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  • Writer's pictureRebekah Few

Whats in Your Stress Bucket

Updated: Mar 1, 2019

Stress is a word that consumes our society, even the Dalai Lama worries about whether he looks good in his robes occasionally. People often suggest we should learn or grow from an experience when actually we find ourselves sitting there hoping we just have the impetus to put our pants on, the mind can sometimes just feel so full. If you feel the need to feng shui your brain, regurgitating some thoughts onto paper can often help. The Stress Vulnerability Bucket (1) is a way to do this through acknowledging and prioritising stressors, considering what coping strategies we have and understanding our stress signature.

We are obsessed with sculpting our body into an Arnold style physique, why not try and get your brain to reach the same level of fitness.

Grab yourself a pen.

Draw yourself a Stress Bucket;

Stress and Vulnerability Bucket (Brabban and Turkington, 2002)

The stress bucket was primarily a model for identifying and treating relapses of mental illness. We can safely say we carry genetic and other predispositions to mental illness, in the same way you got your big nose from your dad. The stress bucket allows us to also consider how all those unexpected life events impact on a person in order to cause poor mental health. When our predisposition and stress come together negatively it lessens our resilience or in other words causes our stress bucket to shrink. Whats your stress signature? Do you get angry? Have diarrhoea? Freak out and cancel all your social plans?

How many times have you said 'you're stressed' in the past few months, interestingly the word itself is not a diagnosis and did not start being used in mental health until the 1940's (2). If we consider how its been used in other domains, such as engineering it helps us to understand what it means. For example to ‘stress test’ a material is to find out the materials ‘crunch’ point. Similarly stress in humans is the adverse reaction (or stress signature) people have to excessive pressures or other types of demand placed on them.

To use the stress bucket the first step requires you to get down on paper your stressors and demands, you can think of these in three levels if its helpful; bottom: those past experiences we have harboured over life that can lower our resilience, or if dealt with, heighten it. In the middle you could consider day to day, month to month stressors and at the top this leaves a small stop gap for anything that might come round the corner, like that drunken arrest you weren't expecting, awkward.

On the left we have our coping strategies, what we do to make ourselves feel good (option to insert something rude here). Its when we don’t have enough time to engage with these, or perhaps our coping strategies aren’t very healthy that we start to see the stress bucket overflow and resilience lower. For example is binge drinking on a Saturday the best coping strategy for you?(for all those answering yes here; or perhaps you need to build in a little more Marie Kondo folding of clothes (yes this is a thing).

On the right we have our stress signature, our reaction to stress, this takes a level of self awareness to identify, this is what you get told your behaving like by you're nearest and dearest. We can think of the signature as a whole body reaction where by we notice a change in our thoughts, feelings, behaviour and physical self. This reaction is laid out below in the Hot Cross Bun of CBT (3).

Hot Cross Bun of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy Greenberger et al (1995)

Usually we find that our thoughts determine the rest of our hot cross bun reaction, but as we become more overwhelmed the hot cross bun can work in any direction. We may find our new found unhealthy behaviour starts to determine how we feel, for example, stalking that ex on social media which leads to a feeling of overwhelming sadness and loss of pride (don't worry your not the only one).

When does stress become a problem? A way to identify this is to look for signs of your stress signature, for example; have people noticed you've become a drunk liability more than usual? Are you ending up late for work because you are kicking a different date out of bed each morning? When a change in our disposition becomes so great that it interferes with our occupation, relationships and the things we enjoy its a sign its become a problem.

So what are useful coping strategies? The Five Ways to Wellbeing (4) is a useful start point. They focus on connecting, being active, giving, learning and taking notice. Also, unfortunately, you might want to cut down coffee, fags and booze, although they feel good at the time, they often lead to a unhelpful body response, not to mention situations. It's also so important to be kind to yourself and use realistic self talk, be assertive and learn its ok to say no!

Stress and vulnerability research (that has led to the bucket) argues that vulnerability or predisposition is a relatively permanent trait (5). Therefore developing tools to smash stress become even more important in this over stimulated world (if you're interested in how the digital world is impacting on us read; Notes on a Nervous Planet, by Matt Haig). Your mind makes you, you so take time out to get to know it and what stresses it.

1 Brabban, A. & Turkington, D. (2002) The Search for Meaning: detecting congruence between life events, underlying schema and psychotic symptoms. In A.P. Morrison (Ed) A Casebook of Cognitive Therapy for Psychosis (Chap 5, p59-75). New York: Brunner-Routledge

2 Tan SY, Yip A. Hans Selye (1907-1982): Founder of the stress theory. Singapore Med J. 2018;59(4):170-171.

3 Greenberger, D., & Padesky, C. (1995). Mind Over Mood: A Cognitive Therapy Treatment Manual for Clients. New York: Guilford Press

4 New Economics Foundation (2008) The Five Ways to Wellbeing

5 Zubin, J., & Spring, B. (1977). Vulnerability: A new view of schizophrenia. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 86(2), 103-126

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