Pressure and stress are not the same thing

I was talking with my buddy Cory Miller last night and he said something brilliant: “Pressure and stress are not the same thing.”

When you think about certain contexts, they feel very similar. It’s the last few seconds of the SuperBowl and you, as a quarterback – known for last minute saves – are likely to feel both the pressure and some stress. Or it’s the final seconds of the NBA Finals and the inbound pass comes to you. You’re likely to feel both stress and pressure.

High performers know how to handle the two when they come – both pressure and stress.

But they’re not the same thing.

  • Pressure is the burden we feel of matters that require our attention.
  • Stress is the strain felt from demanding circumstances.

You might suggest I’m playing a game of semantics because those sound basically the same. But a burden and a strain aren’t the same. And that’s the big difference.

A burden doesn’t hurt me. It doesn’t destroy me. It doesn’t deliver me some amount of pain. It simply reminds me of the stakes. It says, “This is important. Pay attention.”

A strain can hurt. It normally does. It can cause physical, emotional or mental damage. When you strain a muscle, you feel it. It doesn’t say anything. Instead it makes you be the one making a noise (that often sounds like a gasp or a scream).

Think of it this way – you put on a heavy backpack – that’s pressure. You pull a muscle – that’s stress. And those aren’t the same thing. At all.

So here’s my question for you today. When your staff think about how you work with them, and the kind of environment you’re creating for them, the culture, and the way they’re feeling when working with and for you – are they under pressure or feeling the stress?

The difference is important.

  • When people feel the appropriate burden, they can still be creative, imaginative and innovative.
  • When people feel stress, it normally limits their ability to be creative.

Be a leader that knows how to articulate the pressure that comes with whatever situation you’re in. Be a leader who can apply that pressure appropriately and allow others to share the burden.

Pressure can be productive. Stress rarely is.