Three mind-hacks to keep calm under pressure

The role of a marketer or communicator can be stressful. Reputations and revenues are at stake, budgets can be significant, deadlines short, outcomes uncertain and scrutiny high. It’s fun — but it can have its moments.

So how do you cope? Here are three ways to manage your stress and avoid a meltdown.

1. Separate stimulus from response

Don’t let events or other people mess with your emotions or mental state. You are in control of those — no-one can make you sad, angry or anxious, those are all responses to the situation. Once you recognize and take ownership of your own emotions — and let’s face it no-one else can lay claim to them — then you can, with practice, select the appropriate one for the circumstance. Think of it a bit like choosing a gear in a car. Or the characters in Inside Out — which one is going to help you have the best outcome?

Ever noticed how a song or particular smell can trigger memories and the associated emotions for you? Suddenly you are transported there and it’s as if you were re-living the moment. Your emotions are hardwired to that memory so you’ll feel the same sense of excitement or calm as if you were experiencing it for the first time. You can use this to your advantage by creating your own trigger. Next time you are feeling super chilled, take a mental snapshot to record the memory firmly and at the same time create your own anchor, so you can trigger it again voluntarily.

You can create a touch-based anchor by rubbing your wrist with the thumb of your opposite hand. It only takes a few repetitions to create a strong anchor. Then you can trigger that beach-like bliss in your next high-stakes meeting.

2. Change the lens

Look at the situation from different perspectives so you can get it in context. When we are hard up against it, our focus is very narrow and matters can get out of perspective. This can lead to stress or poor performance. Instead, take a step back and look at things through these three lenses:

  • The wide-angled lens — ask yourself, in the context of everything else going on in your life, how important is this situation? What about a bit broader — like your family or the organization? The city, country or world? Go wide and see where this particular initiative fits.
  • The rearview lens — ask yourself, when this situation has happened in the past, what was the outcome? How did you handle it? Have others tackled these same circumstances and pulled through ok? Draw on the past to give the present some context.
  • The forward lens — think about how you are going to feel about this tomorrow after a good night’s sleep? How about next week — will this matter then? What about next month — will you still be thinking back on this? Will it matter next year, in five years? Look into the future to see how important this is to you then.

The lens exercise helps you reframe your circumstances and tap into new wells of calm and new sources of creative solutions.

3. Compartmentalize

Confine the current situation so it doesn’t impact other areas of your life. Long-term happiness comes from balancing our physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual needs. When we don’t pay attention to one of these, like we don’t go to the gym or we don’t get enough time with our family, it tends to bleed into other areas and impact our satisfaction and performance. We are after all, complex whole people.

However, in the short-term, it can help to ring-fence particular elements of our lives so we can continue to enjoy the others. So say a project isn’t going well at work, box that experience off so you don’t take your frustrations home and be short-tempered with your better half. Even at work, just because one project is going south, don’t let it pollute success on other initiatives which can go well and will help you maintain perspective and a sense of work satisfaction.

Having ring-fenced the project, think about what you can do to complete it, abort it or disengage from it. It needs to be defused quickly — don’t let it become a constant source of stress. An ability to compartmentalize and snap-focus positively onto other projects will help maintain your sense of calm and self-esteem.

There are many ways to keep calm such as getting organized, getting enough exercise and rest, working with mentors, good nutrition and more. Those are behavioral practices which can keep you in control, and you need to do them before the crisis. In the heat of the moment though, the techniques above — separating your response from the stimulus, looking at the situation through a different lens and compartmentalizing — can all help deal with a high-stress situation and keep the ice flowing through your veins.

Good luck out there!