In simplest terms, the pressure chamber can be thought of as measuring the “blood pressure” of a plant, except for plants it is water rather than blood, and the water is not pumped by a heart using pressure, but rather pulled with a suction force as water evaporates from the leaves. Water within the plant mainly moves through very small inter-connected cells, collectively called xylem, which are essentially a network of pipes carrying water from the roots to the leaves. The water in the xylem is under tension. As the soil dries or humidity, wind or heat load increases, it becomes increasingly difficult for the roots to keep pace with evaporation from the leaves. This causes the tension to increase. Under these conditions you could say that the plant begins to experience “high blood pressure.”
Since tension is measured, negative values are typically reported. An easy way to remember this is to think of water stress as a “deficit”. The more the stress the more the plant is experiencing a deficit of water. The scientific name given to this deficit is the “water potential” of the plant. The actual physics of how the water moves from the leaf is more complex than just “squeezing” water out of a leaf, or just bringing water back to where it was when the leaf was cut. However, in practice, the only important factor is for the operator to recognize when water just begins to appear at the cut end of the petiole.
Below are a few links to other sites that further explain how a Pressure Chamber Works.