We experience stress in relation to many things – not enough sleep, feeling below par, arguments with colleagues or loved ones, too many personal or work demands, feeling unappreciated or unloved. The list goes on and on.
It can seem totally overwhelming and difficult to see what you need to do about it. Thinking about your own stress levels as water in a bucket helps you to externalise the issue. It gives you a framework to understand what is going on. It can help you see the decisions you need to make to improve your life.
The bucket represents your life (physical, emotional, mental, spiritual, relationships, hobbies, etc.)
The water in the bucket represents your current level of stress. The level will vary over time, depending on the stresses in your life. The higher the level of water the higher your stress levels. You may be stressed more in some areas of your life than others. Moving to a new area or a new job usually causes an upload of stress. This happens even if you really wanted to move. When a close relationship goes through a difficult time, your stress levels will be higher. Smoking, a bad diet or too much alcohol or recreational drugs can cause their own stresses in your life, no matter how much you are enjoying partying. If you suffer from hay fever, you will find it harder to deal with other stresses when the pollen count is high.
Each person is an individual, so that the amount of stress people can handle varies. Some people can cope with a lot of stress before exhibiting any symptoms, whereas other people get stressed and stress-related symptoms with quite low levels of stress.
Your ability to cope with different types of stress is unique to you. For example, I am very bad at coping with a shortage of sleep. Less than a solid eight hours a night and I feel dreadful.
You will be aware of and show various symptoms as the level of the water (stress) in the bucket gets higher. When the water level is low, you do not experience stress. With more stress you may get eczema or headaches. As the level gets higher, you may start to get palpitations or dizzy spells. With yet more water other problems will appear.
When the bucket overflows, you get a major physical or mental breakdown. Not a good future. If you are on the verge of your bucket overflowing, you need urgently to find properly qualified practitioners that can help you.
If you are regularly experiencing physical, emotional or mental symptoms, think about what the water in the bucket represents. It’s unrealistic to expect to have an empty bucket. But is the level of water in your bucket always high? If it’s always high, a small annoying incident can tip you over into a full-blow rage or an alcoholic binge. If it’s always high, getting ignored on Facebook by your best friend can seem like an immense, life-threatening situation.
So, stop focussing on the latest thing that set you off. See if you can see what is contributing on a daily basis to the water in the bucket.
Here are three questions that can be the basis of getting a handle on your stress:
What can you do to reduce the stress that is always there?
Maybe you can delegate or say “no” more often. Can you build capacity in your staff or your children, so that they can do more for themselves? That way you’ll be benefiting them as well as yourself.
How can you improve your ability to deal with stress?
Maybe you need to eat better, get more sleep or stay away from negative friends. It can seem like boring stuff, but it can make a huge difference to your overall enjoyment of life.
How can you deal with the long-standing stress that is always there?
We often have stress from what happened as a child or from a traumatic event. If this is the case, get professional help. Speak to a counsellor or a kinesiologist. If it’s physical stress from an accident, consider seeing a physical therapist.
Looking at stress as water in a bucket can help you get at the underlying issues that keep stress playing havoc in your life.