9 Actually Doable Ways to Stay Calm Under Pressure
You’ve been working on this event for months — years, maybe — and your anxiety is through the roof as it approaches. You know that you can’t control every aspect of your event, and something, however minor, is bound to go wrong.
Stress and anxiety manifest in many different ways, such as sweating, a racing heart, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, irritability, insomnia … the list goes on. But when you anticipate what’s to come and approach your event with a sense of calm, feeling collected and in control, you’ll prepare yourself to better handle any situation that comes your way.
In a session at IMEX, Janet Sperstad, who founded the nation’s first associate degree in meeting and event management, offered this simple tip: During times of extreme stress, go to the bathroom and wash your hands, and take three deep breaths while doing so. It’s amazing how much calmer you’ll feel after this simple action, she said.
We spoke with more experts to get their best tips for staying calm under pressure — a skill that’s crucial to success in the meetings industry.
Focus on what you want
The natural tendency is for people to think about what they don’t want (i.e., I don’t want sweaty palms, I don’t want to be afraid of handling questions). As soon as that happens, there’s both a psychological and physiological reaction, and the brain and body start to remember that last time you were nervous and clammed up, and so begins the downward spiral of fear, worry and anxiety. Instead, focus on what you do want: such as to be calm, or to speak eloquently. — Marilyn Devonish, event manager for 30 years
Breathe into your belly
When you feel anxious, you hold your breath or only breathe into the upper part of your chest. When you're relaxed, you breathe deeper into your belly. It’s possible to 'trick' your body into relaxing by breathing into your belly. To do it, simply place your hand on your belly button, and focus on making your hand move in and out as you breathe. — Toku McCree, former Zen monk
Use mindfulness meditation
Mindfulness meditation trains your mind to stay in the present. Practice by taking an object, such as your breath or an item in the room, and continually return your awareness to that object. Your mind may wander to the presentation coming up in two weeks, or your forgetting to move out the trash yesterday — but in both cases, the goal is to redirect awareness to your breath. The result of that process is relaxation and a reduction in worry. — Alex Fergus, health researcher and science writer
Sing a favorite song
When under pressure, such as before a presentation or a meeting, I often go to the restroom, look in the mirror and sing my favorite song to myself. It helps me calm down and the lyrics get me motivated. — William Taylor, career development manager, MintResume
Zoom in and out
Hone in on your senses in the present moment, and zoom out from your automatic, racing thoughts. Let's say you're sitting at your desk, anxious about an upcoming event. Pause and notice each one of your senses: What colors do you see around you? What sounds can you hear in the office? Is there a subtle taste in your mouth? What does the chair feel like under your seat? What about the fabric of your clothing on your skin? Run through two rounds of each of your senses, and you'll feel better in no time. — Alexis Rockley, career coach and author
Ground yourself in the moment
Open up your peripheral vision, or your awareness all the way left and all the way right at the same time. While you do this, take a deep breath in and remind yourself that you are here now. When you open up your peripheral, this takes you out of your head (where the pressure is) and into the present moment. — Andrew Alexander, author
Channel your inner lion
A technique that is applauded by national public speakers is called lion’s breath. This is where you do a full inhalation, then a sharp full exhale; the sound of the exhale should be sharp and loud from the mouth, while extending the tongue from the mouth and eyes large. It is a very exaggerated motion that sends blood to the facial nerves and brain — doing three or four lion’s breath exhales creates an almost intoxicating effect. — Stephanie Wijkstrom, psychotherapist
Practice positive visualization
You are where your mind is. Instead of focusing on the worst-case scenario, use the power of imagination to visualize how everything is going to come together, how calm you feel when everything goes smoothly, and how you will remove any roadblocks with ease. This not only puts your mind in the right place to work effectively under pressure, but allows you to react favorably to situations before they even occur. — Adina Mahalli, certified mental health consultant at Maple Holistics
Play scientist with your thoughts
When you’re feeling stressed and overwhelmed, ask yourself questions stemming from this one: “Where is the evidence?” For example, where’s the evidence that people will reject me or laugh at me? Or that my value as a human depends on my performance at today’s event? Or that this corporate event should be easier than it has been so far? Or that you cannot change your circumstances?
Yes, every event would be better if you always behaved in the manner you aspired to, and if everyone treated you fairly, kindly and nicely. Events would be happier if they had fewer obstacles, trials or tribulations — but they don’t. So instead, continue the line of questioning: Where’s the evidence that you behaved in a manner that was effective and kind? Or evidence that with all of the hard knocks of the job, there are many things to be grateful for in your career? Make a forceful argument that is evidence based, and see if it helps you to reduce the panic and fear. — Ross Grossman, president of a live event staffing company and a licensed psychotherapist