As a coach I use a lot of stories and metaphors in my work. One of the most effective metaphors in my repertoire is that of the ‘Stress Bucket.’ The “Stress Bucket” is a way of thinking about how we come to experience chronic stress.

Threats and Stress

Every day our brain is busy identifying threats (small or large) to our physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing. In response to a threat, our Stress (Threat) Response is activated, and stress hormones are released, to adapt our body and mind to deal with the threat. We feel the effect of adaption (e.g., muscle tension, beating heart, sweating). This feeling–a cocktail of physical sensations, plus some level of fear, is what we refer to as ‘stress’.

Overwhelm -perhaps our biggest threat

Nature intended that the stress hormones that are released each time the Stress Response is activated are used up as we escape from or fight the real and present danger we’ve identified. This process worked well for our ancestors when most of their threats wanted to eat or kill them, and they had to run for their lives flight or stand and fight. Today the biggest threat we face is excessive pressure–we are overwhelmed by the accumulated demands we face.

Our survival system interprets overwhelm as a threat. Because there’s nothing real and present to run away from or fight, the stress hormones in our blood stream aren’t used up. So, they go into our ‘stress bucket.’

A full bucket overflows

Each time we activate the Stress Response, any unused stress hormones go into our stress bucket, causing it to fill up. Once the level reaches the brim and you just can’t fit any more in the bucket overflows. Panicky feelings that erupt for no apparent reason, result from ‘overspill.’ When the bucket continues to overflow day after day you are experiencing chronic stress and could be heading towards burnout.

Your bucket has a tap

The good news is your stress bucket has a tap that you can turn to let out the stress hormones. You open the tap when you activate your Rest and Digest Response and when you sleep.

Unless you open the tap, your bucket will continue to fill and the more your bucket fills, the more symptoms of chronic stress you’ll feel. And any spare capacity you might have had for dealing with demands disappears and you flip out over minor incidents such as not being able to find a parking space or losing your temper because the person in front of you at the checkout is taking too long to pay.

You need to regularly drain your stress bucket

The key to avoiding chronic stress and its harmful effects on your physical, mental and emotional wellbeing is to regularly drain your stress bucket, ideally at least once a day.

How big is your stress bucket?

The size of everyone’s stress bucket is different, and the size of your bucket can change. At times of decreased wellbeing, your bucket may shrink. A smaller bucket means it can hold fewer stress hormones so fills more quickly. To empty a smaller bucket, you have to open the tap more regularly or for a longer period each day.

A two-pronged solution to avoiding chronic stress

To avoid chronic stress requires a two-pronged approach:

  1. Not adding anymore to your stress bucket; and
  2. Regularly emptying your stress bucket.

How do you stop topping up your stress bucket?

You need to be proactive and take positive steps to reduce the amount of stress hormones that go into your stress bucket each day.

1. Remove the perception of overwhelm. This may require that you develop new skills such as assertiveness (ability to say ‘no’ to demands), time management, delegation, prioritisation. It may require you to get additional resources such as help and support from family, friends, colleagues. You could outsource some things you’ve been doing or automate some of them. You may need to change your thinking, for example, by reframing perceived threats as challenges or opportunities. You may need to reassess the importance of the things you are doing and stop doing things that are unimportant.

2. Switch off the Stress Response and turn on the Rest and Digest Response. When you switch off the Stress Response, you stop the production of stress hormones and so stop filling your bucket. The best, and quickest, way to switch off the Stress Response is with the breath. There are lots of simple to learn and use breathing techniques.

How do you empty your stress bucket?

How do you empty your stress bucket?

1. Get moving. Movement uses up stress hormones.

2. Take time out to relax and restore. Nature designed our survival system such that once the threat has passed, our Rest and Digest Response switches on, putting us into a state where any unused stress hormones dissipate, our energy reserves are replenished and, if injured, we begin the healing process. So, activities such as a walk in nature, meditation, yoga, massage, listening to music, reading a book all help us open the tap on our stress bucket and keep it open.

3. Sleep. In order to empty our stress bucket, we need to get excellent quality sleep–not necessarily longer but better. Sleep is nature’s way of ensuring that our body gets the rest and restoration that it needs so that we are physically and emotionally ready to deal with whatever threats we encounter in the day ahead. During our sleep we go through stages of deep sleep into REM (rapid eye movement) into light sleep, and we do this four or five times throughout the night. It’s during REM when we dream that our brain can empty our stress bucket. However, if our sleep is poor, disturbed or we are suffering from insomnia, then this interferes with the brain’s ability to empty the stress bucket.

4. Hypnosis. Interestingly, there is some research that shows that deep relaxation during hypnosis replicates the beneficial bucket emptying effects of REM sleep.

Would you like some help with emptying your stress bucket?

What would your life be like if you started each day with an empty stress bucket? Most of my clients come to me with a full bucket and it’s only when its empty, that they realize how full their bucket was. They weren’t aware how much impact stress was having on their lives. Only once their bucket was drained did they regain clarity, calm and control.

If you’d like my help to you empty your stress bucket, call/text me today on 021 056 8389 or click HERE to book a no obligation consult where we can explore how I can help you.

Keep opening that tap!
Go well

I’m on a mission to help as many people as possible enjoy lives free of unnecessary stress and anxiety. If you’d like my help, or you know someone who would benefit, call/text me today on 021 056 8389 or email