By Jennifer Miles Davis
As someone who gets a little overenthusiastic about things, is quite spontaneous, and not all that good at saying no, I have managed to get myself into a pickle. I have too much to do and my head is spinning. I know we’re all busy, and I’m not trying to win the who’s busiest competition, but suddenly, Everything needs to be done immediately, or at least yesterday.
It’s not supposed to be like this. I imagine my day to start with a little light yoga and some muesli, before waving the cheeky but loveable children off to school with a spring in their step (preferably deep in discussion about how there should be more investment in the arts). Then I’d spritz and flurry a duster around my already quite clean and tidy house, before making myself a delicious coffee with freshly ground beans, taking it into my minimalist-with-a-little-homely-clutter office, responding wittily to a few essential emails, and then settling down to work on one of my rewarding and meaningful but modestly-paid projects.
At a Mental Health First Aid training course delivered by Mind that I recently attended (which taught us how to respond to and help people who are having a mental health crisis, just as we would if they needed physical first aid), they used the analogy of the stress bucket. We all have stuff to do and things to worry about and families to feed and money to earn, and stress is a normal part of everyday life – in fact we wouldn’t get very far without it. But if we have too much going on, our bucket overflows, which means trouble. As stress is the foremost cause of mental ill-health, it’s essential to be aware of our trigger points and take action before things go horribly wrong. Stress can, among other things, make us irritable, aggressive, impatient, depressed, overburdened, or anxious. It can lead to an inability to concentrate, a tendency to avoid certain situations or people, over- or under-eating, or self-medicating with drugs or alcohol. All of which of course can result in health issues, insomnia, fatigue, relationship problems, and an inability to cope with the everyday stuff. And so the cycle goes on, which ain’t pretty.
Knowing that our stress bucket will overflow at times, being mindful of and prepared for what might tip us over the edge, and working out how to prevent it in the first place, is powerful. It’s taking back control when you feel that things are controlling you. The Mind website says: “Looking after wellbeing – developing emotional resilience – is the ability to adapt and bounce back when something difficult happens in your life.” Ways of keeping a lid on the stress bucket could be as simple as going out for a cuppa with a friend, getting out for some fresh air, or watching a film – anything that gets the heart rate down and the endorphins up.
Certain types of stress, such as a looming deadline, ensures we get the job done and keeps us productive. It’s helpful to identify which elements in our stress bucket are useful to us, and out of the non-helpful ones, which we can resolve and which we just have to put up with. Mentally or even physically categorising our stress factors helps put them into perspective and reduce our anxiety around them. Perhaps we could empty them into cute little colour-coordinated stress buckets, with labels on. Then we can go from thinking ‘AAARGH I’VE TOO MUCH TO DO!!!’ to thinking ‘ok well that’s a work thing so I’ll tackle that in the morning, that’s something I can’t change so I’ll just roll with it baby, and that thing there is really annoying me but I need to talk to x first. So for now, the best thing I can do is watch some trashy telly and have a beer’.
They say that it isn’t about what life throws at you but about how you deal with it, and it seems that the more you get the more you can handle. Research by Professor Seery at UCLA, cited in Psychology Today, discovered that people who had experienced adversity in their lifetime reported better mental health and well-being than those who had experienced none. I guess we’re more able to recognise and appreciate the good times when we’ve had been put through the bad. So, breathe, embrace, prioritise, and plough on. You can do this! As Seery says, “In moderation, whatever does not kill us may indeed make us stronger”.
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