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The stress vulnerability bucket is a way to explain why some people experience “psychotic” experiences. A psychotic experience means things like paranoia or hearing voices.

The basic idea is that we have some level of vulnerability or how prone we are to develop psychosis. Imagine a bucket. People who are extremely vulnerable, or put another way, people who are more likely to experience psychosis, have small buckets.

Those who have a low vulnerability are less likely to experience psychosis. They have large buckets. The size of the bucket is down to a lot of things from your background, like being bullied, or being abused as a child. The more of these issues from your background that you have, the smaller the bucket.

Now, imagine stress as water filling up the bucket. If a lot of water comes into the bucket, in other words, if a person experiences a great deal of stress, then the bucket can overflow. This is when psychotic experiences can happen.

People with big buckets, or a low level of vulnerability, can cope with more stress, and people with small buckets can cope with less stress. Loads of things can stress us all out, like relationship problems, money worries or family problems.

Now, if you manage the stress using helpful ways of coping, then this gets rid of the stress from the bucket. This is like punching holes in the bottom of the bucket. Helpful coping is things like talking through your problems with someone or getting a good nights sleep.

If you cope by doing unhelpful things, then that could make the stress worse. This is like blocking the holes in your bucket. Unhelpful ways of coping are things like taking drugs, drinking too much alcohol, or keeping your problems to yourself.

So, there’s not much any of us can do about the size of our buckets, but if you keep your stress low, and if you cope well, then it is less likely that you will experience psychosis, feel paranoid or hear voices.

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