The digital age has clear benefits for society: social media connects us, technology allows for WFH, and increased content and interaction surrounding mental health means people are less afraid to reach out and ask for help when they need it most.
But some of these perks inevitably have a downside. Social media pressures can have a detrimental effects on our wellbeing, advancements in technology are beginning to adversely affect the job market, and mental ill-health is rising because of the constant pressures we are experiencing from our many devices.
It’s no wonder then that our stress container is likely to be nearly full, if not overflowing.
But what is our stress container? And how can we learn better ways to help manage it in the face of so much stress? We explain all below.
What is stress?
Firstly it’s important to define what we mean by stress. When we talk about stress, what we’re really referring to is our body’s natural response to threat. In years gone by, that threat could present as a predator, and our stress response would enable us to quickly focus so that we could get away safely.
In the modern age, stress now takes the form of a wide range of societal, environmental, financial and ecological pressures. We could be stressed from a work project, from negative comments you’ve had online, personal issues like friends, family or relationships, or global issues like a pandemic.
However, our body’s response to stress has not changed: it still perceives what is stressing us as a threat, and so it still ramps up our natural responses like releasing stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol, which switch the body into emergency mode where the heart beats faster, muscles tighten, blood pressure rises and our breath quickens.
Related reading: Check the early warning signs of mental ill-health here.
While a little bit of stress can actually be helpful by sharpening our senses and motivating us, in the long term, this response can pose significant health problems. Prolonged stress that is either intense or frequent can trigger mental and physical health issues including anxiety, depression, strokes or heart attacks.
Thankfully, it is possible to reduce our stress levels and therefore benefit our overall mental and physical wellbeing by using some stress management resources. One of which is learning about and managing our very own stress container.
What is the stress container?
The stress container is a model which determines a person’s vulnerability to stress, and helps in visualising and understanding stress and stressors in order to better manage our stress levels.
The level of a person’s container depends on their vulnerability to stress. For example, someone who isn’t as vulnerable to experiencing stress is likely to have a bigger container, whilst someone who is overly sensitive to stress will likely have a smaller container. External circumstances, such as experiencing a difficult childhood or traumatic events all have impacts on the size of a person’s vulnerability and their container.
How can we measure our stress containers?
The stress container model is primarily designed so that we can all evaluate how much stress we’ll be able to deal with.
If we know that we have adverse reactions to stress, then we’ll know that our containers are small and need more management which helps us to understand what to fill it with.
For example, sometimes it can be very easy to fill our containers with things out of our control, such as world events like a global pandemic. But this is where visualising our container can help: If we know that event is out of our control, we can prevent the stressor from entering our container, which then prevents the container from becoming full and gives us more room to be able to handle other stressors within our control, improving our mental wellbeing.
Measuring our container is all about measuring our reactions to the things that bring us stress. If the stressor is somehow in our control, we can place it in the container, and if it’s not in our control, we can let it go.
How can we manage our stress containers?
Once we know how to measure and react to the things that bring us stress, the next step is to manage the stressors in our containers. Just filling the container with controllable stresses isn’t enough: Once they’re in there we need to know how to manage them.
Part of that management simply involves opening the tap. Opening the taps on our stress containers can help us to release stressors by draining the bottom, helping to keep its level manageable and leaving us with much more mental space.
The taps on our stress containers can be opened by using helpful mental wellbeing techniques. Techniques could include:
- Getting 20 minutes or more fresh air a day
- Spending time enjoying a hobby or interest
- Talking to friends and family
- Breathing exercises
- Participating in meditation
Anything that relaxes us, uplifts us or helps us to feel connected and positive is a way of opening the tap, reducing stress, and releasing some of the pressure.
As well as knowing how to helpfully manage stress, it’s just as important to know how to unhelpfully manage it too.
Sometimes we are all guilty of turning to unhelpful coping mechanisms which instead of releasing stress, bottle it up and contribute to the overflow of our containers.
Unhelpful methods look like:
- Bottling up feelings or emotions
- Working excessively long hours
- Undertaking vigorous and punishing activities or exercise
- Becoming reliant on stimulants such as alcohol, caffeine or drugs
Avoid using unhelpful methods as you will only end up masking one problem with another, and you’ll contribute to the overflow of your container. Instead make time for hobbies, fresh air and connection with people or the world around you.
Looking for more ways to maintain positive mental health? Click here to read our best advice.
At a time like this when it feels like our stress is being caused by so many factors out of our control, it’s even more vital to make time for the things we love and enjoy so that we can proactively manage and measure our stress containers.
As we continue through these challenging times, remember that you aren’t alone as you navigate and deal with all of this. Mental Health First Aid Training can help equip everyone to look after the wellbeing of themselves and their colleagues by equipping people with the skills and training they need. Find out more here.