Some industries naturally lead to higher stress levels, but high-pressure situations can happen in any job. Left unchecked, that pressure can start to eat away at your physical and mental health, leaving you feeling stressed and physically unwell. Figuring out how to handle pressure without sacrificing your performance takes practice and a few key strategies.
Here are some tips to get better at handling and performing well under pressure in the workplace:
1. Reframe the Situation
High-pressure situations tend to make everything seem worse. Instead of looking at that upcoming deadline as another task to complete, you see it as a make-or-break situation that could end your career. Sure, some situations do carry a lot of weight, but most of the daily things that stress you out at work aren’t do-or-die situations.
Try to take away the threatening aspect of the situation, and look at it as an opportunity to put your skills to work or a challenge to conquer. If you’re worried or afraid of the situation, you’re less likely to perform your best. That negative pressure can sap your energy and make the task more challenging. Change the way you think about it, and you’re better prepared to tackle it.
2. Look at Worst-Case Scenarios
When you’re under a lot of pressure, you often have a sense of doom about the outcome. But if you really stop to think about the worst-case scenario, you may realize it’s not that bad. Say you’re in charge of organizing a big meeting at your office, but you forget to book the conference room and someone else books it first. You beat yourself up over it and let the stress become overwhelming, but the worst thing that might happen is you have to get creative and find a new location. It could turn out better, too, with the other person agreeing to reschedule their event so you can have the conference room as originally planned.
Thinking about worst-case scenarios can also help you prepare for the unexpected. If you have a big presentation coming up, some potential problems could be forgetting what you’re supposed to say, losing your PowerPoint presentation, or spilling your coffee on your lap beforehand. Now, think of ways you can be prepared for those situations in case they do happen. Maybe you practice your presentation a little more and come prepared with note cards as a backup. You might save your PowerPoint presentation in multiple places to ensure you have a copy. Perhaps you choose water instead of coffee, sip carefully or pack an extra set of clothes. Use your worry to empower yourself and prepare for the worst thing that could happen.
3. Make a Plan
It’s easy to waste your time worrying or feeling overwhelmed by the situation. Instead of thinking about how it might turn out, focus on creating an action plan. Break down what you need to do to accomplish the task. Then, figure out how you’re going to complete each step to get there. Prioritizing the tasks helps you decide what needs the most attention. Focus on starting and checking off items on your to-do list. Making that progress can give you confidence and make it easier to keep going. Keep your mind on the things you can control rather than worrying about the factors that are out of your control.
4. Use Stress-Relief Strategies
Strategies that help calm you and ease the stress can make it easier to handle high-pressure work situations. Even though you feel like you need to devote all your time to the project, taking a break to exercise, meditate or breathe deeply can help lower your stress and let you work more efficiently. Listening to music can have a powerful effect on your mood and outlook. Find a type of music that calms you if you’re feeling overwhelmed. Some songs have a motivating effect, making you feel like you can conquer anything. Think about what type of attitude change you need, and find the music to help you achieve it.
5. Step Back
When you’re feeling too much pressure, take a step back and slow down. That little step can give you the clarity you need to figure out the best approach to the situation. If you rush into the project to get it done quickly, you may end up making a mistake or missing an easier solution to the situation. By taking a step back, you can formulate a strong plan to get through this high-pressure situation. That moment can also help you realize the situation isn’t as challenging as you think.
6. Reach Out for Help
Some high-pressure situations call for a little help. Talk with someone about the pressure you’re feeling, and it may be enough to improve your outlook. Someone who has been in a similar situation may have advice to help you through it. If possible, consider delegating some of your tasks to other team members so you aren’t so overwhelmed. For example, you might ask a colleague to pull numbers for you while you’re compiling your presentation for an upcoming stakeholder meeting. Even a little help can make a big difference in your outlook.
Be careful not to confuse pressure with stress – they are quite different. Pressure can be a very positive quality. Experiencing it, yet feeling calm and in control, can spur people on to achieve great things. It’s only when it keeps building and that sense of calm and order is replaced by a feeling of being out of control that stress happens, and has a wholly negative effect. Remember pressure at work will always be present, it is how you manage these that truly counts.