The Stress Bucket
I talk about the stress bucket analogy a lot in my work life and my personal life, I find it such a great way to explain to people the very basics of maintaining wellbeing. Maintaining wellbeing is actually pretty simple when we break it down, the stress bucket analogy is the perfect tool to demonstrate how we manage stress.
The stress bucket is a stress vulnerability model that was initially developed for identifying and treating relapse of mental illness however this model can be used by anyone and offers an opportunity to consider how life impacts on us in ways which may lead to mental ill health.
We all live in a very busy world and we all face our own stressors within our working lives and personal lives. We mustn’t downplay the role of stress, it’s an integral part of our survival mechanism and serves a purpose in spurring action in a crisis or life threatening situation. Stress is however a double edged sword, and too much stress can have a negative impact on our wellbeing.
It can be a bit of a juggling act to balance our stress levels and at normal times we often do this effectively without even realising it! But sometimes we find that the balance is tipped and we don’t feel we are coping so well. I guess life just gets a bit too full on sometimes!
I have previously spoke about my own stress management and what I do to help my mood. Now... I don’t have depression or an anxiety disorder and I don’t suffer from mental ill health but I am human and I do experience an array of human emotions which are normal in response to life stressors ... at times we all need to give ourselves some of our own attention to restore the balance.
The stress bucket is something we should all do day to day to maintain our mental wellbeing... not just when life is stressful. Sometimes we lose sight of the bigger picture, we are swamped with duties and distractions and we forget to look after ourselves... This happened to me just a few months ago; my house had been chaotic, I’d just had a new roof, started a new jobs, I’d had personal stress, work stress, home stress, financial stress... it all adds up. The realisation that my resilience was running dangerously low came when I arrived home from a shift to find that my puppy had decided to do some DIY and had ripped up the kitchen vinyl... I completely broke down!
Back to the stress bucket... we all have a bucket that we carry around, we slowly fill it as we experience different types of stress. Some people have more stress going in the bucket than other people, some people are better at emptying their bucket. Sometimes, even the people who are good at emptying their buckets might fill them too quickly to empty them and they overflow! Mine was starting to overflow. There’s so many variables with these bucket of ours; sometimes it’s heavy and we feel like we can’t hold much more... sometimes its light and we feel like we can handle anything.
Our resilience to stress is dependent on how much we are already carrying.
Have you ever found yourself getting upset about something you feel you would usually be able to manage? I think we all go through these challenges.
So picture your bucket... it has taps on the sides! It’s important to remember that everyone’s buckets are different.
Some people might only have one tap, some may have many. Sometimes people forget about the taps all together! Your taps are important because this is how you empty your bucket… You might just empty a little bit at a time, the taps might be big or they might be small.
I’ve spent quite some time collecting my taps and I’m very pleased with my collection. Unfortunately I did forget about them for a while when I was deep in the chaos that is sometimes life... I forgot to open them.
Sometimes the ability to access coping mechanisms is taken away from us and we have all seen and experienced this with the recent covid-19 lockdown. How many people could not access their usual hobbies and activities? Gyms, swimming baths, gold courses? We couldn’t go out, or socialise, many of us couldn’t even go to work. We have all experienced increased stress with a reduced ability to cope.
I have a big ‘van trip’ tap and a big ‘hiking’ tap. These are my ultimate ‘go to’ for addressing the balance in my stress bucket... these are the taps I use to maintain a good work life balance. Opportunity for getting out has been non-existent during lockdown, but as with many other people I adapted. I walked local, I took part in the stair challenge… I have other taps... spending time with loved ones, spending time with friends, reading, partying, music... the general feel good stuff, we have to remember to make time for this and when we don’t we run the risk of our bucket getting too full; we feel overwhelmed... our resilience becomes low, we can become irritable and overly emotional.
The stress bucket affords us the opportunity to map out our current stress and plan ways to counteract the stress. Finding balance in chaos can be hard and sometimes it’s the simple things that make the difference.
I use the stress bucket to identify and address the sources of my stress, to problem solve and to highlight where I can make appropriate changes. Then I work through my taps to empty my bucket by doing the things I love.
Whilst there are always huge conversations going on about talking about our mental health and things that worry us... the importance of learning how to self sooth, self-regulate, and manage our stress on our own too should not be underestimated.