“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, book a free 30 minute consultation here.

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.

"Performing Under Pressure Without Stressing Out" Workshop

Are you buckling under the weight of excessive pressure?

My workshop - Perform Under Pressure Without Stressing Out is packed with simple, effective tools and techniques to help you cope with pressure. Excessive pressure is one of the main causes of stress and anxiety. Once you get your pressure under control you can look forward to a happier, healthy more productive life.


This one day workshop is on Saturday 16 September and promises to be informative, fun, and above all life changing. You can register for the workshop here. Numbers are limited so be in quick.


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 or email me at tony@tycoaching.nz.

Until next week,

Go well

Tony helps individuals to harness the power of their mind to achieve success and well-being in life, work and business. Tony's particular area of expertise is in helping people perform under pressure and gain freedom from worry, anxiety and distress. Tony’s solution focused approach to coaching uses a range of techniques drawn from the fields of co-active coaching, clinical hypnotherapy, positive psychology and neuro-linguistic programming (NLP).

Contact Tony today to discuss how he can help you, or if you think Tony could help someone you know, you might like to encourage them to get in touch with him.