Stress and Pressure… What’s the difference?

As a Mental Performance coach, one of my foundational approaches is to equip others with the mental models and psychological vernacular that helps them to more objectively discern what and why they are experiencing what they are experiencing. Put simply, “if you can name it, you can tame it”. Incorrect labeling and attributing of our thoughts and feelings is one of the surest ways in which our psychological experiences can become chaotic and out of hand. Using the terms stress and pressure interchangeably is an example of not being equipped with the mental models and psychological vernacular that would otherwise protect someone from the mental disarray and clutter that comes from the inability to discern the difference between experiencing stress versus experiencing pressure. 

Stress refers to the situation of too many demands and not enough resources–time, money, and energy–to meet them. 

    -Subjective feelings associated with stress: exhaustion, overwhelm

    -When experiencing stress, reduction is the goal. 

Pressure refers to a situation in which you perceive that something at stake is dependent on the outcome of your performance 

     -Subjective feelings associated with pressure: anxiety, fear, “do or die” sensation 

     -When experiencing pressure, success is the goal. 

Thinking you have to be successful all the time means you are under pressure all the time, and this is unsustainable. More importantly, if this is your default cognitive lens, you will NOT be able to optimally perform and are more likely to experience choking.

Now that you are aware of this distinction between stress and pressure, you can refine your awareness of what you initially might believe to be happening. Ask yourself what are you feeling and then determine if those feelings accurately align with the specificity of the situation you find yourself in, i.e., is anything really at stake? More often than not, what we are feeling is not pressure but stress, and stress is more manageable than pressure.

TAKE AWAY: You cannot regulate your thoughts and behaviors nor manage your emotions effectively if you do not have the mental models and psychological vernacular that support you to be more objectively self aware of what you are experiencing internally and why you are experiencing that. 

* If you want to learn more about this topic of stress versus pressure, I highly recommend checking out Dr. Weisinger’s Performing Under Pressure

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