What is stress?
Stress is our body’s natural response to threat. In olden days, we would commonly experience the stress response once we detected the threat from a predator. Our automatic response would enable us to think quickly and run away fast.
In modern times, we become stressed due to a wide range of pressures. These could be from work, family, friends, being online, or money issues. Or any other pressures we might have experienced because of lockdown, working from home, our responsibilities or daily lives.
A little bit of stress can be helpful; it can motivate us, encourage us to pay closer attention, or work faster. But it becomes a problem when it interferes with our lives by being too intense or too frequent. Too much stress over a long time can trigger a range of additional mental and physical health issues, such as depression, anxiety, or even heart attacks.
But it is possible to reduce our stress levels and benefit our wellbeing by using a range of different techniques and resources. One great way to visualise stress is by learning about The Stress Container.
The Stress Container
Picture a container, such as a sink. As we go about our lives, the sink fills with water from different taps. The sink represents our stress container, and the water is various stresses that can weigh on our minds as we get through the day.
One tap could represent concerns about COVID-19, or the stress of isolation. A different tap may be work stress, or stress from home schooling children. There are many different potential sources of stress that are unique to ourselves. When the sink is plugged, the water continues filling the sink, until eventually it overflows and this is where problems can develop.
In addition, everyone has a different level of resilience, which could be signified by the size of their container. It means that some of us can manage lots of water from many taps before their sink overflows. Other people may only have a small sink, meaning that just a little bit of water could send them over the edge. Regardless of your stress threshold or resilience, it is possible to ease the effects of stress and let out some water, before your stress overflows and becomes a problem.
How to release the pressure
The sink fills and overflows with water because the sink is blocked. However, we can unplug the sink and release some stress, so that your stress levels are no longer teetering on the edge and you have plenty of mental space to face your life.
Sometimes we can’t stop the taps that pour stress into your life, but we can take positive steps to release it. How you do this will be unique to you, but be aware there are also elements and behaviours that may actually block your sink further. These maladaptive techniques include overworking, striving for perfection, drinking alcohol or using drugs, and bottling up your feelings.
Take action to empty your sink by connecting with others, exercising, playing games, being creative, or engaging in self-care. Try different activities and coping strategies, and see how they affect your stress levels.
Remember, you have the power to actively manage and reduce your stress. Organise your life to include enjoyable activities, social support and exercise; and notice your stress levels reduce and become manageable.
If your stress levels become too much, or your mental health starts to affect your daily functioning, the first step is to contact your GP. You can also find our support via this link.
If you reach a crisis, or need emotional support, ring the Samaritans FREE on 116 123, 24 hours a day.
Please support our work
Dorset Mind is a self-funded local charity that helps people in Dorset experiencing mental health problems access the vital support they need. The charity is at the very heart of our communities shaping futures, changing and in some cases literally saving lives.