Stress and the coffee cup

Today was therapy, which meant another metaphor from Dr. H.  And--it really must be mentioned--another bonding session with her Keurig.

We got talking about stress, and she encouraged me to visualize my stress as a liquid filling a cup.  Some of her other patients like to imagine a rain gauge.  Others prefer teacups.  It's not so much the amount of stress (rain, tea, whatever) that causes a mess.  It's when your coping strategies (cup, etc) aren't large enough to hold all the stress.

I told Dr. H that my stress coping skills were like a cup, all right, but it's a coffee cup. {{I would never join the Tea Party for any number of ideological reasons, but I also seriously object to their choice of beverages. Latte Party, here I come!}}  This is especially interesting because I have the really bad habit of overfilling my coffee cup.  For some reason, despite decades of practice and thousands of cups poured, I always underestimate how much room I need to leave for milk.  To add the right amount of milk, I usually end up filling the stupid cup to the brim.  It makes transferring the cup to the microwave or to my mouth a somewhat difficult task.  Coffee stains are inevitable.

Most of the time, if I'm careful, the coffee doesn't spill much.  Of course, I can't just walk into the next room with my coffee cup. I have to carry it ever so carefully so that the coffee doesn't slosh around too much.  It's probably some of the closest I come to living on the edge.  It takes effort and concentration, but usually I manage just fine.

So it goes with stress.  Ideally, we'd have more ways of coping with stress than we do stress.  We don't need a lot more--an espresso shot in a Trenta Starbucks cup is a bit of overkill--but we also need to be able to feel that we have a handle on things.  That the stress isn't going to slosh over with one careless flick of the wrist.  I generally tend to keep my stress cup filled to the brim.  Major incidents are rare enough, but that filled-to-the-brim stress makes life much harder than it really needs to be.

Basically, you have two choices when there's a mismatch in how much stress/coffee is in your life and the size of your mug.  What I talked about with Dr. H was that you can either try and figure out how to decrease the amount of coffee in your cup, or you can find a bigger cup.  This means that you need to figure out how to decrease stress and/or increase coping skills.

The next two days are going to be Tip Day posts--the first on tips to decrease stress, and the second on how to increase coping skills.


Abby said...

I like the metaphor. Looking forward to the next couple days. I've been realizing I need a brush up on my coping with stress techniques.

Samantha C. said...

oh wow....I used to use the same metaphor, just for a frustration/anger disorder (they never did find a name for it). That it felt like every day, a little bit more water was going into the cup, and I needed to be able to vent - to my friends, to my therapist, whatever - to tip the cup over and let that day's frustration out. If I didn't, it built up and one day something spilled over the edge.

Dawn said...

bring it on! I can definitely use both!

Jessi said...

at the moment i don't think i can be decrease the coffee, so i need to get a really big giant cup.... just for a little while, when this crisis is over!

love your sharing of metaphors with us!

Our Lily said...

Oh wow. Your therapist is fantastic.
This reminds me of something mine once said to me in relation to the guilt i carry around. I love when metaphors are used because they make such complicated things suddenly seem so much simpler!

hm said...

Oh, hell yes. Bring on those tips. I've been sliding back into old patterns this past week to cope and MY therapist just nicely told me to either start walking back in the other direction or "take a break" from therapy. I don't have a freaking clue how I'm going to handle the stress that will inevitably crash down on me when I start putting food back into my mouth, which I AM going to do- I absolutely am going to, as you have said, "Do the next right thing" today. Will be looking forward to your tips for freaking sure.

HikerRD said...

Maybe adding some biscotti to soak up the excess would help?

Anonymous said...

I think I have a tendency to keep my coffee cup filled to the brim, no matter what size it is. As in, if the stress decreases, I'll find something to replace it. There's never any room for relaxing!

So that's what I'm doing. Trying to figure out ways to just deal with me being myself with no "to-do" list that MUST be accomplished.

Latte Party... If it includes addressing excellent whole person healthcare and great funding for research, I'm in.

And this morning, I drove to therapy thinking to myself "It would be awesome if there was a coffee place in the building... Even better in the office!!" Sigh. Wish was not granted. ;)

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I'm a science writer, a jewelry design artist, a bookworm, a complete geek, and mom to a wonderful kitty. I am also recovering from a decade-plus battle with anorexia nervosa. I believe that complete recovery is possible, and that the first step along that path is full nutrition.

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