Coping With Pressure

Learning to stay cool under fire is a technique every success-minded person must master.

Neuroscientists have found that one of the best ways to handle pressure situations is to catch the first distress stimulus you feel and to trigger an immediate control response.

A powerful way to accomplish that is through the “Instant Calming Sequence” (ICS) developed by consultant Robert Cooper, author of The Performance Edge. ICS lets you perform at your best when anxiety producing situations arise.

With practice during anxiety producing situations, your brain and nervous system can start the five-step ICS automatically:


Most of us stop breathing for several seconds when stress hits, giving our brain less oxygen. This triggers anxiety, frustration, anger, faulty reactions, and a loss of control.

The first ICS command, therefore, is simply to continue breathing–smoothly, deeply, evenly.


Evidence suggests a positive facial expression increases blood flow to the brain and resets the nervous system to react less to stress. In a tight spot, therefore, smile.


Your posture both mirrors and affects your reactions. Just thinking of a problem knots your neck and back muscles. It can cause a slouching posture in which your chest tightens and collapses, shoulders slump forward and down, and abdomen, back and neck tense. This can restrict breathing, reduce the brain’s supply of blood and oxygen, slow reaction time, and prompt feelings of panic and helplessness.

With a balanced posture, however, you have an exhilarating sense that action takes no effort, and you move buoyantly.

Your head is up, neck long, chin slightly in, jaw and tongue relaxed, shoulders broad and loose, pelvis and hips level, back comfortably straight, abdomen untensed.


People under stress commonly tighten muscles in their jaw, neck, back, shoulders or abdomen, which drains energy and clouds thinking.

Mentally check your muscles, from scalp to toes, to locate tension. Then send a “wave of relaxation” over your body. Imagine you’re standing under a waterfall–and wash away your tension.

Say someone criticizes something you’ve done. Catch yourself and trigger the ICS–steady breathing, positive face, balanced posture, and relaxed muscles.

Past habits may have primed you to talk yourself down, blurt an excuse or angrily lash back. But if you don’t learn to substitute a new mental focus here, you’ll keep repeating these responses.

Using ICS requires practice. Using the ICS approach will enable you to keep your composure “under fire,” which is the acid test of leadership.

Next time the pressure of anxiety hits, keep your cool get tough, strike back with ICS!

A person’s leadership abilities can be measured by their ability to control their temper.

Anxiety is a cancer: Stop it before it spreads.

Sometimes our own worst enemy is ourselves. Control yourself and you will control your destiny.