Stress: Pressure can be positive or harmful


Pressure and stress are words that are often used interchangeable, but what is the difference?

Pressure is the feeling of urgency caused by the necessity of doing or achieving something, especially when there is a limited time frame such as a deadline. Pressure can also be a force that you or others apply, motivating you to achieve your goals, pass exams or help you to perform better. We’re hard-wired for pressure as it encourages us to continually grow and push our boundaries. Sometimes the term ‘positive stress’ is used to describe pressure.

However, pressure doesn’t always lead to a positive outcome. Some forms of pressure can have the opposite effect of what was intended – they can demotivate, making you weak when you need to be strong or decreasing your performance. For example, you can feel the negative side of pressure when you unexpectedly have to give a presentation but you really don’t like speaking in front of an audience. Another example could be when you’re asked to perform a certain task but you don’t have the skills or knowledge or just not enough time in which to do it.

This type of oppressive pressure, as well as too much unwavering pressure without time to recover, leads to stress and sometimes disease: flu-like symptoms, muscle pain, stomach ulcers, difficulty concentrating, memory loss, depression and burnout. Insufficient pressure on the other hand isn’t without consequence either. Lack of pressure or challenges at work can lead to ‘boreout’ and not because the person is lazy.

Boreout is when there is not enough stimulus – there’s not enough pressure, leading to lack of drive, inability to enjoy life, fatigue, underperformance and also stress.

On the other hand, when used to describe a subjective feeling, we experience stress when the demands put on us outweigh our ability to cope with them. Stress is regulated on a biological level by the stress response. Stress is often described as the ‘fight and flight’ mode, an adaptation response inherited from our prehistoric ancestors who had to protect themselves from physical threats. It is associated with an increase in the sympathetic nervous systems and the adrenaline and cortisol hormones.

In other words, when it comes to pressure versus stress, pressure is a stressor that can act as a motivator. However, when pressure gets out of hand or isn’t kept under control, it leads to stress that in turn becomes harmful for your health.

People’s abilities to cope with pressure are different and depend on gender, age, genetics, previous experience, skills, knowledge, specific situation, etc. It is possible, though, to increase your resilience.

Tips to ease the pressure: 

– Take a few minutes to identify a stressor in your life and find ways to reduce it.

– Organize yourself and your time better

– Take more time to relax

– Follow stress management courses

– Implement stress management with relaxation and exercise

– Stay positive and keep things in perspective

– Take slow deep breaths

– Seek professional help

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