To mark Stress Awareness Month throughout April, a number of our members will be sharing their wisdom and experiences of stress, including the causes and strategies to deal with it.

In the first of our series Catherine Hart, Partner at Digby Brown, explains how using the stress bucket metaphor has helped her manage it.

I’m sure I’m not alone in feeling at times that stress is an ever-present aspect of life. The source of the stress may vary but the effect is the same in having a negative impact on my mental wellbeing.

Everyone feels stress at some time and we all react differently to the challenges of life – a situation that one person finds stressful, another may handle without difficulty. There are sources of stress that we have no control over. I think that most legal professionals would say that one source of stress is our job, which often involves tight timescales and deadlines as well as many competing demands. 

Over the past few years I've been consciously trying to manage my stress levels and, in doing so, I’ve learned more about the longer term effects of stress on our health. At its most basic stress is the body’s survival response, allowing us to react quickly to life-threatening situations. Most of us will have heard of the "fight or flight" response that sets in motion a series of changes in our body and brain to help us fight off the threat or escape to safety. Extremely useful when humans faced the regular prospect of bumping into a hungry sabre-tooth tiger but, unfortunately, our body can’t distinguish between life threatening situations and every day stressors such as pressure at work.  

So the sorts of changes that allowed our ancestors to escape the jaws of predatory animals occur when we react to other events that we find stressful – and feeling stressed for much of the time can lead to long-term impacts on our physical and mental health, which is why it’s important to find ways to manage our stress levels.

I found the stress bucket metaphor helpful in thinking about how to try to control the build-up of stress. The idea is that we each have a bucket – everyone’s bucket is a different size, as some of us can manage more stress that others. As you experience stress, this goes into the stress bucket and, if we want to stop this from overflowing, we need to find ways to empty the bucket.

I’ve tried a number of things and many of them are pretty simple. Something as straightforward as taking a few long, deep breaths when I recognise stressful feelings building up can be enough to help. I've also recognised that spending time in nature – a walk in the park or an hour in the garden – definitely helps me.

Other suggestions take a bit of perseverance, such as practising yoga or mindfulness, but many people find that regular practice pays off and these activities can have long-term positive effects.

Recently I've had a course of hypnotherapy and found this helpful. I promise this doesn’t bear any relation to the hypnosis acts often portrayed in films and on TV! In my experience it involves relaxation and then being guided through a meditation during which the therapist suggests taking a different approach to dealing with stressful situations.

With April being Stress Awareness Month, why not find something that works for you and have a go at emptying your own stress bucket!

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