Coping with significant changes and loss of any kind is stressful. As well as dealing with the emotional and physical stress of loss, most of us have added pressures like work, raising kids, keeping up with friends, and generally trying to keep our heads above water. It’s a lot, and it’s often anxiety-inducing.
Looking after yourself can feel too hard when your whole world has changed. If you’re feeling anxious and overwhelmed, the stress bucket theory is an excellent way to understand how much unchecked stress builds up, and what you can do to look after yourself. It’s our favourite theory, and was explained to us on the pod by psychotherapist and anxiety expert Joshua Fletcher (aka Anxiety Josh).
According to the theory, think of your stress tolerance as a bucket. We all have different-sized buckets, reflecting our unique abilities to handle stress. As we navigate the ups and downs of life, like minor irritations like traffic jams and major life events like a divorce, our bucket fills up. Over time, if we don’t de-stress by promoting calm and well-being, it eventually overflows. This overflow, in the form of stress, can ultimately give rise to anxiety and other mental health challenges.
Anxiety is something we talk about extensively in our book, Good Mourning: Honest Conversations About Grief and Loss because it’s such an important topic to understand. It’s more than just everyday worries; it’s a constant feeling of unease, fear, and apprehension. Anxiety symptoms can manifest in various ways – hello, rapid heart rate, trembling, excessive sweating, and avoidance behaviours (all the fun stuff).
So, to prevent your bucket from overflowing and help to keep anxiety at bay, finding stress-releasing activities that you can do regularly is a must. Some things you could try are:
Digi-downtime. We live in a world where we’re aways on – it’s exhausting. A good way to properly unwind ais to avoid using your phone two hours before bed (it might sound impossible but be honest, you’re probably just doomscrolling anyway). This is great for de-stressing as it allows your mind to unwind and increases your chances of a better night’s sleep, which is essential for managing anxiety symptoms.
Nature is nurture. Being out in nature is a brilliant stress buster. Plant your feet on the grass to feel grounded, walk the dog somewhere quiet, take a walk on the beach, do some gardening, go for a run in your local park – you get the gist.
Breathe! Breathing correctly is one of the best ways to regulate stress, release emotions and relax. Most of us don’t breathe deeply, and if we’re not breathing properly, it can impact our stress levels. So try a breathing exercise like box breathing – it’s an excellent method to help calm your nervous system.
And yes, this one might sound obvious, but exercise is probably the best stress reliever because it releases endorphins that improve mood and reduce anxiety.
In short, self-care can fall to the bottom of the to-do list when life goes sideways. But, as the stress bucket theory shows us, we must prioritise ourselves and our mental well-being more when times are tough.
Want to learn more about grief and anxiety? Our book Good Mourning: Honest Conversations About Grief and Loss covers it extensively (grab a copy here). You can also catch our full interview with Josh here – it’s one of our favourite podcast episodes we’ve ever recorded.
Until next time,
Sal and Im x