The stress vulnerability bucket is a way to explain why some people experience anxiety, depression, paranoia or a psychotic episode. I heard this illustration explained at a conference more than 10 years ago and I find that it is still the easiest way to explain how mental illness affects people
Think of each person’s ability to handle stress as a bucket with holes in the bottom. Some people from stable home backgrounds with relaxed, cheerful temperaments might have a large bucket to handle stress while others who are high-strung or perhaps wounded from child abuse or unstable home life as children might have a smaller bucket.
Now, imagine stress as water filling up the bucket. If a lot of water comes into the bucket, in other words, if a person experiences a great deal of stress, then the bucket can overflow. People with big buckets, or a low-level of vulnerability, can cope with more stress, and people with small buckets can cope with less stress. Loads of things can stress us all out, like relationship problems, money worries or family problems.
If you manage stress by using helpful ways of coping, then this gets rid of the stress from the bucket. This is like punching holes in the bottom of the bucket. Helpful coping is things like talking through your problems with someone or getting a good nights sleep, going for a walk, taking a long, hot bath to relax your muscles and best of all is prayer, the kind that leads you into the peace of God.
If you cope by doing unhelpful things, then that could make the stress worse. This is like blocking the holes in your bucket. Unhelpful ways of coping are things like taking drugs, drinking too much alcohol, or keeping your problems to yourself.
Really, it is not important if your bucket is large or small . The key to living a balanced, ‘sane’ life is to keep the holes in the bottom of the bucket open so stress can flow out, Sometimes that means taking medication, especially if you need it to sleep. Some people need eyeglasses to read, diabetics need insulin and some people need help with their serotonin levels..no guilt, no condemnation.