The Adrenalist

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How To Stay Calm And Do More Under Pressure



Everyone, including professional athletes, feels pressure. Gutsy athletes like Aussie free-diver Christina Saenz de Santamaria and radical rope swinger Devin Supertramp, however, handle the triggered burst of the fight-or-flight hormone, adrenaline, better. 

The reason for such apparent ice-veined cool is not just superior genetics. Bold high-achievers have a grasp of the art of stress management – and we can all learn to improve our composure. Here are five tips on how to stay calm under pressure.

How To Stay Cool Under PressurePhoto Credit: SuperFantastic /

Repetition Is Key

The supreme martial artist Bruce Lee once said, “I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.” As Lee’s words underline, the number one thing you can do to stop yourself choking in the heat of the moment. Intense preparation lessens any leaning you have toward error, priming you for flexible, effective action. Then, when crunch time comes, you can lock into the right gear almost automatically. No dramas, in theory. That said, robotic revision has its limits. To get the full benefit from your training, as in a fire drill ensure it mimics the conditions you face during real competition – be it with yourself or other people. Subjecting yourself to realistic pressure narrows the gap between practice and enactment, buoying your confidence on the big day when you embark on that marathon or go skydiving, say.

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Feel The Thrill

Star performers in all kinds of disciplines are deft at turning the power of potentially unsettling emotion to their advantage, judo-style. The trick is to get out of the habit of viewing pre-match nerves as anxiety. Understand that, physically and mentally, excitement and fear mirror each other – broadly, they are the same emotion. That means you can curb or eliminate your performance anxiety through reframing it. Tell yourself that you are excited. Play the part. Think of the adrenaline coursing through your veins as there for a positive purpose – a personal best, say. Shaky hands can just be taken to mean that you have buckets of the fight or flight hormone to play with. Switch perspective and channel the rush.

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Don’t Panic

This is simple, but crucial advice. Hysteria will get you nowhere. Don’t let a challenge overtake you, control it and keep your head straight. Just because the wind is playing up doesn’t mean that the mountain you are heading down is set to unleash an avalanche. Manage any impulse you feel to crack or collapse by saying: “I can handle this.” You have survived countless hard knocks in the past, and are more than capable of dealing with the next hurdle. Get over it. The very idea of panicking is emo, even beneath you, Mr Unflappable. Stick to a Spock-style no-drama mental framework, whatever events unfold, at all costs. Never forget what the word “fear” really means: ”False Evidence Appearing Real.”

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Keep breathing

Breathing is a vital, easily overlooked method of beating the jitters or “yips”, as golfers say. For insight into the value of breathing, study the behavior of children. They are smart because they have not yet learned how to cheat themselves of breath – a bad, adult habit associated with a range of anxiety disorders. Children just naturally breathe deeply. Alas, as they age, they lose the knack and grow uptight. So loosen up. Stop using your chest muscles and go in for full belly breathing. When you belly-breathe right, your stomach will visibly rise and fall. During that process, you are filling your lungs and thoroughly oxygenating your racing brain, which is calming. If you find it hard to break the habit of shallow breathing, you might want to have a crack at yoga. Deep breathing is central to the Hindu discipline that promotes calm through postures like the lotus.

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Analyze Less

The idea that you should curb your tendency to think may seem like a heresy in a moment that requires intense focus. But thinking hard about the mechanics of a sport you pursue can be counter-productive, resulting in stilted performance or even a tailspin that worsens the more that you try to raise your game. Do not allow yourself to be morbidly incapacitated by anxious thoughts. Consider that, under a brain scan, the mind of a high-performance athlete seems strangely serene, which is evidence of “the zone” – the trance-like mode that enables professionals to reach their peak levels. So just focus on doing what you have to do, Zen style. Go with the flow. In the zone, time slows down and you see everything clearly: a calming thought on which to end.

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