Is it Stress or is it Pressure

On a daily basis I hear managers and their team members say they are “stressed”. There is enormous stress in the workplace, perhaps now more than ever before and it is VERY REAL. Stress has dire consequences on us physically, emotionally, mentally and affects our relationships and outlook on life. My personal mission is to reduce stress in the workplace by giving leaders and their teams the tools, strategies and language to create a happy, respectful and trusting work environment.

An area I focus on with my clients when it comes to “stress” is determining if it is real stress or is it normal workplace pressure.

Being “stressed” seems like it is the replacement for being “busy”. You know how it goes, you meet up with friends or go to a meeting and the usual “how are you?” is met with “yea great – really busy”, “How about you?”, “yea I’m super busy”. I actually found myself saying it when in fact I wasn’t super busy, I was working, being a mum and a partner, but to say I was “super busy” wasn’t really accurate. Now I am hearing the reply shift to “yea I’m okay, a bit stressed”, “alright, stressed at work”. It seems like ‘stress’is becoming the new ‘busy’

Are we really stressed or are we under pressure, knowing and understanding the difference is critical.

I decided to have a look at the definitions of both these words and determine if we can start to change the language and meaning relating to how we are feeling.

STRESS is defined as A state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or demanding circumstances. Something that causes a state of strain or tension.

PRESSURE is defined as A sense of stressful urgency caused by having too many demands on one’s time or resources.

The key difference is that stress is a mental or emotional strain, meaning it is affecting us on a physiological and emotional level. The stress hormone cortisol is released, we go into a fight or flight mode often resulting in behaviours such as forgetting, making mistakes and being on edge. Pressure is a ‘sense’ of stress, however is not stress itself.

Our language creates our reality – “careful what you wish for”. Assuming this is true then we need to keep in check the language we are using to describe how we are feeling.

When I am faced with a leader or team member saying that they are really stressed, I listen and validate that they are experiencing perhaps a sense of overwhelm, unable to see the forest for the trees, not enough time in the day and so on. I ask them specifically what stress means to them and how they are experiencing it, and what I have noticed is that quite often their answer is more in alignment to pressure than it is to stress.

I will check in for signs of stress, some of the questions I ask are:

  • Is your sleep pattern interrupted?
  • Are you not eating as well as you normally would?
  • Are you drinking more than you normally do?
  • Are you putting weight on or losing it quickly?
  • Do you generally feel flat or down?
  • Are you forgetting things that ordinarily they wouldn’t?
  • Are you making frequent “silly” mistakes?
  • Have you stopped doing what makes you feel grounded and at peace – such as fishing, painting or gardening?

If they are answering “yes” to these questions it is more likely they are under stress.

If they are answering more “no’s” to these questions then they are more likely under pressure.

Stress will stop us in our tracks, to the point of panic attacks, illness and a gross sense of isolation. This is a different conversation and requires a different approach to reducing the stress both internally and looking at what is triggering the stress in the environment. I will be writing another article about stress and how to deal with it in more detail in the future.

If it is pressure, then I talk about what pressure means to them. Pressure can be a great motivator, pressure gets things done and moves us into action. Can we use pressure to motivate us? Can we use pressure to achieve more but in a more productive, effective and efficient way? In other words, use the sense of pressure to propel us as opposed to stopping us in our tracks. Perhaps organise our day differently, delegate some of the tasks, be clear on what is a priority – not everything is urgent. I find when we change the language and be clear on its meaning it allows us to see our world through a different, more resourceful filter.

Here are some steps you can follow to move towards a positive approach to pressure:

  • Determine if they are experiencing stress or pressure by asking some of the questions from above  (if it is stress then get professional support)
  • Create a positive meaning to pressure
  • Find specific ways to manage the pressure
  • Continually check in to ensure you or your team are not sliding from pressure to stress

Check in with your team, your leaders and yourself. Are you under stress or is it pressure?