We all carry a metaphorical stress bucket that fills up with the various things that cause us stress and worry. The more that's in your bucket, the more stress hormones in your body. Everyone’s ‘bucket’ has a different capacity, and in fact, yours will change throughout your life. We can all cope with a surprising amount as long as we use it correctly… and here lies the problem. So many of us no longer listen to our body, so without realising it, we end up allowing our ‘bucket’ to get too full and then end up struggling with chronic stress and all the discomfort that brings.
By understanding how our stress bucket works, and how we can empty it, no matter what is thrown in there, is a great way to start your stress management journey – so here is a quick exercise to get you started:
Draw a bucket and write in it all the things that cause you stress, currently and/or regularly. Notice how many things there are (you may be surprised) and then consider in the past what other things have historically been in your bucket. Often people attribute stress to just one thing – but the reality is there are lots of things in your bucket at any one time… what you are noticing is usually the one that is taking up the most worry at that time.
The most common way to ‘drain’ our bucket (reduce stress) is to spend time and energy on resolving the things that cause us stress – but look at your list - is it possible to resolve everything? Are some of those things out of your control? Even if you resolve them now, what is the likelihood of them coming back? Look at your list again and identify which ones you can actually take action on yourself. Write a list of the small (yet manageable) actions you can take - as simply act of doing something positive can reduce stress levels alone - and having a bit of a plan reduces any anxiety around it.
This is THE most important step – you now need to change focus. Rather than trying to pick through and try to 'fix' what's in your bucket, try focusing on what would empty your bucket (stress hormones), what holes can you poke it in.
Outside the bucket write down all the strategies you currently use to ‘de-stress’. The easiest ones to identify are the ones you often say to yourself when feeling overwhelmed: “I need an early night”, “I need chocolate”, “I need a holiday”, "I need a cuppa" etc.
Then think back to ones you may have used in the past that (and stopped using – possibly because you thought you had no time) and new ones you’d like to try. These could be anything at all, hobbies, time out, spending time with certain people, watching comedies, meditating, listening to music, reading, gardening, exercising, going for a walk, screaming into a pillow, writing, candles, bubble bath…. The list is endless. You have to think about what works for you.
Next time you are feeling stressed and overwhelmed – look at your list and make sure you are doing enough of the things outside the bucket. This should be your priority (as important as brushing your teeth). What this will do will put you in a much more resourceful state and enable you to see solutions easier for the things currently in your bucket. It also helps clear your mind, empowers you and enables you to develop the strength to throw out some of the things in the bucket, so they no longer cause you stress. What are you waiting for?