How To Thrive Under Pressure

By Dr Margie Warrell, Contributor
You can thrive under pressure getty

As a kid, my dad often took me fishing in his rusty tin boat. Every now and again it would spring a leak. Dad was always creative in finding ways to plug the leak until we returned to shore. Blue tack. Candy. One time he used an apple. He’d often say, ‘Boats don’t sink because of the water around them, they sink because of the water that gets in them.’

That saying stuck with me. It’s been particularly helpful in life’s stormy times when I’ve felt like I was swimming upstream or just struggling to keep my head above water.  This pandemic has presented a few. On each occasion I’ve reminded myself that it’s not the problems and pressures pulling me under but how I’m weathering them. 

Chances are this pandemic has piled extra pressure on you. Maybe you’re feeling worn down by the weight of the load; the ongoing uncertainty, disruption and relentless pressures to keep up.

If so, you’re not alone. You’re human.

Not one of the 7+ billion people on this planet has it all together, all the time. Nada. But every single one of us has the ability to weather life’s storms better – with fewer leaks and stronger sails – so that we can emerge from them better off. 

To that end, here are five practical ways you can do just that; staying calm, cool and collected under pressure. At least most of the time. No one is 100% together 100% of the time!

#1 Take a Sacred Pause

Stop. Just stop. Just take one minute to cease your busy doing, connect with your being and reset before moving forward. And if you dont have a whole minute, then a few seconds. Research shows that pausing, even for as little as 50 to 100 milliseconds, allows the brain to focus on the most relevant information.

A dramatic example of a leader who paused during a landscape-scale crisis is Captain Chesley Sullenberger. After both of his plane’s engines failed from a bird strike shortly after takeoff from New York’s LaGuardia Airport, Sulley had to think fast: try to land at a nearby airport as he was being urged by the control tower or shoot for a water landing. He paused and reflected for a matter of seconds—all that he could afford—before deciding to pivot and land in the Hudson River. It was the right decision. All 155 people on board survived.

The stakes are likely not a huge for you but the pause can be no less vital. So before you read any further, gift yourself with a sacred pause and become present to this moment.

Consciously feel the ground under your feet.

Take the deepest breath you have all day. Follow it in. Follow it out. Do it again. Five times. And as you mind jumps all over (as it will), notice it doing that then draw it back to your breath.

Label the emotions you’re feeling.

Then before you get back to your ‘To Do’ list, focus on your ‘To Be’ list. 

Ask yourself “Who do I choose to be right now?” 

Calm. Focused. Brave. Gracious. Grateful. Decisive. Kind. Optimistic. Patient. Present. 

Move on from that place. 


#2 Clarify your ‘vital few’

Chances are you can easily come up with a list of ‘to do’ list longer than your arm; one that would have you working 24/7. Little wonder so many people have been doing close to that over the last 18 months as the pandemic dissolved the normal delineation between work and home life.

Time is the ultimate leveler. We all get the same amount. Trying to jam more into your day can leave you on a treadmill of striving, but never arriving. So rather than trying to do everything, take a few minutes to decide what are the most important things to do right now - today, this week, this quarter? 

Press ‘Google Earth’ and imagine looking down on your current situation with a broader birds-eye view.  

What is most important right now? What will have the greatest consequence a year from now if I don’t do it? What will have the least? What can I progress now that could pay off later?

Prioritizing the ‘vital few’ requires accepting trade-offs. That some ‘nice to do’ things won’t get don’t. That you will need to say no and disappoint people. That you may experience some FOMO. That some people may be unhappy.

So be it.

The mental space you get from focusing on those vital few will be more than worth it. 

#3 Prioritize Self-Fullness

No one can drink from an empty cup. If you’re something who likes taking care of other’s needs and desires, you have to fill up your own cup first. As a woman raised to be a selfless caregiver, I know how ‘putting myself first’ can quickly trigger guilt. But selflessness and selfishness are two sides of the same coin – neither serve you or others. 

You don’t need to consult a nutritionist or attend a retreat to start prioritizing what strengthens you. 

  • Physically – eating better, exercising that earth suit of yours and giving it enough sleep. 
  • Mentally – setting firmer boundaries, making ‘tech free time’ and practicing more of #2 above. 
  • Emotionally – cultivating positive emotions through connection and whatever fuels more calm, confidenceself-compassion and courage. 
  • Spiritually – extending that ‘sacred pause’ time to connect to a purpose greater than yourself and to that quiet ‘inner sage’ that lives within. 

What’s one thing, if you did more often, would help you do everything else better? 

Schedule in. Treat that commitment with the same integrity you would to the most important person you know. Oh yes, that is you!  

#4 Enlist Support

If you’re regularly feeling frustrated, unappreciated, or resentful, it’s a strong indicator that you’re failing to make sufficient requests (or not making clear ones.) This is particularly true of women who tend to put the priorities of others ahead of their own and can be loathe to ask for help for fear of appearing too needy, too greedy, or God forbid, being an imposition.

Regardless of your gender, ask yourself where you need to be making better, bolder and braver requests.

Can a team member take on activities that would free you to focus on higher value-add activities? Do your kids or partner need to pull more weight at home? Is there something a co-worker could help with, but you haven’t asked?  Is there something you want someone to stop doing? 

The more requests being made of you, the more you need to be making of others


#5 Seek to serve

Boats may sink when water gets in them, but they couldn’t move at all without the water around them. Likewise, you might want to wish away all those pressures and problems but it is in rising to meet your challenges that you learn, that you grow, that you hone strengths and can become someone better equipped at helping others navigate their storms.

So rather than wish away your challenges, embrace the discomfort they hold as necessary for you to develop and realize your potential. As Warwick Fairfax, author of Crucible Leadership shared on my Live Brave podcast, our most difficult experiences hold immense power to refine us in positive ways. By looking for purpose amid our pain we can activate ‘post traumatic growth’ (and dare I say, ‘post pandemic growth’) that enhances our very experience of being alive.  

What gift might be hidden amid your biggest challenge? 



As I shared in this podcast, embracing your humanity – particularly in the moments which test you most - you not only can you meet your struggles more bravely, but you can use them as a catalyst to serve a higher good. Your own and everyone else’s.

Is it really possible to thrive under pressure?  Yes. But that doesn’t mean it’s not sometimes hard or that you won’t struggle.

Rather it means that in the midst of the messiness you can discover a deeper dimension of life that ultimately helps you create a more meaningful one.

Often the setbacks, struggles and ‘storms’ you think are ruining your path, are actually just revealing it.

To download a printer friendly PDF of these Five To Thrive to pin up somewhere you’ll see often, click here.


Margie Warrell is a keynote speaker and bestselling author of You’ve Got This! The Life-Changing Power of Trusting Yourself.


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