No Sweat: Channel Pressure to Face Difficult Situations

Ever feel your heart beating wildly, or blood pressure pounding in your head?

Believe it or not, that’s a good thing.

Women can harness pressure to spur action, prompt decisiveness and reinforce their own confidence in facing future heated encounters.

Biology tells us that the adrenaline rush we feel when under a particularly stressful situation triggers a “fight or flight” response. But what seems like overwrought nerves can actually help us focus when faced with a high-stakes event.

And this time of year, many of us are at the end of our worst-stressed-out frayed rope. So it’s a perfect opportunity to recognize how we can re-direct feelings of stress to spur us to action.

Defuse the Pressure: Steps to Take

There are positive, useful ways we can channel those feelings of pressure. By taking a few key steps (and resisting one important pothole), we can stop high stress from getting the best of us.

Step 1: Get out of the pressure cooker

Stepping away from your office or a particularly rambunctious meeting can help you regain perspective, away from heated demands and raised voices. It sometimes takes literally moving away from a pressurized situation to regain your cool.

Taking the long route back to your desk or walking around a different wing of your building can help you simmer down. Take a short minute and focus on something totally unrelated, like sorting through email. It will get the noise out of your head and allow you to take stock of the situation.

Step 2: Take a silent pause before taking action

Even just pausing to take some deep breaths can lead to more optimal decisions, says Jacqueline Carter, North American director for Potential Project, a global firm that teaches mindfulness techniques for stress reduction and productivity improvement.

“It enables the mind to get out of [reacting] and into [responding] where we can use our brain functions to make better decisions,” she explains.

Deeper breathing also activates our parasympathetic nervous system, which lowers blood pressure and slows heart rate. Thus, we’re able to get out of the cloud of crisis and see things more clearly.

Step 3: Tackle at least part of the problem

When your back is against the wall, you might feel an adrenaline rush that paralyzes you. Instead of being frozen in place, consider even a small part of what’s causing you pressure—and try to solve it. You’re using that feeling of “panic” to spur yourself into action.

For example, you’ve got to turn around a project plan that went off the rails—fast—or the rest of it will be in jeopardy. Rather than thinking too much ahead (“This could crush our budget and possibly the remainder of our plans!”) take a small first step toward remedying the situation. Write a short memo to your boss or your team explaining the problem and how you intend to solve it. Or set up a meeting to discuss necessary crisis control.

This step doesn’t have to be huge. As a matter of fact, it shouldn’t be. Otherwise, you’re letting the pressure get the best of you, causing you to overreact, which is what you want to avoid.

Step 4: Don’t give in to panic and overcompensate

This relates directly to Step 3. Avoid firing away with grandiose plans that might get rid of the pressure in the immediate, but will probably serve little purpose (or even backfire!) when given more calm, controlled thought.

We sometimes fall into a reactionary trap in pressurized situations. We think, “We need to do [this thing] now so [the pressure-creator] doesn’t get worse!” It’s a reaction similar to trying to put out a small fire by swatting at it with newspapers or towels—you think you’re lessening the pressure, but you’re only making it worse.

Remember, making decisions while in a high-pressure situation tends to intensify ill-thought-out reactions. As a Harvard Business Review report explains, stress can limit our thinking about what’s possible, “so we devote too much mental energy to figuring out how to avoid a bigger loss rather than [stop and develop] new possibilities.”

Feeling the heat while leading isn’t always a bad thing. It can be a reminder that unexpected things do happen and that we’re human (and fallible). It can prompt us to step back and re-prioritize what’s important, and help us be better planners. And it can even spur us to navigate waters that calm seas don’t prepare us for.