The stress bucket: a new way to think of stress thresholds

Do you remember the ice bucket challenge? The general idea was to let your friends tip a bucket of ice-cubes and cold water over your head - or you had to donate to charity as a forfeit. Look up the videos on you-tube, I'm sure they're still there. My own favourite was actor Patrick Stewart who sensibly put the ice in his drink whilst writing a cheque to his favourite good cause. So what has this got to do with stress thresholds - apart from being deluged with icy water being (I assume) a fairly stressful experience? defines a threshold as 'the sill of a doorway', 'the entrance to a house or building' or 'any place or point of entering or beginning'. A stress threshold is about that last one, it's the point at which you leave a place where you are coping with stress and enter one where you are not. In other words, where the stress landing on you becomes, like the ice bucket, an unpleasant deluge.

We all have different thresholds for stress, and sometimes we have different thresholds for different kinds of stress. You might thrive on the kind of stress you get at work, for example, but find it difficult to deal with the kind you get at home.

For just that reason, I prefer the concept of a container, like a bucket, more than a line.

How the stress bucket works

Imagine it this way. You have a bucket which holds around 2 gallons of water. You also have a leak in your roof. You place the bucket under the leak to catch the drips. As long as the water in the bucket is less than 2 gallons, everything is fine.

Once there is more than 2 gallons, you have a problem - water spills over the top and floods your home, causing a lot more damage than just the roof: carpets, electrical, walls.

Stress is just the same. None of us can entirely escape stress, but while your coping strategies are up to the job, everything goes pretty well. Once the stress you face is more than you can cope with, it overflows into other areas of your life - health, emotions, relationships, work etc - and causes more problems.

There are a few other things to note about this stress bucket.
  • it can be filled just as full by one large sploosh of water coming through a ginormous hole, or a constant drip from a much smaller one
  • however it fills, once full it will overflow
  • instead of a 2 gallon bucket, some of us have a 4 gallon bucket, or maybe only a thimble, so that the overflow comes for each of us at different times

What can you do to improve things?

Stretching the overflowing bucket metaphor just about as far as we can, you have three choices to save your carpets:
  • mend the roof
  • empty the bucket regularly so it never overflows
  • get a bigger bucket
In stress management terms this translates as follows:
  • resolve the situation that is causing the stress
  • learn practical and effective strategies for dealing with the stressful situation
  • improve your overall resilience to stress in the long term
I've discussed these approaches in detail before - find my practical tips to effective stress management HERE.

Author: is a professional stress management coach, specialising in working with individuals and smaller employers to minimise stress and maximise feeling in control.
Debbie is the author of Their Worlds, Your Words and has co-written the Hypnotherapy Handbook both of which are available from Amazon.
Find out more about Debbie's services on  or phone 01977 678593


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