The difference between pressure and stress

The difference between pressure and stress

There is a difference between pressure and stress. Pressure can be positive and a motivating factor and is often essential in helping you to carry out your job, particularly when something needs to be done quickly. It can help you to work at your best, achieve your goals and perform better. 

Stress occurs when this pressure becomes excessive and it is a natural reaction which is also called our fight or flight response. It is not an illness but a state. Acute stress can occur when faced with a challenging situation, such as a job interview or exam, and is natural, and it is when this state remains and becomes chronic that mental and physical illness can develop. 

The diagram and table below will help you identify how your performance level is impacted when pressure increases:

The difference between pressure and stress from the Welbee Learning Centre. A diagram of the pressure performance stages by Steven Williams.

While workload suggests staff in schools are less likely to be under level of pressure A and often in C and above, there will be times when people may be under used and looking for greater responsibilities and other opportunities.

The table suggests what might be the impact for each level of pressure and steps you might take to better manage each one.

The difference between pressure and stress from the Welbee learning centre. A table showing the different levels of pressure and stress that staff are likely to face, it's impact and what to do about it.

Your first steps in understanding the difference between pressure and stress

  • Be aware of what puts you under pressure and might lead to stress.
  • Accept that it is natural to feel pressure and even stress for short periods.
  • Learn to recognise when your feelings (emotions and mindset) and the pressure this causes become excessive and/or prolonged, and you are in the strain and crisis sections to the right of the diagram and bottom of the table. 
  • Take action, for example take a break or switch tasks to help you remain productive, resilient and well.
  • Read the other resilience articles and chat cards to identify those specific actions that resonate for you.

Other articles in our resilience and wellbeing toolkit

Resilience and wellbeing toolkit (introduction)

The symptoms of stress and lower resilience

Managing stress and building resilience

The major causes of workplace stress

13 tips to build your energy and wellbeing

Resilience Chat cards

Find the place of greatest opportunity

Find your passion

Find your purpose

Build your support team

Plan for what might happen

Develop a positive mindset

Take physical action

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