won't release a sleep hormone called melatonin which your body needs to begin to feel sleepy. If you're still struggling to fall asleep, natural remedies like lavender can promote feelings of calm and make falling asleep easier.

Related: How to get motivated at work and reduce stress in 10 steps

4. Exercise

Exercise is just as important as sleep for staying calm under pressure. The act of exercising prompts your body to release a ‘feel-good' hormone that clears your head and reduce feelings of stress. It's not necessary for it to be anything strenuous. Even a quick walk can clear your head if you're facing a stressful situation. The act of walking and leaving the situation behind can help you to get a fresh perspective and begin to feel calmer.

Many people believe that yoga is simply a way to relax, but it's actually a very effective form of exercise. It utilises mindfulness and encourages the body and mind to work in harmony and can also greatly improve strength, endurance and flexibility. By incorporating yoga into your weekly or daily routine, you may notice a reduction in stress and anxiety alongside an improvement in your physical health and fitness.

5. Meditate

Meditation has been proven to help reduce stress and enable people to stay calm under pressure. There are many ways to meditate. Simply closing your eyes, sitting quietly and focusing on your breathing for a few minutes can allow you to get a new perspective on life. It's not only beneficial for reducing stress but can also help you to regulate your emotions when carried out regularly.

There's no right or wrong way to meditate, and any time of the day can provide benefits. Some people choose to meditate first thing in the morning to ensure that they're able to deal with stressful situations at work. Others choose to meditate before bed to help them process the day and enjoy a restful sleep. If you're having a particularly stressful day at work then taking a break to meditate can help you to stay calm under pressure. You can even download apps that guide you through meditation.

6. Practise gratitude

Choosing to be grateful for what you have in life can help you to gain some perspective and maintain a positive attitude. This positivity, in turn, helps you to stay calm under pressure. Take a few minutes each day to write down five things that you're grateful for and you may start to feel less stressed. It doesn't matter how small these things are. They can be anything, from the fact that your commute was easy or that you were able to pick up lunch from your favourite restaurant.

Related: Interview question: 'How do you work under pressure?'

7. Surround yourself with positive people

Ensure that you're surrounded by positive people and try to spend time with friends and family who keep you calm and help to reduce your stress levels. Reducing the amount of negativity and stress that you experience in your personal life directly impacts how you're able to stay calm under pressure in your professional life.

This is also true for the people that you surround yourself with at work. Working alongside pessimistic managers or anxious co-workers means that you run the risk of undoing all of the work that you've already undertaken to manage your stress and remain calm under pressure. Limit the amount of contact you have with these negative people and focus on remaining positive when you do interact with them.

8. Create a to-do list

If you have a number of large projects all due on the same day then try breaking them down into smaller, more achievable tasks. Begin by drawing out a brief outline of each project and then work through point by point to create a list of ‘micro-tasks'. Not only does this ensure that the overall project feels less overwhelming, but it can help you to focus on completing every task thoroughly.

Once you've created a to-do list ensure that you actually stick to it. Give each task your full, undivided attention and work through each job methodically. This improves your output and the quality of your work and it's also immensely satisfying to cross off each job as you complete it.

Related: How to manage feeling overwhelmed at work (with steps)

9. Avoid multitasking

Although it might be tempting, resist the urge to multitask. When switching back and forth between multiple projects, it can be difficult to give each task your full attention. This can lead to frustration and feeling overwhelmed which can result in increased pressure and stress. It's often better to maximise your output on one problem, complete it and then move on to the next rather than doing a sub-standard job across many different problems.

Related: What is Perfectionism? (And How to Manage it)

Why is it important to stay calm under pressure?

Knowing how to stay calm under pressure when you're at work can have a huge impact on your productivity and motivation levels. Stress and pressure can force your body to enter ‘fight or flight' mode, an automatic physiological reaction that releases hormones designed to keep you safe from danger by enabling you to either run or fight.

Although these instincts were useful for fighting off wild animals in the past, in modern times, they can exacerbate situations where there is no real danger. Even something as simple as making a pitch at work can trigger the same response, preparing you physiologically for a danger that isn't there. If you find yourself frequently panicking or feeling anxious in professional situations, using the above methods can lower the chances of activating fight or flight.

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