What’s in Your Stress Bucket? The Stress Bucket Model

paint bucket on blue background

Let’s talk about stress

Stress is a word that consumes our society, even the Dalai Lama worries about whether he looks good in his robes occasionally. As women there is the expectation that we ‘should’ be ok after the birth of a baby, that we ‘should’ put up with sexual banter at work, that we ‘should’ be ok with zero emotion in a relationship. When actually these things can make us feel so overwhelmed that never mind being ok – we only just about have the impetus to put our g-string on, such challenges can just make the mind 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 ‘getting strong not skinny’ and eating ‘clean’ and yet we forget the most important part of the self – the mind (plus no matter how in shape you are wearing the feel good factor is more sexy than even an Ashley Graham bottom).

The Stress Bucket Model

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 that you got your curves from you kickass granny. The stress bucket allows us to also consider how the transition events  and times of pressure we face in life add up to possibly 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 shout at your bestie? Have diarrhoea? Freak out and cancel drinks with the girls?

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. 

Grab yourself a pen, Draw Your Stress vulnerability Bucket

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 it’s helpful;

Stress bucket bottom:

Those past experiences we have harboured over time that can lower our resilience, or if dealt with, heighten it.

Stress bucket Middle:

You could consider day to day, month to month stressors.

stress bucket Top:

After filling in your bottom and middle stressors you’re left with a small stop gap for anything that might come round the corner, like that unexpected break-up (psychologically break-ups are akin to a bereavement).

Next is how we deal with stress and at what point our stress bucket is overflowing

On the left we have our coping strategies, what we do to make ourselves feel good, like buying that new vibrator, its important to be selfish darling. 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 that huge glass of gin really the best coping strategy for you? (obviously alcohol in small amounts is perfectly acceptable darling).

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)

Whats the link between the Hot Cross Bun and Our Stress Bucket Model?

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 darling).

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 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 be selfish darling!

Stress and vulnerability research (that has led to the bucket) argues that vulnerability or predisposition is a relatively permanent trait.  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 darling so take time out to get to know it and what stresses it.

Lots of Love,


Writer for Selfish Darling and Owner of NotLostbutFree.com

Posted By  : The Hormona Team

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