Practical tips for staying calm under pressure

There's no getting away from it, life can be tough at times. It's important to have some strategies to hand to help you keep your cool.

Studying can be stressful. Non-stop revision, the thought of exams looming over you, the worry about getting your stands to reason that there will be times when you really feel the strain.

And it’s not just academic work that can make tension rise. Dealing with uni applications or issues in your personal relationships can also weigh heavily on you and cause further problems, like anxiety or sleep difficulties.

But don't worry, we’ve found some really practical ways to ensure you can cope, including one which might surprise you in its simplicity! We’ve also spoken to two RAF personnel who know a thing or two about dealing with intense situations, to find out their tips on how to stay calm.

Get in control of your studies

You've got so much to do that you don't know where to start and you can feel the panic rising. Before the panic takes over, have a look at these simple things you can do to prevent becoming overwhelmed.

Corporal Sanders, an RAF Intelligence Analyst knows a thing or two about handling pressure:

‘The biggest way to combat pressure is to know when to ask questions. Don’t be scared to ask questions to ensure you have all the information you need.’ 

Keeping this kind of advice in mind can be invaluable when getting your head around your read on for other tips on fighting off the fear!

Plan your time

Be realistic about what you can achieve in the time available. Split your day/morning/hour into half hour slots and assign a task to each one.

Break down tasks into manageable chunks

Instead of ' learn thermodynamics', break a huge subject down into micro-topics (heat and energy, entropy, exergy etc.) and concentrate on one at a time.

Block out distractions

Find a quiet place. Listen to focus music. Hide your phone so you won't be tempted to check your notifications every thirty seconds.

Give yourself regular breaks and rewards

Keep motivated by having a series of treats planned in to your day, to reward yourself when you've completed a particular task or worked for a certain amount of time.

Snacks, social media time, reading a magazine, it doesn't matter what. Just keep making sure you've got something to look forward to!

Stay hydrated / eat energy-boosting snacks

Your body and brain won't function at their best if they aren't getting the right fuel. Drink lots of water and fill up on non-sugary snacks to keep your energy levels high.

Silhouette of a woman from the back, sat crosslegged in front of a sunset

Learn to let go

The RAF's Flight Lieutenant Smith, from Air Ops, believes that the key to staying calm is to stop dwelling on negative experiences and to move positively into the future.

"It’s all about experience. Learning from mistakes and then letting them go and focussing on the areas that you do well in helps to relieve unnecessary pressure."

There are thousands of articles about mindfulness that will tell you how important it is to pay attention to the present and not get swept away by the hustle and stress of everyday life.

You can find plenty of apps with mindfulness and meditation exercises that you can practise. Physical exercise (whether it's something gentle, like yoga, or something more energetic, such as swimming or running), is the perfect way to give yourself some clear headspace.

The ability to step away from anxious thoughts and bring yourself into the moment can really help to relieve pressure and allow you to relax.


Surround yourself with positive people

Corporal Sanders knows that surrounding yourself with positive, supportive people is a great way to ensure you're not dealing with too much pressure alone.

‘The team around you is probably your best resource when it comes to handling pressure.’

We all know somebody who, no matter what subject is brought up, can find something downbeat to say about it. It might be funny sometimes, listening to a diatribe on their latest catastrophe but other people's pessimism can have a very negative effect on your frame of mind and your ability to cope with adversity.

So you need to ditch the naysayers from your life and surround yourself with positive people. Those who are optimistic are generally more motivated, more creative, more productive, more open to new experiences and more energised, which will have an affirmitive knock-on effect on you as well.

Man in white t-shirt deep breathing in front of ocean

Breathe properly

We know this might sound a bit weird. Surely we already know how to breathe properly? Actually, most of us don't.

As babies and children, we breathe perfect, big belly breaths. But as we get older and we have more to think about (and, therefore, worry about) we start taking shallower chest breaths which have a whole host of negative side effects, including higher levels of stress hormones, anxiety and tension which can then lead to exhaustion and sleep issues.

It doesn’t take much to retrain our breathing and stay calm when pressure strikes:

  • Put your hand on your stomach and breathe in deeply through your nose (not your mouth) until you feel your abdomen rise
  • Hold this breath in for a few seconds and then release it through either your nose or mouth. Feel your stomach flatten again

Practice these deep breaths whenever you can and you’ll find that when you are hit with stress you’ll be able to quickly adjust your breathing and stay in control of any anxiety.

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