Tips On Overcoming Stress From Finding Your Way Counseling in Roanoke, VA

AMERICA: Home of the Free, Land of the Stressed

Stress is a universal problem across almost every client I see, though most come to therapy focused on a variety of other primary concerns. Stressors that are both good – such as a job promotion or new child – and not so good – like working 12 hours days, financial problems, or health concerns, can actually be equally draining of a person’s resources. So while you may feel very fortunate for the changes going on in your life (like that new baby or your wedding planning), they will inevitably add to your level stress. We know that Americans are a stressed-out group in general. But in 2011 a truly concerning 22% of Americans – an astounding 77,897,979 million people– reported that they were under “extreme” stress (Stress In America, APA 2012).

As a result of changes in the job market and economy over the past few years, individuals in our society increasingly face pressure to work longer and harder. While doing so might serve a temporary solution, it also begins a troubling trajectory that often keeps people from investing in their own physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing. Heightened stress levels contribute to many of the problems which most frequently lead people to seek counseling, including: depression, anxiety, overeating, and insomnia to name just a few. Chances are you know that – like every other person – you will inevitably experience heightened levels of stress from time to time. What can be more difficult to recognize are the factors that contribute to those increases in your stress level. Paying attention to possible causes is important, however, because once they have been identified it becomes much easier to generate effective solutions.

The Stress Bucket

Instead of thinking of stress as a nebulous point of universal suffering, it image helpful to imagine (or even draw) stress as the water in your own personal bucket. This “bucket” represents your capacity to handle stress, and that capacity is determined by the amount of resources you have available to “use-up” in order to deal with stressors. A wide variety of things can serve as an individual resource, including personal strength, patience, family support, etc… The level of water in your bucket represents how much stress you are carrying at a particular time, and to what degree you feel that your available resources for reducing that stress have been “used up.”

Stress counseling Blacksburg VAEvery person has a fairly steady “baseline stress level” in their lives, resulting from from long-term factors that don’t change much on a day-to-day basis. Examples of these factors include a person’s overarching relationship or job satisfaction, level of optimism, and temperament. If your baseline level of stress is pretty low, the few drops that get added to your bucket by daily events – for example being late to work, catching a cold, or getting a parking ticket – might not affect you all that much. On the other hand, if your stress bucket is nearly full to begin with, whenever something bad happens your bucket is in danger of overflowing. What exactly “overflow” looks like will vary somewhat from person to person, but it often results in symptoms like angry at a those who don’t deserve it, starting to cry, or feeling completely overwhelmed.

So far the concept of the stress bucket may seem fairly bleak. Fortunately, however, there is another side to the coin that is this metaphor. Namely, we have yet to account for all of the things that can reduce a person’s level of stress – effectively lightening their load by removing some of the water from their bucket. Getting physical exercise, taking a relaxing bath, getting outdoors and enjoying the fresh air or sunlight, spending time with loved ones, and eating healthy foods are just a few of the many strategies and activities that have been shown to decrease the level of stress we carry around in our buckets. So I invite you to take a minute and consider what things in your life are adding water to your stress bucket. Once you’ve done this, move on to thinking about – or even better writing down – the things that work for you as an individual when it comes to reducing your bucket’s water level.

The true power of the bucket analogy lies in its ability to point out one very important fact that people almost always overlook when it comes to stress: that when the factors adding water to our buckets increase we tend to slow down, or even completely stop, doing the things that help us to reduce that water level! Just think about it, at the end of a long and stressful day how often do you come home and engage in stress-reducing activities like vigorous exercise, taking a long refreshing walk, preparing a healthy meal, or visiting with friends? If you’re like most of us, you’re natural inclination when feel overly stressed is to become less active and interactive, rather than more.  Therefore, the real trick to overcoming stress is to become aware of how full your bucket is, and to make a conscious effort to keep up the positive, stress-relieving, activities that you are more likely to engage in when your stress level is low (or, to use our analogy, when your bucket is dry). Because, whether we feel like it or not, it is even more critical to our wellbeing that we practice these positive techniques when we’re nearing “overflow”.

Feel free to comment and share about what tends to add water to your bucket, as well as about the types of things that you’ve found to be helpful in decreasing your level of stress.