Get All Access for $5/mo

7 Ways to Master Poise Under Pressure In times of turmoil people naturally follow the leader who is unruffled.

By Sherrie Campbell Edited by Dan Bova

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Business is full of challenge. There are going to be losses, heartbreaks, bad days, slow months and less-than-stellar years. For this reason, business always brings with it a certain amount of pressure. There is the pressure to succeed, the pressure to keep up with your competitors and the pressure to grow the business. Like any great athlete under this type of stress, you must manage yourself well and show grace under fire. You must be able to manage your emotions well enough to stay calm, mature and rational amidst stressful or problematic circumstances. When under intense stress it is natural to feel panicky, but to have poise under pressure you must learn to harness fear and panic through training yourself to possess self-control.

1. Take a moment.

It's incredibly effective to take a step back when feeling stressed and just breathe. Oxygen helps the brain process emotion. When you are in fight or flight, your brain receives less oxygen, as you tend to take shorter and more shallow breaths when under stress. When you force yourself to take a moment to take a few deep breathes before reacting, you counteract your body's natural reaction to your stressful situation. When you inhale deeply and exhale slowly it grounds you to this very moment allowing you to slow your thinking down. As increased oxygen floods the brain your thoughts become more rational. Breathing calms your heart rate, which becomes naturally accelerated by the flood of adrenaline into your bloodstream. As you allow your breath to slow things down, you will feel more calm, collected and graceful. You are lifted out of feeling like the current situation is a threatening emergency and are able begin thinking about resolutions.

Related: The 3 Ways Ego Will Derail Your Career Before It Really Begins

2. Choose your thoughts.

In order to establish a sense of self-control you have to force yourself to think positively about your situation. Learn to focus on solutions, not problems. This helps you to not react negatively in high-pressure situations. Self-talk is a great way to get yourself to calm down and to start thinking rationally. The brain responds immediately to solution-focused thinking. The natural reaction to challenge is to feel defeated or distressed. Tell yourself there are solutions for every problem and begin the process of thinking of what those could be, or even better take a minute and jot some thoughts down. Tell yourself that you have the experience, skill and instincts to handle the issue you're dealing with. Be mindful to stay away from using negative words like; "can't," "won't," or "impossible.'' Train yourself to look at the positive perspective of; this situation is not happening to me it's happening for me, to keep yourself cool under the pressure of uncertainty.

Related: Lessons on Overcoming Obstacles From a Pair of Immigrant Entrepreneurs

3. Be an example.

Whenever you are in a leadership position, one way to stay composed is to remember you always have an audience. Your team members and other colleagues expect a certain level of integrity and grit from you as their leader. You are their example. Train yourself to keep in mind that you are being looked at as an example for how to behave in all situations, but especially high-pressured circumstances which call for your resiliency, intelligence and the ability to stay calm. Knowing you have an audience acts to anchor your chaotic emotions and also serves as a strong motivator to practice self-management under stressful circumstances. Your colleagues, friends, and family members can all draw positive perspectives from you when you handle high-pressure situations with maturity and self-control.

Related: What Producer Jerry Zaks Can Teach You About Overcoming Obstacles

4. Emulate a role model.

If you cannot figure out a solution, look to the mentors you have in your life and generate what you think they would do in your current dilemma, or imagine what they would advise you to do. Every great leader should have a leader who has led them. In generating the idea of what this role model would do or how your role model would handle your current challenge you naturally begin to get out of your own reactive emotions and into the mind of another and solutions will begin to generate. Emulate how you think they would react and respond. Taking these types of cues has an instant calming effect on a chaotic mind. It also puts you in a place to want to impress and do well. We never work harder for anything than for the admiration of our uppers, peers, coaches, or mentors.

5. Brainstorm.

When you're feeling stressed, be proactive. Train your mind to ask questions out loud. As you hear yourself ask yourself the best way to fix or overcome your problem you start the natural process of brainstorming and quick solutions begin to surface. It's even better to brainstorm with your team. As all of you put your minds together and share input, suggestions and ideas, things begin to calm down because the focus has moved to finding ways through or around the problem from being stuck in the problem. Brainstorming takes your focus off the pressure and allows you to be graceful in your efforts to make things better.

6. Focus on the big picture.

The hardest thing not to do when you're feeling pressured is to catastrophize your situation and imagine every possible horrible outcome that could possibly come from a failure right now. Train yourself to view the current high-stress situation as an individual or isolated issue. This will help you control your urge to project your thoughts onto what could happen going forward. This helps you stay focused on the dilemma at hand. Keep in perspective that this one issue, in the realm of all possibility for your future, is not that big of a deal. This is simply a time of reinvention, reorganization, recalculating, adjusting and starting again. When you can look at the bigger picture and feel its vastness it brings a calming quality to your mind as you realize that where you are at and the pressure you are currently under is not the end of the world, but the beginning of a new solution to a temporary problem.

7. Visualize the positive.

When pressures are intense it is easy to only visualize all the negative that is happening or could happen if this problem isn't solved. To stop this type of doubt and emotional chaos take a moment and close your eyes. Focus on the mental image of what you would like the outcome to be. Imagine the problem has already been solved and you have moved through this situation in the best way possible. Visualize and experience the emotional satisfaction and success you feel as you see yourself succeeding and moving past this issue. It is well worth it to take time in this way to direct your thoughts towards a successful resolution. When you can visualize yourself at the finish line and see the success, you will naturally feel calmer. You will have more faith and feel better prepared to take on the adversity at hand.

The reality is business isn't always in the flow of success. Heartbreak, hardship and challenge occur that are largely out of your control. It's the nature of the beast. This makes it important to know what to do during the more challenging times, as well as the good times. It's easy to celebrate and pop the champagne when your numbers are climbing, but it also needs to be as easy to react deliberately and calmly when the obstacles come.

Sherrie Campbell

Psychologist, Author, Speaker

Sherrie Campbell is a psychologist in Yorba Linda, Calif., with two decades of clinical training and experience in providing counseling and psychotherapy services. She is the author of Loving Yourself: The Mastery of Being Your Own Person.   

Want to be an Entrepreneur Leadership Network contributor? Apply now to join.

Editor's Pick

Business News

How to Be a Billionaire By 25, According to a College Dropout Turned CEO Worth $1.6 Billion

Austin Russell became the world's youngest self-made billionaire in 2020 at age 25.

Business Ideas

63 Small Business Ideas to Start in 2024

We put together a list of the best, most profitable small business ideas for entrepreneurs to pursue in 2024.


Taylor Swift Has a Lucky Number. And She's Not the Only High Performer Who Leans Into Superstitions to Boost Confidence.

Even megastars like Swift need a little extra something to get them in the right mindset when it is game time.


SEO Trends You Need to Be Aware of Right Now, According to a Seasoned Pro

Navigate the future of search engine optimization to elevate your online presence and drive meaningful engagement.


These 3 Big Tech Companies Offer 6-Figure Salaries and Easy Interviews — Especially If You Follow This Expert's Advice

There are far more candidates than positions, so being strategic on the job hunt is key.

Health & Wellness

4 Habits I Cultivated to Become a Healthier, More Effective Entrepreneur

By the time I hit mid-life, some of my bad habits were becoming a risk to my long-term business goals — and my health. Here's how I was able to change them.