Author: Corinne Gurvitz, Counselling Psychologist

It’s been a difficult few years for all of us- and for some of us, it’s been difficult for even longer. In therapy it feels like lots of clients have been reflecting on finding everyday tasks difficult to deal with or complete, or that they have got overly upset about something that they feel is minor, such as spilling a drink. Annoying, yes – but not necessarily a reason to get angry or burst into tears.

The Stress Bucket is a way of symbolising how our stress builds up by taking into account the cumulative effect of stresses that we have been carrying for longer, as well as the day to day. Often this historical stress has been there for so long that we don’t even notice it anymore, but make no mistake, it still demands our energy. Sometimes we are actively thinking about it, and at other times we use our energy to hold it down; how often do we find ourselves worrying about lots of different things when trying to rest? To sleep we need to completely relax, and when the worries surge forward, untethered, in our minds. What’s happening ‘right now’ is often just the tip of the iceberg.

In the Stress Bucket, we can represent stress as liquid that fills up the bucket bit by bit. We all have a certain capacity to tolerate a certain amount of stress but we’ve all had moments where it’s too much, symbolised by the bucket overflowing.

Here is a composite of what might be in someone’s stress bucket based on what people have been saying – only in the last year – starting from the everyday to the more long-term and enduring:

– Burning a cake by accident.

– Finding time to get the shopping done.

– Sitting opposite someone who is coughing and not wearing a mask on public transport.

– Knowing I need to entertain the kids over the holidays.

– Knowing my job is not what I want to do but staying because I need a job right now.

– Covid/ lockdown uncertainty.

– Knowing I’ll soon have to get vaccinated for my work even if I’m not sure I want the vaccine/  worrying about family members who do not want to get the vaccine.

– Saying no to people’s invitations only because of a fear of getting covid and having to self isolate over the holidays.

– Bereavements and/ or not having been able to attend loved ones’ funerals.

– Fear of or actually experiencing racist attacks.

– Seeing racist material on social media.

A history of trauma, depression or anxiety would itself add even more liquid to the Stress Bucket before even considering this list. When we think about it, we might realise that our buckets can actually be quite heavy and full if not overflowing- and this helps us understand why everyday tasks become so difficult. There is only so much processing our brains can take!

Finding ways of ‘drilling holes’ in the Stress Bucket, allows some of the stress to dissipate. This can be achieved by doing anything that you enjoy, or which doesn’t require too much mental energy from you. It might be taking some time to chat to a friend (whether in person or online!), doing some sport or meditation, watching your favourite programme, listening to music, expressing how you feel… while they might not get rid of all the stress (this is not always possible!) these activities reduce the liquid in our bucket and help us to manage what’s left in our buckets.

You can try this for yourself- list everything that is causing you stress, including things from the past that are still with you. Or you can just get a sense of where you are at by asking yourself ‘how is my Stress Bucket looking today?’