‘I use The Lobster Score to keep my stress in check. Here’s how it works.’

Have you ever burned out at work — or realised too late that you should have taken that holiday a couple of weeks (or months!) back? If you have, you’re definitely not alone — in fact, you’re in the majority, because around two-thirds of Australians were burned out at their jobs in 2022.

Now I’m no stranger to the slow burn myself. Between running our sexual wellness brand Normal, and moonlighting on other areas I’m really passionate about (like teaching salary negotiation and writing about career skills), I have a historic tendency to massively overload my plate at the career buffet. And the consequences are pretty dire.

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Whether it’s collapsing into two days of wordless Netflix binges for some brain rest, falling asleep at my desk and waking up with the imprint of a vibrator on my face, or needing to take an emergency no-devices overseas holiday to save my own (and everyone else’s) sanity — I used to feel like "run until I inevitably burn out" was the only way I could work. 

That was until a great session with my therapist, where we came up with a stress management technique called The Lobster Score — and it has been an absolute game changer for my mental health and productivity.


I realised that I tended to see my stress levels as a binary of either 'crisis' or 'coping' — and because I can handle a lot of stress while still 'coping', I didn't take enough action to prevent or clear stress.

As I accumulated stressors over hours, days and weeks, I didn't notice myself slowly 'boiling in the pot' (hence the name — a lobster will jump out of a pot if you put it straight on hot water, but stays in and cooks slowly if the temperature is raised incrementally!) and would end up needing to either numb out (think: weekend in bed) or act out (think: a big night out and a big hangover) because I'd reached an 8 or 9. 

Image: Supplied.


So here’s the basic idea: 

  • I have a daily spreadsheet that takes about five minutes to fill in that captures a lot of behavioural metrics (sleep, exercise, hours worked, caffeine, meditation, alcohol, TV, and a few others). 
  • The most important column is actually The Lobster — which is essentially a measure of how stressed I feel on a scale of 0 to 10. 0 is a perfectly unworried day, 10 is crisis mode and 5 is tense shoulders and needing extra time to switch off.

Now, I basically use the lobster score to tell me what action to take:

  • 0 — 4: Keep going with your routines. 
  • 5 — 7: Schedule ‘flow state’ activities like exercise/art/diving into really cold water, pull back on social engagements, work only 9-5 at most, and sleep properly.
  • 8 — 10: Chat with a therapist, compulsory couple of days off, book in next holiday, delegate and re-evaluate.

"Our bodies weren’t built for the chronic, constant stress of always-on digital communication and modern workplaces." Image: Supplied.


There’s some interesting science behind this approach as well — for example, I love the scientist and author Emily Nagoski’s work on pleasure for people with vulvas in Come As You AreBut she’s also written a fantastic book on the unique ways in which women experience chronic stress called Burnout that I recommend to everyone. 

TLDR version: Our body’s systems evolved to handle stressors that arrived quickly, like a tiger suddenly chasing you, and they would activate a stress response cycle (think racing heart, adrenalin rush, and quick reflexes) designed to help you avoid the stressor. 

The stressor would either go away — allowing the body to complete the stress response cycle and return to normal — or it would eat you (in which case stress is no longer a concern). Our bodies weren’t built for the chronic, constant stress of always-on digital communication and modern workplaces — where the stressor never goes away, and the stress response cycle never properly ends. So instead we accumulate more and more stress and eventually burn out.

"I used to believe I could think my way out of being stressed — but my body would hit back." Image: Supplied.


In Nagoski’s words: "The stress itself will kill you faster than the stressor will — unless you do something to complete the stress response cycle. While you’re managing the day’s stressors, your body is managing the day’s stress. It’s absolutely essential to your wellbeing that you give your body the resources it needs to complete the stress response cycles that have been activated."

Nagoski actually talks about seven evidence-based practices that help our bodies complete stress cycles. Some of them you’d probably guess — like exercise, time with friends, breathing deeply, and being shown physical affection. Others might surprise you though — like laughter, crying and creative expression. 


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Some people manage stress by going for a wine, a massage, or a Netflix binge (and believe me, I do all of those) — but I also am a spreadsheet girl, so I created a system to help keep me accountable and help me spot my patterns. 

I used to believe I could think my way out of being stressed — but my body would hit back and let me know that wasn’t working until I started managing it properly. Whatever your preferred remedy is, being aware and accountable is the first step to making your work more sustainable. 

Tracking my ‘lobster score’ alongside other metrics like exercise, sleep and caffeine consistently also made it impossible to keep being in denial about some unhealthy patterns (hello, ‘working late, drinking more, missing sleep, cancelling spin classes, drinking even more coffee and becoming anxious’ my old friend).

If you’d like to experiment with tracking your own lobster score, here’s a template you can copy and use — feel free to pass it on to anyone you know who needs it as well! 

And you can also follow me on LinkedIn (the coolest social network of them all) for more ideas like this one.

Feature Image: Supplied. 

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