The Stress Bucket; And How to Make it Work for You

I really like this analogy – it’s easy to visualise and applies to basically everyone.

Imagine your tolerance to stress as being like a leaky bucket. The size and quality of the material comes down to your genetics and childhood experiences (Nature vs Nurture, etc. – and not much we can do about it). The first step is about recognizing your limitations and being mindful of them when moving through your daily trails and tribulations.

Your  capacity and ability to hold liquid is therefore totally unique.

Now imagine every stressful situation is a measure of water; some measures are jugs, the others thimbles. But everything adds up.

And this system is fine until of course, you run out of space and the water starts to overflow. Lets call this point “Burn out”.

This is when the stress of your career, your home life, and your responsibilities all just gets a little over the top, it spills out, and we are left feeling exhausted, burnt out, stressed and anxious.


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The best cure for burnout if of course prevention. In the industry we call this “healthy coping strategies”. Imagine a tap coming out near the bottom of the bucket which releases a small amount of water at a time. These are things that you do routinely which ease your stress in a way which is good for your health.

It can be relaxing hot baths, planning an evening all to yourself, exercise or staying organised.  

Done consistently; this can have a profound impact on your burnout, however, sometimes this is not enough.

A common mistake people do is then falling on unhelpful coping strategies. Imagine these as being like cracks in the bucket, where water spills out in a chaotic and disorganised way – often causing a lot of mess and actually increasing your stress long term as further problems ensue.

This might be drinking too much, avoiding important tasks, staying up too late watching T.V.. As I said, in the short term this might feel good, but done every day for a prolonged period and we quickly find ourselves being even more behind on our tasks, even more irritable, and even more burnt out than we were at the start.

The third option is to problem solve your difficulties. This is like a ladle being dipped into your bucket and taking out significant portions of the water in a calm and organised manner. Second only to not taking on the problems in the first place, this is by far the most desirable solution to the leaky bucket.


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This might look like finishing that project at work; taking some time off from your responsibilities, surviving the summer holidays, moving away from an unhealthy relationship, and so fourth.

It is normal to have some stress in your life, but if you are feeling tired, tense, irritable or numb, perhaps it is worth checking in with your stress bucket and asking yourself whether you are taking on too much right now?

Remember, it is not good comparing yourself to person X or Y, they have a different size bucket to you. A comparison will only hurt your ego. It’s about recognising your own limitations, developing a heathy set of coping strategies, dropping the unhealthy ones and staying organised and proactive when dealing with the many challenges that life throws your way.

 

Personally, I even plan ahead with mine. If I know I have a big life event coming up (we are expecting some building work on our house in the next few months), I know I need to ease back on other areas of my life to accommodate. I will likely see fewer clients and have more time at home just so I can be present with our responsibilities here for that time period. If I carried on my usual workload with this stress – I may even have to take sick days which would cause future problems for me and my clients going forward. It’s simply not worth it.


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