My Ground Truth

Psychologist | Military-Grade Mindfulness Trainer & Coach | Carsten J. Grimm

Understanding & Maintaining Your Mental Health & Wellbeing: Part II

In part one of this series on Understanding & Maintaining Your Mental Health I outlined one way to think about our mental health and wellbeing - the continuum model. This helps us understand how our wellbeing isn’t permanently fixed, in fact it can vary greatly depending on what’s going on in our lives. In this second part we’re going to look at a way of thinking about keeping ourselves “topped up” via the bucket model of stress and resilience.

Part 2: The Bucket Model of Stress and Resilience

The best way to ensure we recover well and stay in the green zone is to have lots of healthy wellbeing habits. Why habits? Because when we have good routines and habits we just don’t need to expend a whole lot of willpower to get the helpful behaviours done. We just do them, because they’re habits. I have written about the importance of habits on my blog and you can check that out for more info, tips and links.

The bucket model suggests that we all have a personal portfolio of habits that top up our resilience tanks. We all have a container of resources that are continually being drained away by - you guessed it - stress. Normal everyday life! Day to day grind, working with difficult people (you know who they are), eating poor quality food, maybe not sleeping that well. And all these sources of stress are holes in our buckets. So we can either plug the holes, or pour more of the good stuff in the top. One thing to note with this model is that we will never be able to plug all the holes. Never. That’s just the deal, if we’re alive, we’re experiencing demands on our resources and stress. So we all need enough wellbeing habits to ensure we can recover sufficiently and stay in the green zone:

The bucket model of stress and resilience  

The bucket model of stress and resilience  

We all have physical resources, mental resources, social resources, and spiritual resources. Let’s take a quick look at each area.

Physical resources. This is the most obvious area, getting the basics right. Eating well, sleeping well, and getting enough exercise. If this isn’t going right it can often feel like our mental health is going off the rails, when actually a feed of greens, a workout and a good night’s sleep might be half of the battle won right there. 

Mental resources. Often this isn’t quite as well understood. But do we have mental habits that make us a ‘negative nancy’ or do we tend to find the positive in any situation? Are we a ‘glass half empty’ kind of person or do we count our blessings and continuously cultivate feelings of gratitude in our lives? Are we slaves to our smartphones making us attention-distracted and dissatisfied, or do we have habits that help us focus our attention so we can find some peace and quiet from the constant noise of our own churning thoughts? There are lots and lots of techniques in the ‘mental skills’ area that if we practice, and start getting good at them, we can have a powerful toolbox of resources to help us top up our resilience tanks. 

Social resources. Relationships have been described as the ‘ace in the deck’ of wellbeing. In positive psychology research the happiest people are consistently found to be the one’s with the best quality relationships. So, are we getting enough time with the people in our lives that matter the most? And as a shout-out to all my introvert peeps: Getting your social resource needs met also means ensuring we get enough alone-time. When I’m around people all day what I need most to bring me back into balance is to sit in a room quietly by myself and to not talk to anyone. Next day I’ll be ready to go again.  

Spiritual resources. Not everyone connects with this category on the surface, but there will be some meaning in our lives that we feel is important to us. Family, kids, time spent out in nature, writing, helping others, whatever it is. Are we connecting with a place inside ourselves that makes us feel like this is all worth it? How do we tap into meaning and purpose?

And those are the basics of understanding mental health and wellbeing. 

To recap. We want to recognise where we are on the mental health continuum, so we can intervene early. The longer we leave it, the longer it takes to get back into the green zone. Second, we all have a wellbeing bank account, or gas tank, or bucket of resources. So maybe we would be wise to do a stocktake - how are our habits in each key area? Are we getting pulled along by good wellbeing habits each day and each week, or are our resilience resources slowly being leaked away by the day-to-day stresses in our lives without any real way of topping ourselves back up?

That’s it.  

In my view, a lot of very complicated and confusing psychology can get condensed right down in to one simple idea:

What you practice you get good at. 

If we practice the good stuff, then good stuff will start showing up in our lives.