“What’s the difference between pressure and stress?”

This is a question I’m often asked. Let’s take a look …..


The term 'pressure' means to press. All kinds of thoughts, situations, expectations and demands press on us as we go about our day. The demands can come from others (workload, work related responsibilities, performance targets etc) or they can be demands we put on ourselves (I need to .... , I must ..... , I have to .....).

In How to Perform Under Pressure - The Science of Doing Your Best When It Matters The Most,  Hendrie Weisinger provides a helpful definition of a 'pressure moment/situation.' It's one that shares these three common attributes:

  1. The outcome is important to you
  2. The outcome is uncertain
  3. You feel you are responsible for, and will be judged on, the outcome

The more important the outcome is to you, the more uncertain the outcome, and the more responsibility you feel for the results (and the more judged you feel), the more intense the pressure you'll experience.


Stress is the cocktail of (physiological, psychological and emotional) symptoms that we experience when we believe we can longer cope with the accumulated pressure we're under i.e. the  pressure has become excessive.

This Pressure Performance Curve helps to illustrate the difference between pressure and stress.









Pressure is an energizer - it moves us to action. The Pressure Performance Curve illustrates that we need to be stretched in order to perform to the best of our abilities.  However, when the level of pressure we're under becomes excessive we move past what I refer to as the 'Tipping Point' and enter the 'Strain Zone'. Our brain interprets this level of pressure as a threat to our emotional well-being  and we will begin to experience distress.

Unless we reduce the level of pressure we'll continue to move to the right, until we enter the 'Crisis Zone'. Once in the Crisis Zone our performance rapidly drops away and we struggle with problem solving, decision making, lateral thinking and creative thinking. In the Crisis Zone the level of distress we're experiencing continues to build and, unless we take action, will eventually become chronic.

Of course there are marked individual differences as to what constitutes optimal pressure - the Tipping Point. What is an ideal level for one person may be too much for another. Air traffic controllers, surgeons, police officers and All Blacks all regularly have to perform under what most of us would perceive to be tremendous pressure. Those who can perform consistently well and seem relatively less affected by this pressure have a higher "pressure threshold," and/or they effectively practice pressure and stress reducing techniques.

As an expert in the art and science of performing under pressure I have a range of tools and techniques that can help you develop the skills you need to be able to perform under pressure, reduce stress and avoid problematic anxiety. If you'd like to explore how I can help you, click on the button to secure your free 30 minute ZOOM consultation.


I'm running a one day workshop in September where I'll be explaining how we create pressure, stress and anxiety and sharing some easy to use, effective tools from my 'performing under pressure' toolbox. There's more info about the workshop below.

What Next?

I help people to develop personal mastery so they can achieve the success, health and happiness they desire. In particular I help people to perform at their best under pressure, reduce distress and avoid problematic anxiety. If you'd like to explore how I can help you, let's talk. You can contact me on 021 056 8389 email me at tony@tycoaching.nz. If you'd like to book a 15-30 minute discovery call use the link below.

Schedule Your Discovery Consult

Until next week,

Go well