Is Your Stress Bucket Overflowing?
Stress is a normal response to a real or perceived threat, we not only have all experienced it, but we NEED to experience it as it motivates us to take action to fight or flight the stressor if necessary. Experiencing stress causes a chain reaction within our brain and body triggering stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline, increasing our heart rate and blood pressure and causing us to over focus upon the threat. This all makes perfect sense if we are in physical danger and undoubtedly helps us to survive life or death situations.
However, most of us are not in physical danger on a daily basis but we still certainly experience stress and everything that goes with it. That is because to our brain, any stressor is potentially life or death, so whether you are running from a tiger or feeling stressed over your workload, your brain will respond in the same way. On top of this, our brains also cannot tell the difference between real or imagined stress, so you can feel stressed about your actual workload or think about how it could become overwhelming and how you could not cope if it did, and the stress levels will also respond in the same way.
Another huge difference between us facing a physical and an emotional stressor is that a physical stressor is usually over fairly quickly. If you did find yourself being chased by a tiger, there are only two potential outcomes, you survive or you become tiger lunch. Either way, it is likely to last a short period of time before that outcome is clear, yet when we deal with an emotional stressor it can last hours, days, weeks or even years which leads to us being completely drained by the stress.
This causes us some serious problems and you will not be surprised to know that stress is something which is linked to a wide range of physical and mental health complaints.
For many of us, one stressor is manageable but when you are dealing with an increasing workload, deadlines, difficult clients, a head cold, a broken freezer and a car that has failed its MOT all of a sudden it all feels too much.
We often talk about our capacity to handle stress as our stress container or stress bucket. Our bucket can change size but it essentially represents our ability to cope.
When life throws one or two regular stressors into the bucket, such as a deadline and a traffic jam, we may feel that the bucket is getting heavy to carry around but we are likely to cope, however when stress continues to flow in and we do not have the tools or mechanisms to help release some of that stress, we risk the bucket overflowing which can cause an emotional outburst, physical illness, mental exhaustion or mental illness. We cannot always control how much stress flows into our bucket, sometimes life seems to want to give us challenge after challenge, so our best way of avoiding our bucket overflowing is by developing some healthy coping mechanisms. These work as a release tap on the bucket and allow some of that stress to flow out.
Of course, when we feel our stress bucket is overflowing we can also resort to some less than healthy coping mechanisms, such as self medicating with alcohol, drugs, caffeine or even activities like gambling or excess online shopping, which whilst they may distract us in the short term, tend to cause additional stress in the long term.
So what are good coping mechanisms to empty my stress bucket?
1) Talk – talking to someone who will listen and whom you trust is a great way of releasing stress. Choose wisely as you want to share with someone who is not going to cause you additional stress nor someone who is going to disregard how you feel. If you cannot talk to someone in your social or professional circle, your employer may have an employee assistance programme or Mental Health First Aider, or speak to your GP who can refer you to support groups or take a look online at charities such as Mind and Anxiety UK.
2) Exercise – when we are stressed we often start to neglect the things that make us feel good but exercise is proven to help release our stress. After just 20 mins of walking, endorphins start working their magic in the brain, relieving stress and making you feel happier. Physical activity also helps to relax the muscles and relieve tension in the body. Since the body and mind are so closely linked, when your body feels better so, too, will your mind.
3) Breathe – our breath constantly tells our brain how we are feeling and is therefore one of the first indicators that we feel stressed. If you breathe through your mouth and / or rapidly from the chest your brain is receiving a signal that you are in danger and therefore will start to release those stress chemicals. For your brain to believe you are safe, breathe slowly and deeply through your nose. There are many breathing exercises that will help you calm your body and in turn your mind, take a look at apps such as Calm or Headspace.
4) Talk to Yourself – as stress increases, notice how you’re talking to yourself. Are you causing yourself more stress by saying things like “I can’t cope” or “I’ll never be able to do this”. Ask yourself how you would speak to a friend if they were in this situation, the chances are you would be kinder and more patient with them so then apply those thoughts to yourself. Above all, remind yourself that no matter how stressful this situation may feel, you are safe and this is not a life or death situation.
5) Keep and eye on your bucket – pay attention to your stress bucket even when your levels are lower. Start to notice what activities lower your stress levels and pay attention to how they make you feel, this will give you tools to use when your bucket becomes fuller.
Above all, if you feel that you are struggling with stress and your bucket is continually overflowing, please do seek some help and support. Contact us here at Beam and we will be happy to help and / or signpost you to the appropriate support.
9 Ways To Deal With Stress Video
If you thought this article helped look at how you deal with stress then you might like our video "9 Ways to deal with stress" which you can access here.
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Try our stress management elearning course to help you deal with life's stressful situations. By the end of the course you will be able to:
Identify stressors or stress
Understand what is in your stress bucket
Create your own toolbox of techniques to deal with stress