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How to perform better under pressure

Stress. It can make us less responsive, less creative, and less effective. Often stress is referred to as mental or emotional pressure coupled with the psychological effects as a result, however it’s important to realise that in fact it’s a reaction between the mind and body and therefore, how we feel, think and physically behave are all significant factors.

When it comes to communication, a high percentage is non-verbal – as we’ve touched on before in a previous blog. It stands to reason, therefore, that stress often manifests itself as a physical response that others may see before we are even fully aware of it ourselves.

Recently I was a participant in a workshop exploring Leadership Embodiment and I gained fascinating insight into how our bodies work under pressure. The practice of Leadership Embodiment allows us to consciously become aware of how stress shows up for us physically. We each have our own ‘pattern’ of behaviour and when stress occurs in the body, it kicks in well before we’re even aware of it. 

In order to break the habit of reacting in a certain way (e.g. 'fight or flight' response, often putting us in ‘attack’ mode) we need to understand why our bodies take the shape that they do when faced with conflict. Let’s say you’re in a meeting and someone’s criticising you – by learning to notice how your body normally reacts, taking a moment to centre yourself, and then working out how you might want to change that reaction, you can soften the landing of what the other person is saying, and as a result, give a more resourceful response.

For years, psychologist Kelly McGonigal (Stanford University) believed stress made us sick; that it was bad for us and would increase the risk of just about every known ailment. However, her theory changed somewhat dramatically after coming across an extensive research study, which revealed that it wasn’t stress alone that was killing people. It was the combination of stress and the belief that stress is harmful. In other words, stress is harmful only when you believe it is. Click here to find out more about her mechanism for stress reduction. 

So, in addition to thinking of stress as more of an opportunity than a threat, learning how our bodies cope, and using this to our advantage, not only helps us to become more resilient, it enables us to choose our reactions rather than fall back into those habits. And, with practice, allows us to become a more reflective, and effective, leader.

Do you have any other tips for dealing with conflict or stress? We’d love to hear from you. Contact Tania at

Posted on Thu, April 28, 2016 in Coaching General Leadership Personal Development
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