How I manage stress
Updated: May 24
As it is Mental Health Awareness week I want to write about how I manage stress.
Stress management is something I have had to learn and which didn’t come naturally to me. Like a high proportion of people in the UK, I have experienced stress-induced clinical depression during my career. I was lucky to have a very supportive employer (Logica) at the time who gave me time off to get back on my feet. After which, I have developed strategies to avoid re-treading that path, whilst also continuing working on demanding projects and more recently as a founder and director of Through Technology.
What I wanted to write about is called the “stress bucket" analogy. I believe that everyone takes on stresses in their life and that everyone has a finite capacity to do so. This can be simply visualised as a bucket holding water. If the bucket is over-filled, water splashes out and causes a mess…. Akin to stress over-spilling when things become “too much” and adversely impacting your personal life or that of others around you.
This bucket has a tap (or “faucet” if you are American) at the top, which lets water in and a tap at the bottom which lets water out. Very simply…. If more water comes into your bucket than you let out, then it will eventually overfill and flood the rest of your room. In your life, you need to manage the flow.
So, what are these magical taps that give you this control?
Filling up your stress bucket
Well, the tap at the top has a little label on it which reads “things you agree to”. This could be assignments or responsibilities you take on, new problems you’ve never dealt with before, inappropriate behaviour from others that you just accept, tasks or promises that you leave unaddressed. It is all things over which you generally have control, but which increase the level in your stress bucket.
Now unfortunately, that isn’t the only way your stress bucket gets filled. Occasionally, fate , providence or the deity of your choice rocks up with their own bucket labelled “shit happens” and tips it straight into yours. And you typically have no control over that. The only thing you can do is turn down or turn off the “things you agree to” tap. Go easy on yourself for a while. Tell people you can’t take on more right now and if they are decent, they will understand.
But you have to lower that water-level too.
Emptying your stress bucket
So at the bottom of the bucket is the other tap, lets the water out. Actually, there are lots of taps, but that would be harder to illustrate and I’m no artist, so lets just say that it is one, much larger tap, with lots of things on the label…..
“Talking to people, family time, friends, hobbies, delegation, music, exercise, nature, sunlight, holidays, pets…." whatever makes you happy, helps you relax or lets you share your problems.
When shit happens, or stress levels are rising, it is so easy to focus on the water-level and forget to turn on this other tap to let it drain away.
The bucket expands
I’m going to stretch my bucket analogy further…. Literally.
As you gain experience, the bucket will stretch as your capacity to deal with stressful situations increases. For me, situations I would have once found intolerably stressful are now more manageable, but this takes time, experience and a willingness to keep the top tap open a little throughout your career and push the boundaries of your “comfort zone”.
1. This applies to other people too. Please feel free to share this with others (I'm honestly unsure whether I came up with it or read it somewhere long forgotten). Also if you work with others, look out for them to and help them manage their levels.
2. If you are already over-flowing.... What I describe above is my way of thinking about managing stress and it works before you get flooded.
If you don’t feel you are in a position to exercise that control, then you need to get help to get back to the point where things are manageable again. Talk to someone. Remember that most people will experience this in their lifetime and there is no stigma attached. Talk to people that care about you…. Or simply talk to you GP, or a charity. They are a gateway to the professional help that is out there for just this situation.
Look after yourself.
Childline: 0800 1111 Samaritans: 116 123 Domestic Violence Hotline: 0808 2000 247 Mind: 0300 123 3393 Age UK: 0800 169 6565