The difference between stress and pressure and why one is incredibly toxic?

There a few vocations that can test mental agility more than that of being a successful Hotel General Manager.

If you’re a GM reading this blog I can already visualise you nodding your head. Read on.

The multifaceted demands of being a Hotel GM are extensive by any stretch of the imagination. Whilst the successful GM doesn’t need to do the job of every HOD, they do need to know the fundamental functions of each department (maybe up to 12) as well as constantly influencing all departments towards a consistent vision of what good looks like. Days are busy; wild horses need to be constantly reigned in.

Adding to the operational demands of your business are the expectations of your guests. I always describe my role as a GM as welcoming 200 people into my hotel each day, that I’d never met before, from widely different backgrounds, with even wilder expectations. The challenge the next day when they leave is to have each and every guest thank you for exceeding their expectations whilst also exceeding value for money. You may have upwards of 50,000 guests a year to impress.

What generally comes with the wide ranging influence and the good salary is the essential need to prioritise problems in an industry that is super dynamic. No one day is ever the same and challenges come at you left, right and centre – Think Whakamole on steroids.

So how do GM’s manage this level of kaleidoscopic complexity?

According to Hendrie Weisinger, Ph.D., a world renowned psychologist and senior author of “Performing Under Pressure: The Science of Doing Your Best When It Matters Most,” (Crown, 2015) there’s a critical difference between stress and pressure.

Weisinger explains that distinguishing between stress and pressure leads to different courses of action. In a stressful situation, reduction or feeling less overwhelmed becomes the individual’s goal, but in a pressure situation, performing successfully is the goal.

You have lots of choices when you’re under stress. Perhaps you can go for a walk to reduce your stress after a long day at the office. Or maybe you could get your endorphins in motion with some exercise. You could also ask for help to reduce your burdens or even take a day off. There are many ways to reduce your load and manage your stress, if it can be managed.

This approach is familiar to GM’s who need to recognise the acceptance and challenge of pressure or the recognition of stress. What are these and how are they different?

The World Health Organisation describes Stress as

‘a state of worry or mental tension caused by a difficult situation. Stress is a natural human response that prompts us to address challenges and threats in our lives. Everyone experiences stress to some degree. The way we respond to stress, however, makes a big difference to our overall well-being’.

The Consequences of Confusing Stress and Pressure

When we don’t understand the critical difference between stress and pressure, we’re at risk of making every small inconvenience feel like a pressure situation. If you walk around constantly thinking you’re under pressure, you’ll believe you have to be successful all the time. That’s a lot of pressure. Weisinger points out that this “distortion” can cause us to feel as though we’re always “under the gun.” When everything seems super-important our distress unnecessarily intensifies.

This overreaction to everyday discomforts takes a toll on our performance because it deletes valuable psychological and physical resources. We lose the ability to think clearly and our energy becomes misplaced as we continue to act as though everyday activities are a matter of life and death. Weisinger says the research is clear, “no one performs better under pressure.”

In hotels you’d think that stress tolerance is a predisposition for any GM but it’s not always the case. This is why?

If you’re a GM the defining mind set that differentiates toxic stress from manageable pressure is the cognitive acceptance that stress is often constant unresolved or unachievable pressure that you don’t want in your life. It therefore follows that if you accept that what a hotel throws at you every day is to be expected (and is a low level resolvable challenge) then stress quickly dissolves away and you can deliver constant solutions and crack on. This is a challenging but enjoyable mind set.

There are exceptions to this rule however. Some aspects of your role may well be beyond your control and these influences may become a stressful thorn in your side over time. Typically, stress can exist where you have solutions to serious issues that require a collaborative solution that doesn’t transpire despite the issue having a dragging anchor affect on your role or the business. Relationships can also be a cause of stress where collaborative solutions are also not mutually explored.

In summary, pressure can be a good motivating force. It’s what many successful leaders thrive on. There’s also the opportunity to thrive on additional fleeting elements of emotionally peaking stress so long as you consistently and constantly deliver solutions. The more you solve the better you get at it.

If you find yourself labouring day after day under stress and there appears no relief despite having tried everything, and explained it fully countless times to your boss, there’s only two words that can resolve a situation that you know would be unacceptable to any professional.

Walk Away.

Life is too short and I guarantee stress will make it shorter. It doesn’t matter your position, what you’ve put into your role in terms of time and effort, the work family you’ll miss, or even the uncertainty of finding a new role. Being acute-stress free will release YOU back to YOU and may well reacquaint you with a version of yourself you’d forgotten existed.

The irony of stress is that when you relieve yourself of stress by leaving a business it rarely disappears because the problem may still remain and equally so will the associated stress. The net result is that the stress triggers and stress loads just transfers to others who in turn will need to assess their own stress v pressure tolerances.

Look after yourself!

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