A woman stressed staring at her laptop

The Stress Bucket – managing your stress

No person experiences or handles stress in exactly the same way. In this post I will be discussing a model that helps break down the stress cycle so we can manage it more effectively.

The stress bucket model was developed in 2002 by Professor Alison Brabban and Dr Douglas Turkington. The model can be used to help identify what is causing stress and what can be done to reduce it. It begins with the idea that everyone has a metaphorical bucket which contains their stress.

A diagram of the stress bucket. It is a bucket with taps filling it up with water. These taps are labeled financial pressures, lack of sleep, poor diet, family/relationship issues, worries at work and health concerns. 

On the side of the bucket is another tap with an arrow directing it back to the top of the bucket, demonstrating it feeding water back into the bucket. This is labeled unhelpful coping mechanisms. 

At the bottom of the bucket, there are four holes through which water is draining out. These are labeled taking time for things you enjoy, practising mindfulness, talking to friends & family and good time management.

The bucket is divided into four sections from top to bottom. These represent water level. At the top is overflowing/overwhelmed, followed by becoming stressed/anxious, followed by coping well, and at the bottom is relaxed. 

The diagram is labeled The Stress Bucket and is credited to natures aid.
Stress Bucket Model Visual from naturesaid.co.uk

There are four levels of stress management which can be visualised as lines across the bucket:

  • Relaxed
  • Coping well
  • Becoming stressed/ anxious
  • Overflowing/ overwhelmed

Anything that causes stress such as financial pressures, lack of sleep, family and relationship issues and worries at work can be visualised as a tap that is filling your bucket with stress. Some people will have lots of taps and some people will have very few taps. The rate at which the stress flows from the taps can vary widely depending on the person and the specific thing causing the stress. This means that one person’s stress bucket may be filling much faster than someone else’s.

Effective stress management starts with identifying your taps (your sources of stress) and figuring out ways to turn off the tap and reduce the effects. If you are struggling to identify what is causing you stress the NHS recomends that you keep a diary and make a note of stressful episodes for two to four weeks then review it to spot the triggers.

A hand holding a pen writing in a planner.

Things they recommend you might want to write down include:

  • The date time and place of a stressfull episode
  • How you felt physcially
  • What you were doing
  • A stress rating (0 – 10 where 10 is the most stressed you could ever feel)

Once you have identified what is causing you stress you can try and remove or reduce these triggers. Its important to understand that for some this might be a very gradual process but it does work for a lot of people. If you are struggling to identify your stressors or you would like help  understanding how to manage them the student wellbeing team will be happy to help you.

As well as reducing the flow of the taps going into your stress bucket, it is also important to create lots of holes so that any stress you cannot remove or reduce is managed.  When trying to manage stress it is important to remember that no single method will work for everyone as everyone’s stress bucket is unique. One hole that might work well for you is breathing exercises. Although it sounds basic, research is emerging which supports the idea that breathing exercises can lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol within the body promoting relaxation. The UoL student wellbeing centre recommends box breathing as a basic breathing technique to help manage stress.

A slide titled Box Breathing. It has a Student Minds logo at the top and University of Lincoln and Student Wellbeing Centre logos at the bottom.

It reads:
1. Inhale your breath (preferably through your nose) for 4 seconds.
2. Hold your breath for 4 more seconds. You're not trying to deprive yourself of air; you're just giving the air a few seconds to fill your lungs.
3. Exhale slowly through your mouth for 4 seconds.
4. Pause for 4 seconds (without speaking) before breathing in again.

Repeat this process as many times as you can. Even 30 seconds of deep breathing will help you feel more relaxed and in control.

Another great hole for your bucket is exercise. Exercise not only helps with your physical health but it releases endorphins as well as allowing your body to natuarally practice fight or flight responses in a controlled environment. This allows your body to be better prepared for your triggers or stressfull situtations that you might come across.

I hope this post has given you a greater understanding of the stress bucket model and that it can help you to manage your stress better. It is is always important to remember that no matter what you are feeling, be it positive or negative there is an extensive range of services available from the university to support you. This includes support with general and mental wellbeing. For more advice, check out the Wellbeing centre’s Managing Stress Self Help Guide.

More information on the support offered can be found here. If you would like external support, there is information about a plethora of different services available here.

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