Dr. Suzanne B. Phillips

Licensed Psychologist, Psychoanalyst, Diplomate in Group Psychology, Certified Group Therapist, Author, Radio Host and Media Consultant Covering a Wide Range of Psychological Topics

Post: Keep Your Pot From Spilling Over: Manage Good Stress – Moderate Excessive Stress



One of the things we rarely talk about is our need for stress.

You know -the adrenaline rush that makes life interesting –the race to make the express train, the challenge of the new case, the arrival of last minute guests, the negotiations of pets and the adventure vacation…good stress

 Moderate or Good Stress

We need what moderate or good stress offers us.  When the brain perceives physical or psychological stress, it starts pumping the chemicals cortisol, epinephrine (adrenaline) and norepinephrine into the body. The result is that the heart beats faster, blood pressure increases, senses sharpen, and a rise in blood glucose invigorates us. In this regard, psychiatrist, Dr. Lynne Tan, describes stress as a “ burst of energy” – the way in which our body tells us what we need to do. According to her and other experts, moderate amounts of stress help us perform tasks more efficiently, improve memory, heart function, and even improve resistance to infection.

The rush you get from good stress is different from the anxious ruminations that keep us up at night, the pressured multitasking that results in lost car keys and misplaced cell phones, or the distracted thinking that equates to missed bill payments, migraines, and fender benders…. stress that harms rather than helps us.

 Excessive or Toxic Stress

Unlike good or moderated stress, high levels of stress put us at physical and emotional risk.  When such stress persists over long periods of time, it has been found to be associated with high blood pressure, compromised immune system, depression, heart disease and asthma.

How Can we Manage Good Stress and Moderate Excessive Stress ?

A valuable metaphor for regulating stress is to use the Pot on The Stove theory that has been used as a metaphor for regulating workplace stress.

Picture Your Life as a Pot on a Stove.

The pot is full of the factors in your life– personal, family, work, financial, social, medical, recreational, etc. We all have different amounts of these factors in our pot.

For life to happen– to get things “ cooking”  we have to provide the heat (i.e. the stress, pressure, impetus) that heats the pot and makes it “ cook.

Two Factors Keep Your Pot From Spilling Over:

1.Regulating your stress so you are providing enough adrenaline to get things cooking productively but not experiencing such excessive stress or  “heat”  that it will cause the pot to spill over even if there are very few things in it.

Stress Reducers might include adequate sleeping,  healthy eating and taking time out for rest and recreation, meditation, prayer, exercise, art, music, working in nature, social connections etc.

2.Regulating the number of life factors, responsibilities, and expectations that are in your pot is crucial. If your life is overloaded by the demands of others, perfectionism, family and work expectations – even with barely no stress –  even if you are using stress reducers – your pot is going to spill over.

Regulate the number of life factors going on in a day, week or year . Ask yourself:

  • Do you feel entitled to say “ NO” when you have reached a limit?
  • Can you be creative about reducing the pot i.e.  car pool, work from home, hire a sitter, alter your timeline for deadlines?
  • Can you adjust your expectations such that your self-worth does not rest on being all, doing all and caring for all? 
  • Can you define a reason for taking something out of the pot  (like postponing running for the school board, joining a competitive men’s soccer team, or going back to school full time in view of childcare needs) in a way that gives you a sense of control and choice?  When in Doubt – Take Something Out!
  • Don’t Let your pot spill over – It takes the joy out of life.

Stress is not what happens to us. It’s our response TO what happens.

And RESPONSE is something we can choose.

Maureen Killoran



There are over 140 podcasts of Psych Up Live on iTunes – Listen in to a wide variety of shows -Suzanne