Muriel Cooper
Psychologist in Mornington

Stress, anxiety and depression


Stress, anxiety and depression

Articles about the Stress - Anxiety - Depression cycle, and how to avoid and cope with these problems.

There's a vague unease, something is holding you back; you avoid activities and worry about things like money and security when your rational brain is trying to tell you there's nothing to worry about. You're feeling vulnerable – your survival brain detects there is a threat and wants you to take cover (hence the avoidance). You want to stay 'Up the back of the cave' where it's safe (more about this here).

Sometimes it's perfectly obvious to you why you're feeling vulnerable:

  • You're with an abusive partner
  • You're getting older and facing retirement and therefore financial worries and a challenge to your idea of yourself as a person (you won't have the validation of a profession/job/career)
  • Illness (your survival brain wants you take cover because you've lost strength and therefore the ability to fight or run away from the threat (fight/flight)
  • You have a sensitive personality – people are threatening in general.

(See more about the survival/emotional brain here).

Love your teddy - @alinabuzunova via Twenty20

Our senses can over-function when you're stressed. Isolation induces stress because our survival brain perceives that you're isolated from personal social contact. It will then produce stress to try and make us either initiate social contact – or withdraw to the safest place. You might notice you are smelling or hearing things more acutely.

Soothing the senses can help. Here are some ways ...

The seven senses


Cuddle a soft blanket or stuffed animal. Here's one that is especially good if you are a crafty person. It's a touchpad, made of different textures to decrease anxiety and increase focus. Take a piece of material, board or cardboard scissors and glue. Have a rummage to find pieces of material with a range of textures. Think fur, satin, silk. Look on the garage for other textures, like sandpaper. Cut them into squares and attach them to the backing board. When you're stressed, bored, need something to refocus onto, or just need a break, close your eyes and concentrate on the different textures. This is a fun thing to do with children too.

When it comes to doing nothing, we seem to be separated into two different groups, those that are really good at it, monks and lazy teenagers for example, and those who are terrible at it, like high achievers and the overly conscientious.

I'm guessing that if you're reading this, you fall into the latter category. You've been guilted into over-working by the Protestant work ethic, even though we might not even know what that is. The Protestant work ethic says that hard work, self-discipline and being frugal will earn you a place in heaven, whereas lolling around in a haystack just passing the time will surely earn you a ticket to the 'bad place', which is the main reason we all work so hard these days.

But there's a good argument both philosophical and scientific, that says spending downtime doing nothing can be extremely good for you and make you more productive. The Dutch have a word for it, niksen.

Man showing stress of Christmas

It's not just family friction that causes problems at Xmas.

Family issues are still there for many (here's more about coping with Christmas), but that's not the only Xmas related problem. Take the word Xmas. As you read this, you might be fuming that I even used the shortened form of the word. Yet the early Christians used it frequently. Here's what Grammarly has to say:

"Chi (or X) is the first letter in the Greek word for Christ. In the early days of the Christian church, Christians used the letter X as a secret symbol to indicate their membership in the church to others. If you know the Greek meaning of X, Xmas and Christmas essentially mean the same thing: Christ + mas = Christmas."

Thanks, Grammarly. Hopefully that's one problem out of the way.

Next, there are dietary problems. If you're a vegan or a vegetarian, the food at Christmas is a nightmare. It's a meat-lovers paradise, and even the Christmas pudding has suet (beef fat) in it. To alleviate dietary stress, here are a few tips. Be assertive; kindly and firmly stick to your nutritional choices. Bring your own, including a slice of Xmas pudding; if they love you, they won't mind. If it's a serve-yourself, you're home and hosed. Hog the roast potatoes and veggies (they're usually cooked in vegetable oil these days), and there's always bread.