How to recover peace of mind

How your mind feels when under pressure — Pic by Buzz Andersen

“ Pressure pushing down on me. It’s the terror of knowing what the world is about. Insanity laughs under pressure we’re breaking. This is ourselves under pressure.” — Queen & David Bowie

The pressure of life affects everyone.

You are supposed to perform at your best in all life’s stages — work, school, family, friends, you name it. External expectations are a moving target — they’ll make you anxious and desperate regardless of how good your act is.

Your mind is like a pressure cooker about to explode.

You are by yourself dealing with this alone. Nobody performs better under pressure. Actually, what’s the purpose of life if you can’t enjoy it?

This is yourself under pressure.

Release the energy before it’s too late.

Stress and Pressure are two different animals

“If the problem can be solved why worry? If the problem cannot be solved worrying will do you no good.” — Śāntideva

We often use ‘stress’ and ‘pressure’ interchangeably. “Working in a stressful job” or “feeling under pressure” are related, but are not the same.

Stress is when the demands of our environment outweigh our (perceived) ability to respond. The challenges of our daily lives make us feel threatened — we don’t have the time, patience, energy or money to meet those hassles.

Pressure is a situation that can have significant and negative results if you don’t perform well; hence, performing under pressure. It feels like a life-or-death situation — your reputation, a relationship, your success or safety feel at risk.

Your inability to differentiate stress from pressure can harm you.

Managing stress is about your ability to adapt — your brain determines the external threats or challenges and creates a physiological and behavioral response that can be either adaptive or damaging.

“Stress is often given a bad rap, but it can be extremely positive,” says Michael Bell, director of Asia Pacific at the Institute for Health and Human Potential. Stress can be either negative or positive, the expert explains here. However, there isn’t good or bad pressure — it’s just pressure.

  • Negative Stress is caused by reacting to external threats, rather than adapting to them. Negative stress causes most minor conditions, such as headaches, digestive problems, insomnia, and ulcers. Excessive, prolonged and unrelieved stress can harm you mentally, physically and spiritually.
  • Positive Stress helps you get stuff done. It creates the motivation and awareness to cause a reaction — stress stimulates your brain to cope with challenging situations. Positive stress also provides the sense of urgency and alertness needed for survival when being threatened.

Pressure is something you create yourself — when you exaggerate or over-dramatize the importance of a moment. Your expectations turn your mind into a pressure cooker.

Pressure always finds its way out.

When you turn your performance into a life-or-death situation, you are adding more energy to your mind. Like a pressure cooker, there’s so much volume that it can support before it explodes.

You can keep adding energy or choose to release the forces inside your mind.

Nobody performs better under pressure

“When people are putting pressure on me I just completely ignore it. “ — Zayn Malik

Contrary to popular belief, nobody performs better under pressure.

Regardless of the task, pressure diminishes our judgment, decision-making, focus, and performance both in the personal and professional arena.

Hendrie Weisinger, the author of Performing under pressure, conducted an extensive research study to debunk this myth. The psychologist discovered that pressure makes us do worse and, sometimes, fail utterly. After interviewing over 12,000 people — all the way from Fortune 500 employees to Navy SEALs and Olympic athletes — Weisinger describes how people, even the most successful ones, can choke or crumble under pressure.

The meaning you assign to a situation can increase or decrease your sense of feeling under pressure.

A pressure moment is defined by its importance, uncertainty, responsibility to others, and feeling judged. Those attributes drive anxiety, failure, embarrassment, and stress. These are powerful forces that can be beneficial in the right context, but not in a pressure situation.

Pressure involves feelings of a ‘succeed or die’ type moment — when you’ve only got one shot to get it right. It’s like being in the final interview for a job that can accelerate your career, but feeling that the entire world is watching the live feed of your interview.

A challenging situation can provoke strong levels of arousal. But pressure is something different. Becoming worried and afraid of potential adverse outcomes turns you off.

Weisinger recommends that any time you feel the ‘heat,’ ask yourself: “Am I feeling overwhelmed by the demands upon me, or do I feel I have to produce a specific result?”

If your answer is the former, you are stressed. If you are in a situation in which you feel you have to deliver to prove something, that’s pressure.

What turns your mind into a pressure cooker?

Pressure is an outcome — you are letting expectations take over.

Everyone has expectations for yourself — some because they love you; most, because they don’t really know you. Our society expects you to be successful according to its standard, not on your terms. You also want to be accepted and loved by others. And that’s okay.

However, the problem with expecting external recognition is that you lose focus on what you want to do.

External pressure comes from the circumstances or people around you. Internal pressure is when you push yourself too hard or worry that you won’t be able to meet other’s expectations.

You cannot control external forces, but you can manage internal pressure.

The duality between who you are and who you should be, makes you lose clarity — you feel you are about to explode. Your real and ideal-self are in a constant fight.

Reconciling that tension — finding balance — will help you release the internal pressure. Let go of the need to be perfect.

Most of what happens in the world is just a consequence of natural, universal laws that apply to everyone. The ‘Mediocrity Principle’ establishes that you are not special. No one is either.

However, you are still unique. This principle releases the pressure from trying to be superior so you can focus on being you.

How to release your mind’s pressure

“Can we give ourselves one more chance?”— Queen & David Bowie

Handling the pressure of critical moments determines a great deal of life success. Harness and manage energy effectively — avoid the debilitating effects of pressure. Learn to release steam rather than adding more pressure to your mind.

1. There’s always a first chance to create a second impression

You might screw up your first impression, but you still have a chance to recover. How you manage failure says a lot more about you than being on a winning streak.

Imagine that you made a lousy presentation in front of a potential new client. Most people will tell you; you are done. I’ve been there more than once, and if you act smartly and fast, you can turn things around. Acknowledge your mistakes, apologize, present an alternative plan.

Your ability to recover can create a strong second impression.

2. Enjoy the fun of performing

If you have to present in front of a large crowd, it’s normal to feel afraid. Even the most seasoned actors have stage freight. The problem is over-dramatizing it. When you acknowledge your vulnerability, you can be less harsh on yourself.

Perfectionism is the enemy of creativity. When you stop pretending you are flawless, you can have fun. A fellow speaker fell off the stage in front of thousands of people. He stood up, made a joke, and continued presenting with the same passion. People loved his talk — his fall included — because he approached it in a human way rather than trying to look perfect.

When you know why you are doing something, it’s easier to enjoy your performance. When you stop worrying about the outcome, your performance becomes more natural. It’s you who’s on the stage, not what people expect from you.

3. Rehearse both to perform and to manage pressure

Luck help those who prepare in advance. You have to be ready for when luck strikes, as I wrote here. Preparation is more than just practicing over and over. Actually, too much rehearsing can make you feel insecure. It’s like taking an exam; if you don’t stop reading your notes the morning you are about to take it, you’ll start mixing the concepts rather than learning more.

Preparation is also about building the right mindset. Experience the pressure in advance. Expose yourself to stressful situations to get used to it. Keep present the most challenging situations in your life. How did you adapt and survive them? Past stressful situations didn’t kill you, so don’t let the next one turn your mind into a pressure cooker.

4. Focus on performing

If you practice and know yourself, there’s nothing that you need to worry. Performing requires focusing and improvisation. Make some last minute changes; it will boost your confidence and put you in control. Rather than thinking about your delivery (the outcome), you put the focus on yourself (the performer).

Every time I’m about to kick-off a workshop or a talk, I come up with a last-minute improvisation. I see the participants as a source of energy — I want to give them my best, so I can inspire them to be their best too. Performance is a two-way street; embrace your audience rather than being afraid of it.

5. Avoid anticipating.

Stop worrying about what you can’t control — that’s why we fear the unknown. You cannot control uncertainty or how others will react. Worrying will only make things worse.

Our brain does not like being in control — it prefers predictable negative consequences over uncertain outcomes. Don’t let anxiety get in your way.

Focus on the moment; the present is the only sure thing. Take it easy; your life doesn’t depend on one performance.

Your life is full of stress; you don’t need to add pressure to it.


Releasing the energy from your mind will help you relax and avoid a mental explosion. Lower your expectations. You cannot manage what others think or want from you, but you can control not turning a situation into a life-or-death moment.

When you are about to perform, ask yourself: What’s the worst thing that can happen?

Life is your stage. You are in charge of your performance. Break a leg.

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