Fight Pressure and Stress With These 14 Proven Tips
“If you ask what is the single most important key to longevity, I would have to say it is avoiding worry, stress and tension. And if you didn’t ask me, I’d still have to say it.”
– George F. Burns
Stress is an inescapable part of modern life. That’s the bad news. The good news is that stress isn’t altogether bad news. In metered doses, it can be helpful – it can even make you better at what you do, and help give you the competitive edge. All of us need some amount of challenge in our daily life to keep ourselves stimulated and lead our lives to the fullest. It’s the major-league, non-stop, never-let-up stress you have to watch out for. Because it can kill you.
When you’re feeling overwhelmed – or encounter a major stressor of some kind in your environment – your adrenalin kicks in and your sympathetic nervous system takes over. Your body is suddenly prepared for action. But when there’s no dinosaur to slay or damsel in distress to rescue, your body reacts with heart palpitations, sweating, increased stomach acidity, stomach spasm, skeletal muscle spasms – and increased blood pressure.
This is OK up to a point, but if it goes on too long and your body doesn’t have any “down time,” you could be in for trouble.
The following experts don’t let stress stand in the way of success. Neither should you. So here are some tips to consider when fighting pressure and stress:
1. Be smart, be ready, but above all, be honest about it when you’re not.
THE FIGHTER-JET TEST PILOT
Captain Doug Henry, U.S. Navy (Ret.)
“I tested the avionics and handling of Navy fighter jets. There were different levels of risk. Sometimes the control room looked like a space-shuttle launch, but for vanilla missions, it would just be a guy in a chair with a radio. One way of handling the pressure is compartmentalization. If there are problems at home, you put that in another space in your mind. You also need to be brutally honest with yourself. Flying demos at air shows, I couldn’t worry about the spectators waiting to see me perform. If you or the plane are not ready to execute, you can’t let the desire to entertain make you do something foolish. There’s only one guy in the cockpit, so you get all the blame.”
2. Stress is only a setback if you let it affect you more than the next guy.
Kelly Slater, seven-time world champion
“I don’t dwell on it. I don’t think about it in a way that stresses me out. When I’m competing, I just try to recognize the other guy’s potential. Then I look at the waves and try to find possibilities. You have to keep in mind that pressure affects everyone in the competition. If I’m feeling it, so is he. I guess I react to pressure by taking it one step at a time. It’s like when you’re in the middle of a bad wipeout, you just start counting and you come up eventually.”
3. Keep your chin up, even when the entire stadium is against you.
THE NFL REFEREE
Gerry Austin, ref since 1982
“Most NFL officials are naturally pretty even tempered. An official has to be able to stay focused, even if he blows a call. After the preparation I do with my crew, I know there’s no situation we can’t handle. When I walk on the field, there’s no place in the world I’d rather be.”
4. Don’t let small missteps divert focus from larger goals.
THE PRO GOLFER
Sergio Garcia, top-10 PGA tour professional
“Even the best players miss crucial shots, so we have to simply trust ourselves and our abilities. I don’t let others influence my goals. I do expect a lot from myself, and I think that’s good. If I’ve met my own expectations, I’ll be pleased with my career.”
5. Use whatever advantage you have to win, but don’t let that stand in for proper preparation.
THE VEGAS PRO
Rich Baccelari, odds setter, Palms Casino race and sports book
“We get crazy on Sunday mornings during football season. But we lessen the pressure a few ways. First, we do our homework. We’re very prepared. Oddsmakers have access to the same information and come up with the same number for a game. The house advantage also has a way of taking the pressure off. The gamblers have to hit almost 53 percent of their bets to win.”
6. Let off steam if you need to, but make sure no one gets burned.
THE FOUR-STAR CHEF
Riad Nasr, co–executive chef, Balthazar, New York
“Time is the main pressure of my job. Yesterday we did 280 breakfasts, 376 lunches, and 450 dinners. And that was just a Monday. What makes it all work is I really care about my crew. I’ll admit I’m a bit of a screamer in the kitchen, but when I go off on someone publicly, I make sure that I also reconcile with him publicly.”
7. Never let ’em see you puke.
Nick Weiss, stockbroker
“Back in 1998, I was in the Intel pit during the Russian debt crisis. I had lost 30 percent of my yearly gross, and as the market went down, I kept losing more. You know what I did? I found the closest garbage can in case I had to puke. But it wasn’t needed; I ended up making money.”
8. Familiarize yourself with stress in one walk of life and defusing the pressure in others becomes easier.
THE WAR CORRESPONDENT
Josh Davis, reporter and author of The Underdog
“When I returned from Iraq, I felt invincible. I wanted to find more stressful situations so I could extricate myself and feel great again. So at 129 pounds I became the lightest man ever to enter the U.S. Sumo Open. Then I became a matador in Spain, an internationally ranked arm wrestler in Poland, and a competitive backward runner in Italy. I deal with pressure by focusing on how nice it’ll feel when it’s over. It makes all the unpleasantness worthwhile.”
9. Thrive on those spotlight moments – you’re lucky they’re yours.
THE ON-AIR ANNOUNCER
Mike Tirico, ESPN play-by-play announcer, Monday Night Football
“With millions of people watching, I have to pick the right bit of information at the right time while describing the play, taking direction, and listening to statisticians and spotters. I never know which statistics or anecdotes will suddenly become relevant, but I do know where to find them and how to adapt on a minute-to-minute basis. A big stress reliever for me is the opportunity to perform under pressure. The bigger the audience, the more fun I have. Doesn’t everyone want to do his best work at the biggest moments?”
10. Focus on the track, not the cliff.
THE RALLY-CAR DRIVER
Ken Block, rally-car driver
“It’s damn scary going through a tight corner on an unfamiliar gravel road at 100 mph. You have to push past what your mind considers a ‘comfortable speed.’ I just put it out of my mind because if I can’t, I won’t drive at my full potential.”
11. Don’t let yourself get caught up in the pressure. Remember what you enjoy about the job.
THE DEEP-SEA EXPLORER
Jean-Michel Cousteau, host of the PBS series Jean-Michel Cousteau: Ocean Adventures
“Pressure in my line of work has another meaning. We explore depths of more than 250 feet, where the pressure is roughly eight times sea level. Down there, the sounds of your heartbeat and your breath are amplified to surreal proportions. How do I handle pressure under all its guises? Oddly enough, by diving. Exploring, for me, is highly rejuvenating.”
12. Confidence is armor against rejection.
Bo Zenga, filmmaker
“Hollywood studio execs live in a climate of fear. No one wants to put his name on a loser. Even if you’ve sold winners before, you’re at square one every time you walk into a new person’s office. So I only pitch projects I really love. When I walk in, I try to exude an unspoken feeling of ‘If you don’t buy this, your boss is going to want to know why.'”
13. Treat pressure as a task to tackle, not a crisis.
THE RECORD EXECUTIVE
Kevin Weaver, senior VP of A&R and strategic marketing, Atlantic Records Group
“Things move very rapidly in this business, and I frequently have only hours to close very important deals. I also do tons of negotiating to manage the ever-changing demands of our artists. How do I cope? Well, for one thing, I work out a lot. But mostly I just try to remember that there’s always going to be pressure. You just have to suck it up. Accept the unavoidable and you won’t feel out of control.”
14. Remember, you’re seldom stuck in it alone. It’s easier to laugh away stress if there’s someone to provide a punch line.
THE NASCAR PIT REPORTER
Allen Bestwick, NASCAR pit reporter
“Mine is the ultimate ‘walk and chew gum’ job, except that I’m chewing about 20 individual pieces of gum. I track 10 racing teams while speaking to two producers and listening to the broadcast to ensure that my reports enhance the big picture. There are no second chances. If I say something dumb, it’s out there, and there’s no do-over. The best way to deal with the pressure is to relax and have fun. I go out early among the pit crews to exchange jokes or talk football – anything to loosen up before showtime.”
Much stress is the product of faulty expectations. When you can’t live up to your own expectations for yourself – or the expectations of others – it causes stress, tension, and pressure. The solution is to get expectations back in line with reality, by doing a better job of communicating exactly what you can and cannot do, and by defining limits.
Also make sure you find something in life to elevate your spirit. It can be music, dance, meditation, sports, prayer, painting, Tai Chi, hiking in the mountains, visiting the ocean, or anything else you enjoy that makes your spirit soar. Take time for avocation, recreation, and spiritual pursuits; revitalizing your self in this way will allow you to maintain proper balance and perspective in your life, and give you better control over stress.
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