It is not a natural state for humans to stay calm when faced with adversity or stress. It is a learned skill. In fact, in generations gone by, it would have been quite dangerous for us to remain still and calm. Getting out of harm’s way requires a bit of energy and action. However, the more we can teach our body and mind to find a state of calm quickly when we are in high pressure environments, the more resilient and potentially successful we are likely to be. Just think of the number of high-pressured situations you face on a weekly basis, or sometimes on a daily basis.
We may be in an intense meeting and finding calm would allow us to deal with the situation in front of us with more grace and clarity. Perhaps we are having a heated discussion at home, or driving in grueling traffic, or dealing with daily pressures of hybrid working, climate change impacts or the current economic challenges. Whatever it is, being able to find our deeper calm can only support us to make better decisions, be more thoughtful and diligent in our approach and find greater fulfillment in what we do.
From a biological perspective, finding calm under pressure is about working with our nervous system. In all these pressured situations our bodies are receiving messages that we are under strain or stress, which the body interprets as a lack of safety. Our nervous system’s job is then to protect us by shutting down parts of our body and brain that may impede our ability to respond or put us in more danger. So, we have to find ways to calm our nervous system down if we are to get our brain to function as we need it to.
The most impactful approaches I know to supporting finding calm under pressure to date include:
- Breathing. My favorite tool, in most situations, because I find it to be the most impactful tool. You can feel the immediate effects of slowing down your breath, or even speeding it up. You can use it to calm you down or give you energy and it only takes a few minutes at most. If you don’t have any experience with using your breath, there are plenty of resources out there to support you (online or in person) and plenty of professionals who can help too. Learn how to do it and make use of this skill as often as needed.
- Notice the signs in your body. When you feel stress or tension, take the time to notice what changes in your body. Do your shoulders raise? Perhaps you grit your teeth. Do you hold your breath? Notice each body change and become familiar with them. As you do, you’ll begin to notice when they kick in and equally how to settle them down. Most of us have very little awareness of what changes physically when we’re stressed, but instead focus on our mindset or tiredness.
- Talk it through. Sometimes just discussion what’s on our plate can help us come to terms with our stress and helps us relax into it. Just be careful not to get completely absorbed in the narrative around it, or you will perpetuate the stress further.
- Ice baths and contrast therapy. While an ice bath is not my idea of fun, it has huge benefits to the nervous system. Regular practice of getting in an ice bath and slowing your breath to reduce the stress teaches your nervous system how to calm itself when under pressure. It does take some commitment and practice, but the benefits are numerous, especially when combined with some sauna time too.
Just like anything, finding calm is a practice. The tools above are most effective if we practice them regularly. The more we practice when we are not under pressure, the more these things become quickly available to us when pressure arises. Think of sports teams who practice drills over and over, so that when they come to their game, their instincts kick in and they respond effectively as situations arise. Or perhaps a lawyer who reads, reviews, then practices their responses and approaches to arguments so that in court, they respond intuitively when they are called upon.
Whatever practice you decide to try, dedicate yourself to practice. It will pay dividends when you are in a situation that your nervous system is responding to.
Jump on to our website to find more tools for teaching your nervous system to slow it down!