By recognising when your stress level is rising, you can take positive steps to reduce its negative impact.
The key to the stress bucket is recognising when the level is rising and to take action by employing good coping strategies that will increase the size of the holes.
My introduction to the concept of the stress bucket
I have recently completed a Pro Dog Trainer course with Absolute Dogs (just for my dogs, I have no intention of changing career), and it has been truly inspiring. It has not been just the dog training aspect, but also the sheer energy of the trainers and their infectious enthusiasm. I very quickly got sucked in, to what was pure excitement, and it was a great distraction during Lockdown and certainly benefitted my dogs.
One of the great analogies they use is “the bucket”. Basically, every dog has a bucket, each a different size, that fills at a different rate and with a varying numbers of holes to allow water to escape. What fills that bucket can be either positive things, for example playing games, doing training, or going for a walk. Or it can be negative things such as a trip to the vet, a bad experience with another dog, or being hurt.
When the dog’s bucket overflows, the dog loses control and reacts. It makes perfect sense. The result of this overflowing is when we see cases of dogs that have never shown any signs of aggression before, biting, or acting out of character. Now it can be something incredibly small and seemingly insignificant that finally causes the bucket to overflow, but it all adds up!
I immediately saw how this totally relates to us as human beings and began finding myself saying to my other half “your bucket is overflowing” or “you need to let some water out of your bucket” (I can’t say that either was welcomed).
What is the stress bucket?
It turns out Brabban and Turkington introduced the idea of the stress bucket in their 2002 psychology paper. They hypothesised that the stress bucket size represents our capacity to cope with stress; the larger the bucket, the more able we are to cope. The smaller the bucket the more susceptible we are to stress.
The fill of the bucket represents our current stress level; the more demands there have been on us, the fuller the bucket will be and each time another stressor contributes, the level rises.
The holes in the bucket represent things we can do to reduce our stress levels, the good coping strategies we can employ. We need to be careful though, as bad coping strategies, such as alcohol, can actually block the holes and cause the bucket to fill even more.
The key to the stress bucket is recognising when the level is rising and acting on it by doing things that will increase the size of the holes. This video by the Rural Adversity Mental Health program (ramhp) illustrates the stress bucket concept beautifully.
What does a full bucket look like?
Recently, there have been a few things filling my bucket more than normal. Technology has to be top of the list and it surely can make my blood boil. Living in a rural location often presents issues with Internet connectivity, and I have been getting more than my share this month. Other contributors to my bucket filling have been getting the tax returns done, the ongoing COVID restrictions, and moving to a new house, especially into one that is not quite complete.
What fills our buckets and by how much is different for everyone, although there are some common stressors that we should recognise to help reduce their effects.
6 common stressors according to the Rural Adversity Mental Health Program
Filling the bucket
1. Stressors we choose: e.g. Moving house; Going on holiday; Starting a new job.
2. Friends and family stressors: e.g. Family; Friends; Relationships.
3. Work Stress: e.g. Workload; Flexibility; Work relationships.
4. Financial stress: e.g. Debt; Supporting a family.
5. Environmental stress: e.g. Media; Neighbours; Weather
6. Self-Imposed Stress: e.g. Negative attitude; Alcohol; Poor diet
How do I empty my stress bucket?
To compensate for the increased flow of stress into my bucket I have been taking some steps to increase the flow out of the bucket, by employing some good coping strategies.
Firstly, a bit of problem-solving, and talking it through with someone else, has found me a good Internet solution that seems to be working well. Yipee!
Unusually for me, I have been trying to get to my bed earlier to increase my sleeping hours, and I feel better for it. I have also been taking some time out for myself;
Monty and Katie the Clydesdales
I always find working with animals very therapeutic and in particular feeding the horses. It is something to do with the noise of them crunching away on their food, the smell of their breath, and the rhythm of their breathing. I am sure for some people this will sound a little odd, but I always say, “don’t knock it until you have tried it”.
Horse breath smelling aside… Introducing these 8 steps can help empty your stress bucket and reduce their effects.
8 Steps to empty your stress bucket
1. Share – talk to a friend of family member.
- A trouble shared is a troubled halved and simply discussing the issues can relieve the ressure and help put problems into perspective.
2. Be aware of smoking and drinking alcohol.
- Even though they may seem to reduce tension initially, this is misleading as they can often make problems worse.
- Even just going out and getting some fresh air, and taking some light physical exercise, like going for a walk in nature can really help.
4. Take time out.
- Strike the balance between responsibility to others and responsibility to yourself, this can really reduce stress levels.
- You don’t need to do everything right now, so take some time to consider, and prioritise what needs to be done. Make sure you factor time for YOU in your planning.
- If you find yourself getting anxious, just taking a few deep breaths can help. Practice breathing exercises, this will help you get better at calming yourself when stress starts to grow.
8. Don’t be too hard on yourself.
- Try to keep things in perspective. Having a bad day just means you’re human. Don’t beat yourself up.
Increase the size of your bucket
These are the things we can do to help make us better able to cope with stress.
Generally, I would say I have a fairly large stress bucket. I thrive on pressure; indeed I need it in order to help me meet deadlines. I have always been pretty calm, feel good about myself and have had a glass half full attitude. Since studying Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP), I have found that I look for the good in situations, and never dwell on what has happened.
I’ve also come to recognise that when people do things that upset me, they are not doing it on purpose, but instead they are doing the best that they can in the situation that they are in. Having this type of attitude has made my bucket larger, and therefore my ability to deal with stress has increased.
How to grow your bucket by building resilience
· Get enough sleep.
· Take regular exercise and eat well.
· Cultivate supportive and fulfilling relationships.
· Take steps towards your long-term goals; knowing your motivators will help with this.
· Develop a glass half full attitude and learn to challenge bad thoughts.
· Work on your personal growth with self-help books or by employing a coach.
The 9 Motivators and how knowing yours will increase the size of your bucket
Perhaps the one thing we rarely think about in relation to stress is our motivators, what drives us, and how important they are to our wellbeing. If our motivators are not being met it can be very detrimental to our mental health and will certainly help our buckets overflow.
Knowing our motivators, and understanding how to meet them, will certainly help us feel more motivated, in turn making us more resilient. Effectively increasing the size of our bucket.
The 9 Motivators identified by Motivational Maps®
The Nine Motivators
1. Searcher – The Searcher wants to make a difference.
2. Creator – The Creator wants to innovate.
3. Spirit – The Spirit wants to be free.
4. Builder – The Builder wants to earn.
5. Director – The Director wants responsibility.
6. Expert – The Expert wants mastery.
7. Friend – The Friend wants to engage with others.
8. Star – The Star wants public recognition.
9. Defender – The Defender wants security.
To find out more about how Motivational Maps® can make you more resilient click this link.
As a “searcher” I seek meaning and purpose in what I do, and I have a desire to make a difference to others. All my working life I have been involved in voluntary organisations, encouraging young people to take up some amazing opportunities. I spent 18 years teaching at North Highland College, supporting students to achieve their qualifications and broaden their horizons. Often, I have felt frustrated by the lack of resources, red tape, or rules that have prevented the best outcomes for my learners.
Launching More than Motivation, where I am coaching individuals and teams to improve their performance and realise their potential, based on their needs, means that I feel I do make a difference and that my work is significant and important. This means I have increased my bucket size, and my resilience has grown, as I no longer need to worry about “if” I can do something, I need only to focus on the “how”.
How about you?
1. What size is your bucket?
2. What is paying into your bucket?
3. What can you do to increase the number of holes in your bucket?
Share your answers in the comments section below and start emptying that bucket!
Knowing how to manage and reduce stress can be difficult, especially in the reality of a global pandemic and the additional strain it can bring. Following these steps will go a long way in helping you cope with stress and emptying your stress bucket. If you need more information about ways of coping with stress, I’m happy to help at More Than Motivation or at least, point you in the right direction.