How To Handle Pressure?

Do you feel overwhelmed by demands in life? How do you cope with work pressure?

Frankly, I’d never thought much about this until last week when a British journalist approached a group of entrepreneurs including me for an interview about our coping strategy under heavy pressure. After our 15 minute phone conversation, I realized what I’d told him can be summarized in a short list of Dos and Don’ts that you may find helpful.


1. Start With Ourselves

Unless I miss my mark, I think the toughest kind of pressure to handle is the one we impose on ourselves.

Because many of us are highly motivated individuals who have travelled a long distance from home to pursue our dream job, dream school or dream lifestyle, we tend to put ourselves in a highly challenging environment where pressures come from all directions– work, school, society, family, loved ones.

We set a high bar for ourselves to measure up to our own expectation of success, as well as to make our friends and family happy and proud. In a nutshell – we often set ourselves up to face a lot of pressure. So if we are the originator and recipient of heavy pressure, what better place to start than ourselves to look at what we lack that we need to cope?

2.Discover Our Deficits & Triggers

Everyone reacts to pressure differently.

What are the signs and symptoms that you are running out resources or losing control under pressure?

Some people have emotional outburst or breakdown, raise their voices yelling, kicking, throwing things or getting into a physical fight.

For me, I get cranky, short-fused; I become breathless. The trigger for my breathlessness?

It’s usually a self-imposed deadline to accomplish an unrealistically long To-Do list.

Thus, I realize my immediate deficits & triggers are – my breath, my time.

a) My Breath

Six months ago, I decided to start a rigid regimen of early morning yoga every day and swimming once a week to help me improve the flow of my breath. I’ve always been a yogi, but frequent travel has upset my schedule and I haven’t always managed to stick to a routine. But those days are over. I was determined to build up my body’s endurance, dexterity and flexibility. Ever since I’d joined an Ashtanga yoga studio community in my neighborhood and began a daily practice, the difference has been phenomenal. Through my yoga master’s meticulous coaching, I’ve learned to synchronize my breath with each pose. No matter how tough each movement is, I direct my mind to tune in and ease into every pose. Over time, I’ve developed a good sense of breath control, and my mind becomes more still, clear and focused.

b) My Time

Interestingly, with a more lucid mind and nimble body, I can better discern how to manage my time, stick to my core domain of goals and priorities. I’m still learning how not to over-schedule or over-estimate my time-to-task performance, but I’ve become much more aware of that as a problem. I’ve also become more mindful of when and how I may get distracted, and remind myself to get back on track or modify my target.

3) Get Up Early

Getting up early with a set of morning routine has been a game-changer.

Grounding myself by starting each day with physical exercise, piano practice, and a brief moment with my Bible and prayer gives me a solid sense of productivity and serenity.

Whether or not you have a faith, starting each morning with a quiet time to get in touch with your inner soul, listen to your heartbeat and breath can make a qualitative difference in preparing your mind for setting the intention and the agenda for the day. Having that sense of calm and control first thing in the morning is crucial in anchoring your position to handle any curve balls that may fly your way later in the day.

4) Smiling and Laughing

This may sound silly, but ever since I’ve accidentally incorporated smiling and laughing into my daily habit whenever I’m stressed out, I feel better. As it turns out, research has shown that smiling or laughing in fact releases endorphins (natural pain relievers), and serotonin (a feel good brain chemical). Perhaps it was my survivor instinct during my former TV network news days when things could suddenly fall apart and go downhill that I’d naturally developed this response mechanism. Believe it or not, it works! 

5) Pray Before Bed

My husband and I maintain a nightly prayer routine before bed to thank God for the day. Among the many different variations of his prayers is this one-line that always touches me deeply – “We thank you God for the blessings of this life.” Every time I hear that, I am reminded that our time on earth is limited, I am happy and grateful that we are alive and well, and that we may share what we have whenever we can.


1)   Don’t beat yourself up

2)   Don’t over-react

3)   Don’t make it bigger than what it is

I’ve learned these “Don’ts” the hard way over the years.  How?

Well, I had done all of the above  “Don’ts” and realized none of my wrong-head behavior solved anything.

Let’s think about it:

Beating yourself up is self-defeating, it depresses you more.

Over-reacting gets your blood boiling and your breath weak.

Making it (whatever the problem or pressure) bigger than what it is actually distorts the real problem and distracts you from focusing on a solution.

Obviously, we can’t always overcome pressure every time. But if we become mindful of what it is and what it takes to cope, we’d be less frustrated and more productive.

Mable, New York

Mable Chan

Mable Chan is the founder of China Personified. Her contact is