How to keep calm under pressure

Seven steps to keeping your cool, whatever life throws at you

In today’s high pressure world keeping calm when you’re being tugged in all directions can be difficult but the best way to tackle tricky situations is to keep your cool.

In her new thriller, The Call, Halle Berry shows just how important it is to keep your head under pressure. So to find out how to avoid blowing up or melting down, we spoke to Dr. Sheri Jacobson, Psychotherapist and Clinical Director at Harley Therapy to get her top tips.Dealing with pressure when it arrives is an important life skill [REX]

What makes a high-pressured environment?

Dr Jacobson explains: “High pressure environments are those times where we need to make decisions swiftly, to act with precision, and know that significant material or even life-threatening consequences are hanging in the balance.”

This could be on a trading floor, in an operating theatre, or during one of the many unexpected events that life throws at us, such as a car accident or a family tragedy.


How do we react to pressure?


When under pressure our primitive response kicks in, it's the old fight, flight or freeze. We either seize up, run away, or tackle the issue at hand.

“While this worked well for our prehistoric ancestors when every day survival was at risk it can cause us real problems in our modern lives,” Dr Jacobson says.

“We might keep it together at a stressful job only for that flee instinct to manifest as constantly running away from necessary confrontations with partners and family members.

“Or we might always be in 'fight' mode, overreacting to small things and causing ourselves and those around us stress.”Jordan Turner (Halle Berry) in the new thriller, The Call

Can we all be good at dealing with high pressure?

Our ability to deal with high pressure situations depends on our individual personalities. One theory is that we are born either naturally sensitive and jumpy or cool-headed.

Another is that we learn how to deal with pressure as we grow up from parents and those around us.

But she adds that it’s not set in stone and we can change these learnt responses in therapy.

Why should you learn to perform under pressure?

In our lives we’re bound to experience difficult times where our abilities to cope are tested and it’s important to give yourself the best chance to get through them. 

But, she warns: “being the sort who’s 'ready for anything' often means our bodies are in a constant state of high alert, leading to blood pressure and adrenaline rushes. This can mean an increased chance of illness or death by heart disease, diabetes, or stroke.”


How to be calm under pressure

It all boils down to mental attitude. Here are Dr Jacobson’s seven tips to help you increase your ability to manage high-pressure situations:

1. Turn unhelpful thoughts into productive ones. 'I'm under stress but I'll do my best' is more helpful to tell yourself than 'this is too much, I can't handle it''.  Make a list of negative thoughts you tend to have under pressure and prepare their more positive replacements now, so that next time you are on the spot you can avoid mental panic.

2. Visualise yourself managing with ease. Picture yourself as a leader in command with a battle about to begin, feeling ready and organised. If your pressure relates to giving a presentation, visualize yourself getting through it with confidence.

3. Breathe it out. A reassuring deep breath can signal to your brain that a situation is not as fatal as it seems, leaving you in a better place to handle it. Of course when panic hits we can easily forget this tip, so start integrating the practise of occasional deep and stress-relieving breaths into your life now so it becomes habit.

4. Keep yourself fighting fit. A good physical footing does wonders for managing difficult situations- so get that sleep, eat those vegetables and do that regular exercise.

5. Be lenient on yourself. When you make an error, move on and stop the self-condemnation. When we are under pressure the last thing we need is criticism.

6. Remind yourself of previous successes.  A radio presenter recently confessed to me that he was nervous giving a speech at a wedding. Sometimes we need to carry over our success from another area of our life or from past experience and remind ourselves we are more than capable. He needed to focus on how easily he broadcasts to millions live on air!

7. Keep practising. If you have just taken on a job in a high-pressured environment and feel overwhelmed, remind yourself that like all things you will get better at dealing with it as time goes on.


And finally: “Know your limits,” she says.  “If you know you have low tolerance for stress it's great to arm yourself with the know-how to cope with emergencies, but don't feel you have to take a role in a high-pressured environment if you don't have to. There is no crime in not thriving off pressure.”

The Call, starring Halle Berry as Jordan Turner, knows all too well the importance of staying calm while under pressure, hits cinemas September 20th.