It's ok to not always have it together

The Stress Bucket Analogy

So I lost it a bit last night and felt compelled to tell you as it made me think of an analogy a past counsellor once told me about – the stress bucket.  Ever wondered why we ‘melt down’ over a seemingly small thing and feel ridiculous afterwards?  Well let me explain…

The Stress Bucket

The Stress Bucket a is an excellent demonstration of how indiscriminate mental ill health really is, and how easy it is for anyone who doesn’t use helpful coping techniques, to develop problems. The size of our buckets (and we all have one) varies – and so for someone more vulnerable to experiencing mental ill health or at the very least, the ill effects of excess stress – may have a smaller bucket.

The ‘stress-layers’ that flow into our buckets are often those ‘normal’ daily life events – but they can also include other sources of stress including environmental stress –for example at Christmas time there is additional pressure whether it be financial, social or just the feeling that time is running away from you.

stress bucket

The stress bucket

In basic terms, LIFE fills our stress buckets, and in order to reduce those layers in our buckets we can use ‘the coping tap’, to reduce those layers of stress to a manageable level.  Sometimes however that coping tap doesn’t drain faster than the bucket is filling.  Examples of helpful coping may include: talking to a friend, asking for help, ensuring you get adequate exercise and are eating well.

My bucket doth overflow

This week I had some terrible news about someone close to me having a terminal illness.  My brain can’t deal with things like that immediately so I pushed it to the back of my mind and to the bottom of my stress bucket.  It kept bobbing up, but I kept pushing it down and masking it with tv, alcohol and generally snapping at people. I thought my ‘bucket’ was brimming full but not spilling over…yet.

Despite the terrible news I received last week, I thought I was coping and travelled to Liverpool to see a friend for her birthday.  That day a few little things happened which on their own wouldn’t have been a problem e.g. paying too much for food owing to some people in our party putting expensive cocktails onto a shared bill, a waiter spilling food on my coat and ruining it so I couldn’t wear it and generally just being alone in a hotel room.  So, I had stresses to my environment, emotions and finances all happening at once,

So, what happened?

Well I burst into tears and couldn’t stop.  A dark fog came into my brain and I couldn’t hear what people were saying to me.  I was wringing my hands together and scratching my arms.  Depression and anxiety were tag teaming and my brain couldn’t catch them up to be able to focus so I succumbed to them.  I just wanted to be alone so I got out of the situation and went to bed.

It's ok to not always have it together

It’s ok to not always have it together

I’m wanted to share this as I like to be honest about my mental health journey.  It’s not a straight path to recovery; in fact, it’s more like snakes and ladders.  I am disappointed in myself over last night?  No, I’m not as I might not have recognised the warning signals of my episode but I dealt with it by exhibiting self-care.  Rather than get drunk, start a fight and become angry, I did what I needed to feel better.

Don’t feel like you’re letting people down.  I talk openly with my friends about my mental health so they recognised that I was doing what was right for me.  And did they judge me? Of course not, they walked me back to my hotel. checked in on me and were generally pretty great.

How to manage your own stress bucket

When it comes to managing your own stress bucket, it can be good to think about the things that are stressing you and how you manage these.  This can assist you to work out the things you can change and the things that are beyond your control as well as giving insight into what can make a difference.  If you are feeling resilient your bucket may have room for plenty of stress before you start to struggle but if you are feeling quite vulnerable, your stress bucket may be very small and fill up very quickly.  Much like taking your eye off a running tap, sometimes it will overflow but accidents happen; just mop up the mess and carry on.  Next time will be easier.


A thirty something, fifties inspired traveller with a love of home comforts and pretty things. Lives in Norwich, plays in London.

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