"Positivity and negativity are equally stressing"


That was the statement in a course that I followed. And I would like to bring the discussion here to see what your thoughts on it are, as people who work with the mind.

Basically he came with the bucket-metaphor. You want to go to work but your tire is flat, so water adds to the bucket. You arrive late at work and your boss shouts, more water adds. etc. etc.

Once the bucket fills enough, you end up showing signs of being stressed. If it fills up more, the signs become more severe. All good and understandable so far. But that is where it got strange to me.

He then said that also if things go well, water adds to the bucket. You win the lottery, your boss gives you a brand new mercedes, you meet the love off your life, that too adds to the bucket. Because “ever seen kids puke out of excitement when going to a movie or theme park?”. Looking at adults, you can see stuff like that happen on weddings where the bride or groom just gets sick.

That is where I got lost, as that would mean that if my mother dies and I win the lottery on the same day, I would get over-stressed according to that model, and I can’t imagine that, I feel like a bucket is too simple of a metaphor if you also want to add positive emotions into the mix. Every emotion adds to the mix, but to say that they are the same water added into one bucket feels like an oversimplified metaphor. Much like saying that if you eat to much, you will throw up, regardless of what you eat, so moderate your intake. It is true, but not the full picture, because there still is a difference between healthy and unhealthy food. I can moderate my intake, but if all I take in is mcdonalds meals I will not improve my health.

What are your thoughts on how “positive emotions/stress” and “negative emotions/stress” interact with eachother and with you? Have you heard or thought of better metaphors for this?

(Josh Cohen) #2

I can see where positive emotions could cause stress, but I don’t feel like they are as stressful as negative emotions for me.

Another analogy could be an audio equalizer (or similar audio processing equipment that also includes a volume control). Different emotions in different combinations might cause stress, but emotions in the “positive” bandwidth generally don’t have the same stress effects, except under certain conditions. The effect of an equalizer also depends on the environment.


Hi Mayarra.
From your description, pretty much any event is stressful. So not only is the bucket metaphor simplified, so is the concept of stress. To begin with, stress occurs when the person’s perceived demands exceeds their resources to meet those demands. Note that it is perceived demand. So, different events will stress different people to different extents depending on their perception and their resources (which includes coping strategies).

Perhaps some of these events could be considered irritants, which wouldn’t necessarily invoke stress. Stress of any significant measure is usually associated with major life changes such as marriage and divorce, prison or injury. So, it is true that events generally deemed positive can be stressful (such as marriage and retirement). The key is that these kinds of events bring about (usually a fairly significant) change in life as experienced by the person and this brings in fears about being able to cope (which is what is stressful).

Nevertheless, these are acute stressors and there is an adjustment by healthy individuals. The more worrying stress is chronic stress, whereby the individual is put under excessive demands which continually challenge their ability to meet the stressors (e.g. long work hours, high work demands, and long-standing relationship issues). Also, our coping strategies affect how damaging stress can be. So yes, I think that the bucket metaphor is oversimplified to the point that it isn’t very useful.