With our wellbeing month underway, Jen Cromar shares an interesting wellbeing technique she has learned through her experience as a professional counsellor…
Did you know that April is National Stress Awareness Month, in the mental health calendar? So I decided to tell you all about ‘stress tanks’, a very helpful lesson I came across whilst in counselling training, one lesson that I use with clients, and myself, with great success.
What is a stress tank, I hear you ask! A stress tank is a metaphor for stress in your body. A visual metaphor may help your brain to understand the concept of stress.
I googled “stress tank” whilst writing this to find out where the idea came from. All that came up was “sensory deprivation tanks” (which sound very stressful), pictures of machine tanks or floatation tanks. So then I tried “stress bucket”. Success! It is developed from an idea by Brabban and Turkington (2002).
Imagine your body has a tank, or bucket, inside it. Or, imagine your whole body is a tank in itself… (not a fighting tank!), or that you are carrying a bucket.
All the stress that we experience from life – like work, money, relationships, homes, cars, the government, health etc – is like water constantly being poured into this tank/bucket.
Imagine stress filling up the tank. Some stress can be good; it helps to fire up our system and drive us. But too much stress means that the tank gets dangerously close to maximum capacity, warning lights start flashing saying “system overload”. As stress is continually pouring in, the tank overflows. Your system, your body, your nervous system start to overflow. It cannot take any more stress without a system breakdown, ie: exploding in anger, anxiety, exhaustion, burnout.
Fitting a tap
We have to learn to fit an outlet tap on the side of our tank so that, as the stress constantly goes in, it is also constantly running out.
What I mean by an outlet tap is a method of releasing stress. This could be a sport like running, yoga or walking. It could be a meditation activity where you are still and choosing peace. It could be prayer, where you hand things over to the universe (“let go let God”). It could be talking to a friend or a therapist. It could be singing, painting, writing, gardening or baking. It could be just having a cup of tea, taking a break, tuning in to the moment or looking at the sky.
Some people may have to fit two outlet taps if they have major stress coming into their life. Basically, this means you put even more focus on de-stressing.
What works for one person may not work for another, it is very personal. Finding your outlet is an example of finding your ability to self regulate.
Dangerous stress busters
We have to be careful to not do too much of an activity that seems like it is helping us destress, but it is actually, little by little, coming out of the outlet pipe and going straight back into our stress tank. By this I generally mean activities I call consumptions… shopping, gaming, smoking, eating, drinking, drugs… all cause the illusion of de-stressing and they can work really well. But consumption can become a compulsion and can be addictive.
Self awareness is always important. Ask yourself: what happens when you feel stressed? For me, my system is overloaded, I can come out in hives, but before that I notice little itches on my skin, and even before that my breathing goes shallow. Before that, I feel crowded in my head.
Get awareness of what your outlet tap is. What helps? What does not help and ultimately adds to your stress?
Plus, if you notice that things causing you stress are too much, like a relationship that is bringing more upset than joy, like a job that you utterly dread going to, like a car that is draining all your finances, you may have to have a good think about whether it is worth continuing to have these things in your life.
So there you have it, some info about stress tanks. Now, take time to reflect on managing your own stress tank.
- Get a piece of paper and draw a tank or a bucket.
- What stress is going in to your tank? Put arrows at the top of what is going in to your tank.
- Then, add an outlet tap. What coping strategies are you already using? Are the coping strategies helpful? Or it is an illusion that they are helpful and they are actually adding to the stress levels you are trying to reduce? If so, draw an arrow straight back from the outlet into the top of the stress tank. Make it your self-care to do new, healthy activities.
Share your self-care tips with other members in the comments below!