It is a simple, elegant and smart metaphor that Brabban and Turkington introduced in 2002 to illustrate the concept of stress management: Imagine you have a bucket you carry around with you which gradually fills up when you experience different types of stress.
The size of the bucket varies from person to person and can change on a day to day basis. Some days you might feel overwhelmed by everything but on other days you may feel you have enough capacity to cope. If you are experiencing a high amount of stress, the bucket will soon fill up.
Alas - we can install taps at the base of the bucket, to relieve some of the water pressure, and prevent overflowing. The tap is a way to let some of the water out in a measured way so we can continue to manage even when the water pressure is high.
While the 'water input' is a metaphor for existing and added stress in life, the taps symbolise stress release mechanisms – the activities which help to relieve accumulated stress.
It is important to recognise our stress levels, and make sure that the stress input does not exceed the stress output - as we may then feel overwhelmed and unable to cope, although we could probably manage it better if we had reacted sooner when the pressure was starting to build.
There are various ways to relieve stress that are simple to do. Some of the more common methods may include:
Rest and relaxation
Doing something we value on a personal level and enjoy, such as reading or going for a walk in the park
Talking with people we feel close to.
Some unhelpful coping strategies may feel helpful initially to relieve stress - but end up making things worse as they add more stress in the longer term.
This, for example, may include buying things we cannot afford, staying longer at work to distract from other stressors, drinking or smoking heavily to cope with the stress, etc.
Naturally, every individual is different and unique, so it can be very valuable to take some time to consider what is filling up your stress bucket, and to recognise what would help you to relieve some of the stress.