In today’s high-stress world, many people hardly have the time to sit down, much less think. Bombarded by financial worries, parenting strife, constant phone notifications, demanding bosses, and a high-wire political scene, we’re all under pressure in some way, shape, or form.
So, what’s the secret to staying sane in a world ready to run you ragged? Mastering how to stay calm under pressure is the key to navigating all the various stresses that life can throw at you. Follow these steps to help reduce stress and stay calm under the chronically pressured environment of today’s world.
Step 1: Understanding Pressure and Stress
While we’ll begin to talk about how you can identify what’s putting you under pressure in just a moment, it’s important to understand stress. As the Mountain State Center for Independent Living puts it, “Stress is your body’s way of responding to any kind of demand.”
“Any kind of demand” might seem a bit seems vague, but what this means for you is that any demand can produce a stress reaction from your body. This stress can take a multitude of different forms. However, there are two main kinds of stress: physical/external or psychological/emotional stress.
Physical/external stress has more to do with your environment. This includes things like a stressful job or an illness. Since the source of this stress is material, this it is often easier to identify than emotional/psychological stress. The downside is that this stress is generally harder to address since the stress-causing situation isn’t necessarily something you have immediate control over. For example, you cannot control when your car breaks down or when your child catches the flu. You may not be able to change your stressful job.
Emotional/psychological stress is mostly internal and is about feeling negative emotions, such as anger, unhappiness, anxiety. Emotional/psychological stress can often be caused, exacerbated or triggered by physical/external stresses. Mental illnesses such as depression or bipolar disorder can also affect your emotional/psychological stress.
Step 2: Figure Out What’s Going On
A doctor cannot make a prescription without an accurate diagnosis. In the same vein, it’s difficult to know what you can do to reduce stress until you know exactly what you’re stressed out about.
In some cases, you may know exactly what is causing your stress, but with all the racing thoughts and anxieties about multiple situations and people we are dealing with on a daily basis, it can be difficult to pin down the exact cause at times.
If you need to, sit down for a few minutes and jot down a list. Shut off your phone and laptop – these are full of distractions and are not conducive to getting to the bottom of your stress. Instead, pull out a pen and a notebook. This will force you to only consider what you’re working on. On this list, write down everything that you think you are worried or stressed about without thinking about too much. Without worrying about whether any of the items are ‘legitimate’ or not, write the first things that come to mind. Your list may have small, seemingly unimportant things such as “I hate how my boyfriend forgets to text me when he’s on his way home” alongside concerns about paying down debt.
Then, once you have a substantial list, review it. If you think of new stressors as you review your list, write them down. Then, next to each one, label what type of stress you think it is. Is it psychological or physical? Is it harmful stress, or does it drive you? It may not always be easy to identify the stressor; many of your list items may be multiple parts of one overarching stressor. But the key is taking time to consider your stressors objectively and start to understand how each is affecting your life.
After you’ve identified each stressor, try to rank your stressors in order from what’s the most stressful to the least. You will want to write your ranked list on a new sheet of paper. Sit back and look it all over once you have done this. You will soon see that your stress is no longer abstract.
No matter how isolated you might feel the stress going on in your life, you’re likely not alone. An interesting 2014 survey conducted by NPR found that the biggest sources of stress were health, death of a loved one, financial worries, and work trouble. Knowing that you are not alone is a great way to put your stress into perspective and realize that if it’s something others can and do deal with successfully, then you can as well.
Step 3: Direct Action Right Now
The amount of stress you may be dealing with right now may feel overwhelming, but there are always some things, big or small, that you can do to immediately put a stressful situation on ice or reduce its impact on you. For example, let’s say that you’re stressed about a financial payment or concern, you can start to brainstorming how to manage this stressor. This could be seeing a financial advisor, or taking stock of your financial data yourself. Oftentimes, facing a problem you’ve been avoiding is the first step to making it feel more manageable.
Start a new list listing potential solutions to your problems. Not everything you’re going to write down will be feasible or possible but what’s important is that you’re thinking about it. Feel free to think outside the box too. Not all problems have obvious solutions.
Once you do that, make an action plan. Take the ideas that seem the most feasible or appealing and work on trying them out. Working towards a constructed plan goes a long way to reducing stress and pressure from your mind.
Step 4: Breathe and Relax
Even if you don’t have a lot of time on your hands, you probably have a few minutes to spare to breath, meditate and relax. This relaxation can take the form of mindfulness mediation, or it can be creating and executing plans to go out with friends and have some fun. Even just taking an extra few minutes in the morning to enjoy your coffee can be enough to relieve pressure and help make your stressful situation bearable.
The goal is to get your mind off the situation causing you to feel under pressure. Meditation is the most effective way to do this, but other options work.
Step 5: Learn How to Say “No”
You may be feeling under pressure because you do not have enough time to get things done or having too many things to do. Learn the power of the word “no.” It’s only two letters, but for many people, it can be scary. Many people are terrified they’ll let others down by turning them down. You are only one person with a limited 24 hours in the day. You have your own tasks to complete plus you need to time for self-care and recharging.
Is your boss asking you to do an assignment you barely have time to do? Tell him you’re unable to take it on but would be happy to help in some other way when you have time. In Entrepreneur, Paula Rizzo suggests that you ask yourself four questions before saying yes to something:
1. Do I truly want to do this?
2. What do I gain out of doing this task or attending this function?
3. What has this person done for me lately?
4. What else will I do with my time if I don’t do this?
It’s not easy saying no, but if you are feeling excess pressure, chances are that you are not saying no enough. Doing too many things in the long term is neither healthy nor feasible. It’s better to manage both your own and others’ expectations to achieve a more realistic level of long-term productivity.
Step 6: Talk to Someone
Don’t keep things bottled up. You can manage stress by having someone to talk to about what’s going on. This can be a trusted friend, your mom, a preacher, or your partner. It just needs to be someone you trust to be respectful and confidential. You want to make sure you have a judgment-free space to vent and someone who can offer advice or help you work through things.
If you are looking for someone who can help you with some heavy-duty stressors, it might be time to find a professional: a therapist, a psychologist, or a counselor. The added benefit of these people is that they can help teach you coping techniques to manage all the stress in your life.
Step 7: Get Spire
You can prevent feeling under pressure in the first place if you effectively manage your stress throughout your day before you feel overwhelmed. This can be effectively done with Spire, which tracks your breathing activity and sends you a warning when your body is falling into a state of stress. Spire lets you know when things are getting higher stress so that you can pause, breath and get stress under control before it takes over your emotional health.
Staying calm under pressure isn’t always easy but it’s possible. By identifying what’s stressing you out, having a plan to fix your problems, taking some me time, learning how to say, no and finding someone to talk to, you’ll be on your way to reducing stress and managing pressure.