How To Boost Your Performance Under Pressure

by Grace Dickins

Studies indicate that more college students are struggling with stress, with one-third reporting symptoms of depression, according to the American Psychological Association. The prospect of student loan burdens in a sluggish recovery doesn't help. Increasing your ability to perform under pressure may improve your college experience and ease the challenges you face later in life.

There are two routes to pressure-induced failure. In one, the anxiety attached to an event becomes overwhelming. In the second scenario, one aspect of the task becomes the focus of all your attention to the detriment of the whole. Fortunately, successfully handling stressful situations can be learned.

A key part of dealing with pressure-related problems is realizing that it is a physiological response. In fact, some people may be genetically predisposed to worry. With prolonged exposure, the hormones released by stress may decrease performance. Therefore, it is particularly important to learn the strategies to help you avoid failure under pressure.


One solution is practice. Conditioning yourself to tolerate a moderate amount of stress makes you less likely to freeze in a high-pressure situation. For instance, if you're horrified by the thought of giving a speech in front of your entire class, practice in front the mirror first, and then graduate to your roommate and then a group of friends. Incrementally increasing your exposure to pressure prepares you for your final performance. Throughout, it is important to realize that everyone experiences some discomfort under pressure. The higher the level of pressure in your practice scenario, the higher your odds of success when the stakes are real.


You can also write out your feelings about the pressure you're under. One study purports that students who "vent" their feelings about an upcoming exam perform better than those who don't have the opportunity to put their emotions on the page. Keeping a journal of times when you feel particularly pressured may help you to be aware of them when they happen again.


People also improve their performance under pressure with meditation training. When given a test in a controlled environment, students who were taught meditation before a high-stakes test outperformed their non-meditating peers by nearly a full letter grade. Both mantra and yoga meditation can be helpful, and meditating can also decrease your blood pressure.

Improving your performance and decision-making under pressure can have positive repercussions throughout your life. Experiment with practice, writing, and meditation to determine the combination that works for you. Learning how to handle pressure in certain scenarios can improve your performance, decrease stress, and contribute to overall improvements in your health.