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.

At this time, loneliness stands out as the social problem it's always been, even though it's been hidden. Where does loneliness come from and what are its elements?

Loneliness is different from solitude, or alone time (we sometimes crave these things). Loneliness is a discomfort about being by ourselves which is often deeply emotional, almost like intense grieving.

We might look to our human history and evolution for an answer to this intense loneliness. Humans are social animals designed to exist in large-ish groups. This is not just important for our emotional health but for our very survival.

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.