How To Perform Under Pressure


Monday, 9.22pm

Sheffield, U.K.

Sometimes just breathing is enough. Marty Rubin

Have you ever felt the pressure to deliver – the weight that comes with expectations – from others or from yourself?

Many of us are uncertain about our ability to deliver time after time.

We’re not sure whether something is a fluke or not.

We all face situations when we’re under pressure – so what happens?

How do we react?

This is the topic Dr Alan Watkins explores in this TED talk and it’s an interesting lesson for those of us in such situations.

Imagine you need to give a talk in front of a group of people – what happens inside your body?

Well, you’re under stress. Even if in your mind you’re prepared and confident, your body is readying itself for an unnatural and unfamiliar situation, one where you’re exposed to a group of others.

The stress signals start travelling through your body, telling your brain that you’re sweating.

Your heart starts to beat faster, erratically, pumping more blood through your system.

Your brain uses goes through a lot of blood – taking in the fuel needed to keep working but when you’re in danger this blood is sent to other parts of your body – your hands, to defend yourself and your legs, to run away.

The brain compensates by shutting down parts you don’t need – like the frontal lobe where your logical and reasoning functions live.

And, like the National Grid, when it loses power, the rational part of your brain blacks out.

This is a perfectly rational response in a world where stopping to think about the kind of animal hurtling towards you, fangs bared, is going to end badly for you.

But in a world where the threat is of a mildly dissatisfied audience this response is a little extreme – but it’s how your body is wired.

So, if you want to do something about it you’ve first got to recognise the signs.

First, your heart starts going faster, your heart rate becomes variable and erratic and you find it difficult to think clearly and start to panic.

Pushing through won’t solve the problem, not will working harder or ignoring the problem or getting upset.

What will help is to breathe.

In particular, breathing slowly in and out in a rhythm.

In Watkins video he talks about breathing in for a count of four, holding for four and breathing out for six.

You’re taught something similar in yoga – breath in for four, hold for four, breathe out for eight, hold for four.

Whatever you choose, the idea is to make it smooth and repeat the pattern.

And, if you do that, you’ll start to get your heart rate acting normally again.

The point is not to bring it down, but to get the variability down – from erratically going up and down to back within a normal range – whether high or not.

As you do that, the signals will go to your brain to turn the frontal lobe back on, and you’re back in business.

So, the next time you find yourself facing something to do and feel a growing sense of panic, take a minute and breathe.


Karthik Suresh

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