Tuesday, 15 May 2018

How to prevent stress overflow: the stress bucket

Emma shares a useful analogy about stress to help students manage their stressors. 
- Emma Pratt

Stress is something that most of us feel the weight of regularly in our lives. From trying to juggle multiple deadlines, to revision, to trying to maintain a social life outside of university. However, there is a way to reduce it, and it only takes a few minutes of writing and planning (perhaps a task to do in your revision break!). Trust me, the stress this will save you is more than worth the effort it takes to do.

Recently, I learned that (and bear with me here) we can all be thought of as buckets for collecting stress – our stress being represented by the level of liquid within the bucket. We may have multiple taps pouring (stress) into our bucket; these can be anything from deadlines, to finding time for relationships, to noisy neighbours, but they usually fall into four categories:

Academic – something that we as students are all too aware of
Intrapersonal – stuff that affects us as individuals (e.g. eating a balanced diet)
Interpersonal – anything to do with other people (e.g. a strained friendship)
Environmental – things in the space around us (broken fridge, messy room etc.)

Eventually, these taps will pour so much stress into our bucket that it will overflow and we can be left feeling overwhelmed, down and de-motivated. 

There is a way out though! At the bottom of each of our buckets are more taps. These are the helpful kind as they can release some of the stress in our buckets, creating a buffer and reducing the risk of stress overflow. These taps are our coping mechanisms.

We have two main types of coping mechanism: problem-focused and emotion-focused. They involve either looking at our situation and engaging in behaviours to actively reduce stress levels – for example delegating tasks if your group-work is becoming overwhelming (problem-focused) or having a nice warm bath at the end of the day as you know this relaxes you (emotion focused). Both are helpful, so it may be useful to take some time to write a small list of behaviours you can engage in which include a mixture of coping strategies. By doing this, you’ve given yourself a tool to refer to when you feel stress overflow beginning to creep in.

Steps to prevent your bucket from overflowing:
  1. Identify the source(s) of your stress.
  2. Look at any unhelpful behaviours you engage in which may decrease stress in the short term, but only serve to recycle your stress and add to it in the long run (procrastination does count here, sorry!).
  3. Think about ways you can counteract the source of your stress (problem-focused strategies) and start doing them! For example, if your financial situation is stressing you out, counteract this by creating a budgeting plan or setting up a meeting with your bank.
  4. Consider some strategies to ease some of the negative emotions associated with stress, things that make you feel good – maybe an activity that relaxes you or spending time with people you love.
Some times of year are more stressful than others, and some people are more prone to suffering from the effects of stress, so it is important to be mindful of where your own stress levels are at. 

The key to remember is that you are the master of your own stress levels and you control the taps. If you take a few minutes to think how you can increase the number of stress-relieving taps, and minimise the stress-receiving ones in your own life, you may be surprised by the benefits!

You can find a video summary of this analogy, as well as some techniques to promote relaxation and wellbeing, at the mindwell website.


Hi everyone! I’m Emma and I study Psychology at King’s College London. I’m currently on a placement year working in the NHS – so (hopefully!) I can combine what I’ve learnt on placement with my experience as a student in my writing. I haven’t got much of a background in blogging/writing but I look forward to sharing my take on mental health and student life. I’m really excited to be able to contribute to the Student Minds blog as mental wellbeing is a topic I love to talk about and should never be overlooked!






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