Drain Your Bucket: How to Cope with Work-Related StressThat’s a wrap folks!

  • Labor Day is over
  • Kids are back in school
  • The days are getting shorter

The often slower professional pace of summer is about to get the boot as we welcome in what is often the busiest time of the year for PR pros.

Which also means we turn up the work-related stress dial a couple of notches.

And that’s OK. All stress is not bad stress.

What is Work-Related Stress?

Being successful and having a full client load looking to you for support is definitely a positive, but it’s still stress.

Knocking a huge campaign out of the ball park is awesome, but it’s still stress.

A new job and a promotion is super exciting, and yet…it’s still work-related stress.

The same holds true for your personal life.

Sure bills, arguments with your spouse or significant other, and kids having problems at school are all things we acknowledge as stressful situations.

But so are situations we enjoy and strive for, such as marriage, social obligations, and even a vacation.

The fact is stress is part of our lives and we really wouldn’t want it not to be.

From a physiological perspective, we need stress to survive.

We also need stress to motivate us and move us forward.

The secret, whether it be work-related stress or life-related stress, is being aware of it and managing it effectively.

How Full is Your Bucket?

I’m not sure where, but several years ago I read (or someone told me, I really don’t remember, so apologies to anyone I’m not giving credit to) about the bucket analogy for stress.

This single way to look at stress has changed the way I deal with it and also understand my reactions to it.

Imagine your life like an empty bucket.

The daily stressors in your life are like water droplets. They fill up your bucket. Remember these are good things, as well as bad….it doesn’t matter, every stressor fill your bucket.

So think about:

  • Physical stress: Exercise, activity, stress on joints/muscles/tendons
  • Environmental stress: Traffic, bad air, lines at stores, the DMV
  • Emotional stress
  • Psychological stress
  • Work-related stress: Deadlines, interpersonal, motivational, self-inflicted
  • Health-related stress: Illness, allergies

Is the stress acute, episodic, or chronic? All of these things fill your bucket at different levels.

Your bucket fills every day with the good and bad stressors that make up your life.

That’s life. It’s called being an adult. It’s not a “condition,” it’s what makes life great.

When it’s a problem is when your bucket constantly overflows.

You keep adding droplets (or life adds them for you) and you do nothing to remove any….until BOOM, your bucket is overflowing and you can’t deal with anything.

You break down in tears at the simplest thing. You get angry over something silly. You miss a really important detail on a client project.

These are all signs your bucket is overflowing and you need to drain it.

Be Aware of Your Bucket

So how do you keep your bucket from overflowing?

You become very aware of what fills it and what empties it so you can make choices accordingly.

Liz Reusswig started an interesting discussion on work/life balance or work/life integration last week.

I argued that we miss the point when we discuss work/life balance under the way it’s defined today.

But if you think of it in terms of the bucket analogy it takes on an entirely new meaning.

You have to balance the stressors in your life—good and bad.

When you:

  • Work 24/7;
  • Don’t take vacations;
  • Have an always on work-mode; or
  • Work responsively vs. strategically and proactively (responding to every bing, beep, and notification the moment it comes in).

All these things fill your bucket with no drain.

PR is a stressful career.

Then you add to it an extra crazy work schedule, a big push to get a proposal finished, or a focused business development effort…..and you overflow.

Nothing is successful because you have no room in your bucket anymore.

Is there something on your to-do list you just can’t ever get done?

Something you know you need to do, but can’t make happen, such as business development?

(Which most of you told us you struggle to have time for in our 2017 State of the Independent PR Pro Industry Report.)

It’s not that you don’t have time.

It might not even be that you don’t make it a priority.

It’s that you don’t accommodate for the room in your bucket, so it falls through the cracks.

You simply can’t do anymore or you’ll overflow and everything will take a hit.

So step one is be aware of your bucket.

What Fills Your Bucket?

For the next week, as you go through the day, take note of all the things that add to your bucket in every part of your life.

  • Your commute.
  • The barista who’s constantly in a bad mood.
  • Your accountant nagging you to finish up your invoicing.
  • An over-packed meeting schedule. 
  • A vendor who isn’t following through on their obligations.
  • A troubled team member or a client which needs some extra support.

Write them down.

This process will actively start to make you more aware of what fills up your bucket.

Draining Your Work-Related Stress Bucket

So now that you know what fills it up, you need to understand and accept what empties it.

The very important thing to remember here is you are not special, you are not immune.

You aren’t the only person in the world who doesn’t need a vacation, or actually does best when they are on and responsive 24/7.

It’s science. You’re wrong.

Same goes with sleep, another common work-related stress bucket emptier.

You need sleep.

It makes you better, and helps you excel at everything you do during your waking hours.

Ironically, the moment you think you don’t have time for sleep or to take a vacation, is the moment you probably need it the most.

You will find you come back MUCH more efficient, creative, and focused.

You create time from taking time away because you improve how much you can do in the time you do work.

Empty your bucket to accommodate greater power output.

And while things such as vacation, sleep, diet, exercise, time in nature, meditation, and quality relationships are all universal bucket relievers….how they work for you is individual.

So that’s your task.

Figure out and create a process for yourself when you know your bucket is getting full.

Beware of Major Bucket Fillers

In general, life will be a give and take of prioritizing what you allow to fill your bucket at any given time.

It’s an agile process based on your life stage, environment, opportunities, and choices.

However, there are a few bucket fillers which will overflow you quickly.

This means you need to be prepared and realign priorities as you re-balance.

These are things such as:

  • Illness: Everything from the common cold and allergies, to more serious situations.
  • Major life change: Good and bad. Think marriage, kids, moving, divorce, job change, or promotion.
  • Environmental stressors: For example, the people of Houston have their buckets overflowing (literally and figuratively) and will for a while to come.

These things will fill your bucket quickly.

This doesn’t mean you just break down, stop everything, and cry in a corner.

You can handle more than you think.

But it does mean you remove some of the other little, less important things and take the time to prioritize bucket emptiers.

What Does this Mean for PR Pros?

Now until the end of the year is often the busiest, most stressful time for PR pros.

We have new year planning, a frenzied business development push, and end of year wrap-up work for ourselves and our clients.

To be successful and start the new year off on the right foot, we need to be highly aware of what we put in our bucket and how we balance.

Otherwise, all of our efforts will fall flat.

When we created the PR Dream Team it was in response to the bucket-fillers we heard PR pros complain about again and again.

The reasons they were lonely and frustrated, and the resources and support they wish they had in their careers.

We’d love to have you join us.

But even if the PR Dream Team isn’t right for you, you need to find something that is.

Make your list, figure out your needs, and put around you the support you need to be successful.

When you are frustrated and your bucket is constantly overflowing, it’s easy to start to think that’s just the way it has to be. It isn’t.

You have a choice.

So let’s head into this new season together and finish this year off strong.

Laura Petrolino

Laura Petrolino is chief marketing officer for Spin Sucks, an integrated marketing communications firm that provides strategic counsel and professional development for in-house and agency communications teams. She is a weekly contributor for their award-winning blog of the same name. Spin Sucks. Join the Spin Sucks   community.

View all posts by Laura Petrolino