So, you have worked out you are stressed, tried some basic strategies, and are now keeping track of your stress levels (if you haven't done this, go back and have a look at our last two blog posts here). But how do you put it all together?
One nice, neat analogy is the stress bucket. Essentially, most people have a bit of stress (or SUDS of 3/10). This can be thought of as a bucket 3/10th full. When your bucket is just under a third full, then you have just over two thirds left of capacity before your emotional bucket overflows. Now, not everyone starts at the same place. People who have very little stress, or great resilience, start off with a little less. People who have a lot going on, or lots of things topping up their bucket, start off with a bit more. Or a lot more.
If you are starting out with a bucket half-full (wow, that sounds optimistic hey!) or two thirds full of stress, then you have less coping capacity to deal with stressful things that happen. If you have a large amount of stressful things happening, and your resilience is low, you might find yourself sitting at 95%. Then, all it takes is one more (sometimes small) thing and whoosh, your bucket overflows.
Now for some people an overflowing bucket looks like bursting into tears, or yelling at your children, or saying out loud that statement you have fantasised screaming at your boss. Or maybe it's getting into bed, turning over to face the wall and pulling the covers up. And for those who are struggling the most, thinking that there is no way out and our bucket will be like this forever. Or that the bucket can't be emptied.
You CAN get your bucket levels down. Sometimes it's by reducing the amount of stress coming into your bucket (life), sometimes it's getting more effective at letting it out. Mostly it's a combination of both. But often we aren't sure how to do this on our own, and that's where someone like a psychologist, counsellor, or your GP can help you move into a less-stressed and healthier head space.
Olivia Boer is a Clinical Psychologist and Director of Healthy Mind Centre Launceston, a private psychology practice in Launceston, Tasmania.