Understanding Your Bucket of Stress
Last week, a counselor gave me a different way of looking at stress in my life. Often when we hear about ‘refilling our buckets’, it’s about refilling and refueling ourselves with rest, energy, calm, and anything else that’s restorative.
But if you look at the bucket instead as your container of stress, something becomes very clear. When stress pours in, if the bucket doesn’t empty somehow, it fills up fast. When it’s very near the top, any little stress is going to send it quite literally right over the edge.
One of the major works of our parenting lives – and every other aspect of our lives – is to find ways to bail stress out of that bucket. Sure, some of us have developed very spacious buckets, but no matter what we believe about ourselves and our ability to manage, our buckets are still always limited and finite. The work of getting stress out of that bucket isn’t optional. And most of us live right at the brink of overflowing nearly all the time.
What Happens When You Don’t Deal With Your Stress
I can hear most everyone saying something to the effect of, “That’s great, but it’s not like I can do anything about it. I don’t have time to deal with it.” I say it, too.
The truth is that you’re going to have to deal with it eventually. You won’t have a choice. You’ll have regular breakdowns, day after day will be miserable, and your health and emotional state will decline badly. It will happen to you, if it hasn’t already, unless you do something about it. Trust me.
Listen. I’m obviously realistic about this. My life is chaotic, to put it mildly. So is yours. Some days I manage the stress much better than others. I’ve battled serious depression and anxiety and a few panic attacks in recent months and years. I self-medicate with sweets and coffee. I have a disabling medical issue.
But what I’ve learned about the personal work of dealing with stress has come from the intense desire to not be at the mercy of the chaotic forces in our lives anymore. Foremost, it’s been about my survival. Too much has been going on in recent times, and I knew if I didn’t find better ways to cope and get stress out of my bucket, I was in a world of trouble.
Decide You Are Worth It
I’m not here to blow simplistic solutions and sunshine up your shorts. I just want you to make one decision right now. Decide that you are worth it. Decide that you, your children, and your family are worth it. Decide that it’s worth investing some time and resources in yourself to start clearing things out of your stress bucket, even if it’s only a little bit. Everything you do toward that end will help.
If you are considering dismissing this whole thing at this point, I want you to remember one thing. Investing in yourself is the one true way you can build up the short and long-term resource your child needs most – you.
Where to Start – Reclaim Your Time First
The specifics of how to actually do this will vary from person to person based on your needs, what kinds of stresses are in your life, what actually is stress relief for you, and what kind of time you can carve out.
Here are at least the things I would start with:
- Ruthlessly say no to everything people ask you to do that isn’t absolutely critical to life. Reclaim your time for you. You can’t put others above your health and the health of your family.
- Ruthlessly say no to things you think you should do but that aren’t really that essential. Essential is like someone will take away your home or someone’s health is in immediate danger if you don’t do them. Everything else is negotiable.
- Use the time your kids are in school (if applicable) wisely and to your full advantage. Take care of yourself first, and then take care of your errands. Take time to really drink your coffee, enjoy some breakfast, meditate or pray, read a chapter of a book, take a nap, go for a walk outside, listen to the noises of nature, anything that nurtures you. Always do this first. Empty some of your stress bucket first.
- Stop watching the news. This just sucks life from your soul. Ideally, stop watching as much TV as possible. Convert this time into additional sleep or stress-relieving activities at night or during the day.
- Connect with other autism parents, online or in person, and become a part of communities of support.
Investing Money and Time in Yourself
We also get sucked into marketing and advertisements promising that such-and-such product will make us feel better. This is rarely true. But there’s absolutely no sin in occasionally treating yourself to something that is relaxing or fun.
Just make every dollar count as an investment in your life as a parent and in your family. Relieving and working through stress is a great investment. Paying someone to talk through challenges you are struggling with can be a fantastic investment. Buying books or music that nurture you are also wonderful investments. Joining a gym or exercise program like a yoga class is an investment in both body and soul. Sacrifice things you spend money on that don’t really help you for things that will.
Start Small, Start Now
You obviously can’t do all these things, but most of us either don’t do any or just do one or two of them in some half-assed way. Pick two or three, start small, invest in yourself first every day, and I promise you’ll see changes.
Maybe you think you are ‘too far gone.’ You’re wrong. You can always take life-changing steps. You are worth it. Please take the first steps today in investing in yourself.
The truth is, no one is going to come rescue you and your child. No one is going to wave a magic wand and fix all the challenges and stresses in your life. It’s up to you to do this. Don’t wait.