The cup theory says that your ability to handle stress is like a cup. As things occur during the day, good and bad, stress fills your cup. When your cup fills and you keep adding things, your cup overflows. That’s when you melt down.
When you start the day already overwhelmed and worried, or in pain, or depressed, or otherwise stressed, then your cup starts out partly filled. You can handle less. Even if it’s good things, or things that you normally can handle without too much difficulty, if your cup is full, you can’t handle it today.
That’s why there are some days where you can’t make yourself do one more thing, even if it’s something that would only take five minutes. That’s why there are days where you have to hide away so that you don’t snap at people for laughing too loud. Have you ever felt out of control and it scared you? This might be why.
Adding new things to your schedule can be difficult on stressful days. On those days, you may be struggling to complete your normal schedule. That’s okay. Worrying about what you can’t do will just add to your stress.
So, what does this have to do with me and my art? Well, as an introvert, days and weeks where I’ve had to socialize a lot are stressful. I have to recover from them. Even when it’s people I like and I’ve enjoyed the social event, it’s stressful. Good stress is still stress.
While I’m recovering, something has to give. I can fit less into my schedule. The easy thing to give up is my art. Learning something new is more stressful than a familiar activity, and so dropping it temporarily is such a relief.
Yet, just because it’s the easy thing, doesn’t mean it’s the best thing. If I find that I’ve been dropping my art or procrastinating it and running out of time for more than two weeks, I need to take a close look at my schedule.
It’s not good to be regularly stressed and overwhelmed. If that’s happening, I may need to give some things up, even if they are good, positive things. Or I may need to ask for help. Either way, I need to find a way to lower my stress levels and bring my life back in balance.
In this way, my art practice can act as an early warning system. If I’m too stressed to do something that I want to do and enjoy doing, and it keeps happening, something is wrong. It’s good to have that warning before I get sick or start snapping at people.
I once went to a talk by Nancy Young. (Her family runs this remarkable website:
https://www.alyoung.com/ and publishes the Storybook Home Journal.) She said that she knew she’d been away from home too much if her little laundry room started overflowing and her youngest child became clingy. They were areas in her life that could not absorb neglect. She said it was like a barometer, measuring the pressure on her home and family. When she saw the signs, she knew it meant that she had to cancel some outside commitments and spend more time at home.
What are the signs that you’re under too much pressure? What areas in your life cannot absorb neglect? Have you ever felt like your cup of stress is too full? What do you do to bring things back in balance?