Regulate & Rewire: An Anxiety & Depression Podcast

What is your stress bucket? (Part 1)

October 31, 2023 Amanda Armstrong Episode 37
Regulate & Rewire: An Anxiety & Depression Podcast
What is your stress bucket? (Part 1)
Show Notes Transcript

We’ve all heard the saying you can’t pour from an empty cup, but I’d also like to put a twist on it today and say you can’t add to a full one. Join me for part 1 in a 4 part series unpacking the steps to the Stress Bucket Exercise. Todays conversation is all about step 1: Assess - this answers the question of, "What is in my stress bucket?" Until you can get it out of your head and onto paper you'll likely stay mostly stressed most of the time - and that's no way to live! Join me while I walk you through the 4 categories of common stressors and explore which ones contribute most to your stress bucket. Hit play to learn more!


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Welcome to regulate, and rewire and anxiety and depression podcast where we discuss the things I wish someone would have taught me earlier in my healing journey. I'm your host, Amanda Armstrong. And I'll be sharing my steps, my missteps, client experiences and tangible research based tools to help you regulate your nervous system, rewire your mind and reclaim your life. Thanks for being here. Now, let's dive in.

So we have all heard the saying that you can't pour from an empty cup. But I'd also like to put a little twist on this today and say that you cannot add to a full one either. I have heard from so many of you some version of there is a forever imbalance between my capacity and load, I feel like I'm stressed out more often than I'm not. And I don't know where to start. In my coaching practice, we support our clients in something that we call the stress bucket exercise. And you've likely heard me mentioned that the stress bucket usually in context to the nervous system ladder. But I want to walk you through this exercise all four steps of the stress bucket exercise that we do with clients behind the scenes inside my practice. And with this, I had the option to either give you one episode that was kind of a basic brief overview of all four steps to this exercise. Or I could turn it into a series where I spent one episode per step to really go deep and help you unpack and figure out how to manage stress in the short and long term understanding your stress physiology as a huge contributor to anxiety and depression. And instead of making that decision myself, I asked you, or at least those of you listeners who are also following me on Instagram, I put on my stories last week and I said hey, what do you prefer? When I give just one topic one episode kind of a brief overview? Or do you like when I go deep into these various exercises, and by a landslide, those of you who are in that space responded and said, drag it out, give us all the details, make it a series and I actually had a handful of you reach out. And also note that we love the episodes in which there are worksheets. So you've asked I've delivered and that is what you're going to get right now on the regulate and rewire podcast. 

But before I dive into the content for today, I want to put a quick plug in for those of you who are listening who are trauma informed mental health practitioners that whether you are a coach or a therapist, counselor, Ellis W MFT. I know that I have a number of coaches and therapists and mental health folks who listen to this podcast and who also thank you, thank you thank you refer it to your clients. frequently. We are hiring. So as this podcast has grown, so is our practice. And I am in the process of hiring our next trauma informed mental health coach. So I'm putting this plug out here in the podcast, I won't go into details. But if you are a mental health practitioner who is experienced, preferably is familiar with ifs, integrated family systems or parts work has some familiarity with a bottom up approach to navigating anxiety or depression. I will put a link in the show notes to get some more details on that position and how to apply. And as always, if this is you, and you've got some questions, please please reach out. So we're hiring our team is growing. And if you're feeling called you might be the right fit. 

So let's dive into today's conversation about the stress backup. So like I said, Today is part one of what is going to be a four part series on the stress bucket exercise. Today in the next few weeks. I'm going to break it down one step per episode. So today is part one, we're going to cover step one, a step that I call assess, and this is going to answer the question of what fills my stress bucket. First, what is my stress bucket and then we'll go into unpacking what or how each of you can unpack the unique stressors that fill your bucket. Next week, we'll talk about step two, which is to audit and this answers the question of like, how do I know how can I audit my stress level at any given time? And how do I know when my stress bucket is getting full? When is it time to regulate? Then, step three. Part three is going to be how to manage your stress bucket. Okay, so my stress bucket is full. How how do I manage that stress? What do I do when my bucket is full or overflowing? And then step four, Part four is going to be edit what can you do? rule over time to create more of a buffer between you and your stress threshold. Many, many, many of you are like me where you live and subscribe by this concept of Moore's more. If I can check more things off my to do list, that's more if I can add more things to my schedule, that's more if I can help other people. That's more. And this belief, and this subscribing that we have lived by have more is more is crushing us. It is creating an unsustainable load. 

And so this series is really aimed to help you answer again, those questions of what is my stress bucket? What's in my stress bucket? What are my daily stressors, my baseline stressors? How do we know when it's full? And what can I do about that right now in the moment to de stress but also over time to just create a life for myself that feels better. And I have put together some worksheets, more appropriately, an entire workbook to go along with this series. So I'm going to link that workbook in the show notes. Each episode will have some correlating worksheets. So as you listen, you will have an option to just kind of conceptualize and take in actually, one thing that I love so much about this concept of a stress bucket is that it can be as simple or as complex as you need it to be for where you are in your healing journey, what you want to do with it. So for today, and the next couple of weeks conversation, some of you might walk away with a simple, broad conceptual understanding of the stress bucket, while others of you may decide to immerse yourself in each one of these steps, print out that workbook, take them to work through with your therapist with your coach, do them on your own. And I love that, I love that for all of you, some of you are going to be like, Yep, got it, check. And some of you are going to really get into this work for maybe the next few weeks, a few months. 

And another thing that I love about the stress bucket concept is that it's one of those things that once you learn it, you really can't come back, you can't on know it. It's kind of like understanding anxiety and depression through a nervous system lens, what all of you got in those first six foundational episodes of really looking at anxiety and depression through a lens of physiology instead of pathology. The one thing I hear over and over and over again is oh my gosh, I just found your podcast a few episodes in. And it just makes sense. When you come to understand anxiety and depression through a nervous system lens, there's no going back from that you will for ever think about your symptoms and engage in your healing journey in a new way through a new lens. And this concept of a stress bucket, I think is similar when you gain a basic understanding of your body's stress capacity, your mechanisms, like what happens in your body with the physiology of stress, and then how you can de stress in different ways. You engage in stress management differently forever. I know that that might sound a little bit dramatic, but it's true. It's been true for myself. And so many of our clients who now use this stress bucket exercise as both a big audit on their whole life, as well as a daily practice. Myself, many of our clients ask the question of how full is my stress bucket multiple times a day. And being able to assess how full your stress bucket is gives you perspective on your reactions or your overreactions. It helps you source for whether to say yes or no. And one of the things that I think this exercise really lays the foundation of is to live life instead of through this lens of how much can I possibly handle? How many things can I fit on my schedule? To instead living a life through this lens of how much can I take on while still feeling at ease and in control in my everyday life? And that's really different? How much can I possibly handle versus how much can I handle and have life still feel good. 

And so many of us, like I said, myself included, have spent so much of our lives just pushing and pushing and pushing on the brink or in that downward spiral of burnout because that's what society told us to do. It's what was modeled for us. It's how we get our self worth. Maybe it's even what you needed to do for a season of your life, but then it just became your new normal. And so what I hope that you'll take away from this conversation is this reality that there is a limit to the stressors that your system can take on before breaking down anxiety and depression are both results of unmanaged stress buckets, a stress load that got too heavy or lasted too long. And it takes very real and measurable tolls on your mental and physical well being. 

So with this conversation, let's just start with the most basic question, what is a stress bucket. And this is an analogy to measure your stress threshold, your stress capacity. And in this analogy, there are three primary elements that you are going to hear me refer to number one, obviously, the bucket, then we have the water, and the buffer zone. So the three elements are the bucket, the water and the buffer zone. With the bucket, I want you to imagine that there is a bucket inside of your body that collects all of your stressors. So that bucket represents you, or more accurately, the your stress tolerance, the stress tolerance of your nervous system. But for simplicity sake, we're going to think about the bucket represents you. The water in that bucket represents a combination of all of the stressors in your life. And when I say the buffer zone, what I am referring to is the space in your bucket between the waterline and the top of the bucket, how much space do you have between the stressors in your life and your capacity? Right, we've talked about this before, what is your balance between load, and capacity. And you can see a visual for what I'm talking about inside that workbook that I put together for you. And so the goal of this exercise of the next few weeks of conversations together is to help bring awareness to where your stress level currently is. And to learn some tangible tools to edit and manage your stress so that you can create as big of a buffer zone as possible. When you are living your daily life with your stressors an inch from the top of that bucket with a tiny, tiny buffer zone. What happens when you're waking up and you're basically already tapped out for capacity is it all of the daily stressors, all of the small parts of being a human, a parent, a student, a professional, whatever your daily life entails? All of those daily stressors feel overwhelming, and like too much, you are going to live life feeling reactive, overwhelmed, shut down. If you cannot find a way to decrease your load and create a bigger buffer zone, because life is always going to hand you unpredictable stressors. And if you don't have space, to take that on inside, within your sweat, we sometimes call your window of tolerance within your stress bucket without causing it to be full or to overflow. Life is gonna feel really, really hard. And so overall, this whole exercise, if it boils down to one thing, it is how to simplify and manage our stress load to create more space. I don't know a single person who doesn't need more space, to be connected, to be playful to be regulated in their life. 

So in these four steps to the stress bucket exercise, step one and two are really about cultivating awareness, awareness of what's in my bucket. And then also what is my unique stress signature? How am I going to know when my stress bucket is full? And it's with that increased awareness that we're prepared to then step into step three, and four, which is more the action phase? What are the tangible tools that helped me manage my stress bucket? Now, what are the ways that I need to edit all of the things going into my stress bucket so that I'm carrying a lighter load, getting really clear and taking action on what matters most to me, and letting go of a lot of the other things that we subscribe to simply because we think we should we've been told to etcetera. So we're going to talk more about that in weeks to come. 

And before we go any further, it's important for me to note that everybody has a stress bucket of a various size. We all have very different capacities for stress, based on genetics, our health history, our current environmental settings. So we have stressed buckets that are various sizes, and also things read as stressful to our nervous systems in different ways. For example, going out and kicking a soccer ball around might actually be a really stress releasing activity for you For me, nope, I'm no good at soccer. And just the idea of going out and playing a team sport that I suck at, stresses me out.

The same way that sitting in front of a microphone and recording a podcast, and then putting it out into the world, likely stresses some of you out. But for me, it is just another Monday night. So as you go through each step and stage of this exercise, I really, really want to invite you to leave judgment and comparison at the door, and instead, bring this lens of curiosity to what is unique to your stress, bucket capacity, and load. And that's ultimately what I want to support you on in these conversations is to help you manage your load, increase your capacity and just create a bigger buffer zone to create more spaciousness for the unpredictable parts of this human experience. 

So when we talk about stress, I want to reiterate that stress is not necessarily a problem, it is too much, or it is unmanaged stress. That becomes the problem. Nobody, nobody, nobody, nobody lives a stress free life. The water in your bucket is never going to be zero. Being Human, daily life, it comes with stressors, you're born with stressors, you're born with the stressors that are passed down from your parents, from your grandparents. What was the pregnancy, like for your mom, what was the circumstances or situations of your birth, you've also accumulated stressors, your nervous system has logged stressors with illnesses, injuries you maybe had as a child, or even in adulthood, eating processed foods, your whole life tension in your family surgeries you've had, maybe you played sports and you got a concussion. There was a time at school where maybe you were bullied or experienced unpredictable circumstances or feeling rejection. All of this reads as stress to our nervous system. And those are sometimes what I refer to as your baseline stress level, kind of these historical things that are contributing to the stress level, the load on your nervous system that you carry day in and day out. And then on top of that you layer on your daily stressors of work life home, like finances, job changes, things like maybe you can't stand politics or you compare yourself to others traffic, the mental load of managing school or work or kids schedules, groceries deadlines, there are a lot of things that go into navigating and living in modern day society. And so life comes with stressors, that's fine. It is when there is an imbalance between capacity and load. Or when there's an imbalance between the amount of stressors coming into your stress bucket, and your ability, your coping skills, your ability to manage and to let out some of the stress in your bucket at the same rate. 

And the four steps of the stress bucket exercise are designed to give you leverage over your stress situation through those four steps. Again, assess, audit, manage and edit. And as I present these in order as step one, step two, step three, step four, I do just want to put a little plug in to let you know that these steps are not perfectly linear, you are going to do some auditing, while you're editing and managing. I teach these in this order, because this tends to be the layer in which they make the most sense the layer in which they need some attention. I love that the first two steps really build awareness around stress management, and then the second two steps get you into that action of managing your stress. And the focus of our conversation today is on step one is answering this question of what is in my stress bucket. And the goal of this first step assess is to get everything out of your mind and onto paper where you can see it and decide what comes next. I want you to think about putting a puzzle together. It is really, really hard and frustrating to put together a puzzle. If a lot of the pieces are hidden somewhere around your house, it is way easier to just go get all of the pieces, put it on the table, and then figure out how you want to organize them. That is what this is. It is putting all of the pieces out on the table and then in future steps, figuring out exactly what we want to do with them, how we want to manage them, how we want to edit them, how we want to do things differently, what we want to delete what we want to delegate. 

And when it comes to assessing your stress bucket and looking at all of your stressors, there are a number of different ways that you can categorize or explore your stressors. You might think about them as past or present stressors, physical or emotional stressors, daily or big life stressors, stressors you can control versus the ones that you can't. What you will see in the work And what I'm going to unpack with you in just a moment is that I have organized common stressors under four primary categories, physiological, environmental, relational. And then that fourth category is technological slash, other. And as I unpack each of these categories, I want to invite you to listen, and just mentally reflect on maybe even explore a little on what stressors are in that category for you. What am I saying? Where you're like, yep, yep, yep, not doing enough of that too much of that perfectly. Whatever I need to be doing there. And to reflect on how heavy certain things feel for you versus others. And then later, if you choose to, I want to invite you to sit down with the workbook pages. For this assess step, I've given you a separate page for each one of these categories. And I have also given you a page in the workbook where I list out some common stressors in each category. So don't feel like you need to take notes on this podcast, like I know some of you so diligently do, I've taken some of those notes for you. So you can find that there in this exploration. Especially if you choose to do it on paper, you will see that there's a place not only to explore the elements in each category that are heavy or hard or stressful, but also what it is about each category that feels neutral or helpful things that feel supportive, or help to decrease your overall stress levels. 

So unpacking this first category, which is physiology, this is one of my favorite categories to unpack with clients, because it gets into my particular specialty, which is lifestyle, design, behavior change work, really helping people audit their lives for more regulated living in a way that again, impacts their physiology in a positive way. Because the reality is that we all have some pretty universal physiological hardwiring of things that either support distress, or contribute to stress. And what you'll see listed under this category in the workbook are things like sleep. So inviting you here, again, from a place of curiosity and non judgment. 

What is sleep look like in your life right now? 

Are you getting enough sleep enough being an average of eight hours? 

What's the quality of that sleep? How consistently? 

Are you getting to bed and waking up? 

Looking at movement? Is there too much? Too little? What type? 

How do you feel after you do certain kinds of movement? 

Looking at nutrition, things like hydration, gut health, macro and micronutrients? 

Right, if you are depleted in any way, whether you're depleted, too little movement, you're depleted in too little rest. If you're depleted from the calories that you need to consume to sustain optimal function, maybe you're depleted in your vitamin levels. Those will read as stress to your system. Your nervous system is constantly scanning inside you, as well as outside you and within the relationships in your life to determine stress, threat, or safety. 

You can look at things like water quality, 

are you eating in a way that is healthy and helpful for blood sugar regulation? 

What is your emotional relationship with food? That all will play a role in your physiology? 

We look at breath quality, we help our clients. First learn what optimal breathing is and then assess their current breathing patterns. Is it short, shallow chest breasts? Is it you know, deeper, slow breaths, diaphragmatic breathing? How can we optimize things like your breath, your posture, vagal, toning hormone balances or imbalances, health history. 

And when it comes to this health history, thinking back on things like injuries or illnesses surgeries you've had. And this can be a place where you reflect on trauma you've experienced, whether that's physical trauma, emotional trauma, 

you can look at different medications you've taken and the role that they may be playing or the stress load, they may have put on your nervous system, things like antibiotics. 

And I do want to just put a caveat here that when unpacking your stress bucket, there are a lot of things that get that can get churned up. And so I do want to just reiterate how beneficial it can be to go through some of the steps but definitely this step with a trauma informed practitioner or just in a very intentionally regulated space. Because a lot can come up especially as you unpack or try to see if there's any historical stressors that are currently contributing. Now, I wouldn't even say if what historical stressors are contributing to your current stress load. And so using that As in your workbook, or maybe hitting pause for a moment right now writing some things in your journal to reflect on the specifics of your unique physiological stress load. What do your current habits look like in the areas of sleep movement, nutrition, breath? Are they supportive? Are they stressful? Are there elements of your health history that impact you today? What do those look like? 

And again, as you explore those categories, what feels heavy neutral, helpful, what feels stressful, what feels supportive? Then the second category of common stressors is environmental stressors. So this can be some just basic things in your environment. Are you physically safe? Do you have any obvious health risks? Right? Are you in a place where there's mold or unhealthy air quality, all of that can be stressful for your system? And then observing the different environments that you're a part of most often, this involves a home environment in a work environment. So unpacking the stressors, or the stressors in your home environment? What are all of the decisions that you have to make in your roles at home? The management tasks? Is your home a cluttered place? An organized place? What about your work environment? What's the workload like projects deadlines? I've put finances here, there's going to be a couple things that you see listed under categories that you're like our finances and environmental thing? In some ways, yes, in some ways, no. If you want to reorganize these categories, you absolutely can but financial stressors, that could probably be a big category, in and of itself. Do you have financial security? And if not, okay, to what extent is that adding to your stress load? Looking also expanding out considering part of your environment as being the society that you're a part of global issues at hand? Have you experienced marginalization? Do you feel again, physically safe in your environment? What's your neighborhood feel like? Can you walk down the street without being too worried about it. 

And what I've also put here is time and nature. So that is an environment where if there is a lack of time in nature, that reads is very unnatural to our system, there's so much research out there that shows that things like getting morning sunlight in your eyes, spending time in a green space, walking barefoot, in grass, or in a green space, all has very, very positive outcomes for our mental and physical health. So using that space to reflect on what are some of the environmental stress load pieces that make up the water in your bucket? 

And then the third category is relationships, a relationship with yourself? What are the thoughts or the beliefs that you have about yourself? What's your former self care look like? And then looking at your relationship with others, reflecting on what relationships feel safe and rejuvenating in your life, as well as what relationships feel unsafe or draining? Where do you need some boundaries. 

And I want to pause here to again, remind you to intentionally and proactively make this as guilt free of a space as possible. And I think that this can be especially tough to do right here in the relationship category. And so I just want to remind you that acknowledging that there are or have been relationships in your life that are hard, or people who have intentionally or unintentionally caused you hurt is Oh, okay. You're not saying that they are a good bad, right or wrong person necessarily. You're just acknowledging some of the impact that they have had on you. And then you get to evaluate what if at all, or how that relationship needs to look moving forward in your health and your healing. I love my parents, I think they were incredible parents who did the best they could did far more good than they did harm. And when I unpack my stress bucket, I also include in EU, things that were modeled for me, or ways that I was parented aspects of those relationships that have added to my stress load that have changed the way I view myself or my worldview. And I can say this publicly, because my parents know that I have so much respect for them. And there are aspects of the way that they showed up. Or the way that they parented that added stress load to my bucket things that I'm still even unpacking now in adulthood. And so I think that's where there's a lot of guilt is around like, oh, putting parental some of you are like, no, of course my parents are a huge component of my stress bucket you feel no guilt at all. Others of you are like, Oh, wait, what? 

And another place that guilt often comes up for our clients here is acknowledging how much stress they feel about their spouse or their kids, or stay at home parents about home tasks. I just want you to know that you are not alone if you feel like your kids are the most stressful part of your life, and that doesn't make you a bad parent, it doesn't mean that you love your kids any less. What it likely means is that you are a parent who needs more support, your stress bucket is full. And maybe there's even an element of some inner child healing that you need to do, which for so many of you is exactly why you're here listening to a podcast like this, and I am so, so proud of you. 

So anyways, I have digressed. But just please be so gentle with yourself. As you unpack this stress bucket other things I've put in this category of relationships are do you have an overall sense of belonging? What does your social engagement look like? What activities or plans do you have on the calendar? Do you have a sense of purpose or contribution societally, or relationally? What are your hobbies? So again, using that place, or just this time to hit pause and reflect on what is contributing to your stress load relationally. 

And then that fourth and final category is technology, slash other technology, especially phone and computer use has become such such such a moment by moment player in our lives. And there will be whole episodes in the future on the impacts of technology and social media and the what it does to your eyes, and what it does your brain, etc, dopamine, all of it. But right now, I just want you to unpack and explore the types of tech or media that you're consuming on a regular basis. The time that you're spending with those various types is it TV shows, movies, video games, social media other and just really reflecting on how do I feel during or after consumption. And the other here could be just anything. And everything else that's unique to you big life changes, other mental load items, emotional triggers, I want you to have a space to unpack your unique stress load. 

And as you do this exercise, not everything or even every category may resonate or relate to that's okay. And this exercise is going to look and feel different for everybody. In fact, in preparing for this series, I went back and I rewatched a workshop that I led inside my rise membership a few months ago, where we did this and I held space for a lot of our members to unpack their stress bucket in a co regulated container. And then we came into conversation after and I it was so interesting, how different this experience was, and the different things that stood out or felt heavy for the members of our community. And if you happen to join rise, at some point in the next few weeks or while doing this work, the replay for that workshop is in the membership and I think could be a great supplementary resource for unpacking your stress bucket. 

Now what you'll see as the last page for this assessment section of the workbook is a list of six deeper assessment questions. But that's it. This is what I have for you today. My invitation over this next week is for you to really spend some time thinking about what is in your stress bucket. Maybe it's sitting down with those worksheets and doing a little bit of a deeper, more tangible unpacking again, bringing all of these pieces to the puzzle on the table. If you live a life that feels more stressed than not, this is an exercise that could be wildly beneficial for you.

Bringing it all together, as always with three takeaways from our conversation today. Number one, just a quick summary. The stress bucket exercise is a measure of stress capacity or threshold. You are the bucket. Your stressors are the water. And our goal is to create as big of a buffer zone as possible by editing what goes into our bucket and getting really really good at poking some holes in that bucket and managing our stress levels in our body. More on that soon. When your bucket stays too full, for too long, when it begins to overflow, this is when you become symptomatic you experience things like chronic pain, digestive issues, anxiety, depression, trouble sleeping, and the four steps of this exercise, assess, audit, manage and edit are here to help you grow that buffer zone to help you bring down your stressors and dial up your coping strategies, your stress management skills. 

Number two, you can't change anything that you are not aware of this first step of assessing what's in your stress bucket puts you in a position to look at all of those individual stressors down the road with curiosity. And like I said, we're going to talk so much more about what you can do With this new awareness in the next few steps, 

and number three is an invitation to download the workbook and assess your current stressors. It can be so so, so beneficial. Like I said, to do this alongside a trauma trained practitioner, there's a lot that can get turned up and does with this exercise. And as always, this is also something I love to support you on inside rise, which is my mental health membership and nervous system healing space. 

So that's its friends, we have finished part one of our four part stress bucket series, I invite you to just move through your week, trying to bring more awareness to what is in your stress bucket. And I will see you next time for part two. 

Thanks for listening to another episode of The regulate and rewire podcast. If you enjoyed what you heard today, please subscribe and leave a five star review to help us get these powerful tools out to even more people who need them. And if you yourself are looking for more personalized support and applying what you've learned today, consider joining me inside rise my monthly mental health membership and nervous system healing space or apply for our one on one anxiety and depression coaching program restore. I've shared a link for more information to both in the show notes. Again, thanks so much for being here. And I'll see you next time.

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