Muriel Cooper
Psychologist in Mornington

Stress, anxiety and depression

 

Girl eating hot dogOnce upon a time there was a man who lived in a simple little village.  He was uneducated to the point where he couldn’t read the paper (but he was not unintelligent).  The village had no electricity so he couldn’t watch the news on television.  He listened to the radio sometimes but mostly he worked, enjoyed time with his wife and children and spent time in his garden or talking to the other men of the village.

The one thing this man (we’ll call him Henri), could do extremely well was make hot dogs.  From his small roadside vending stall he made the best hot dogs.  The sausages were red, juicy and tasty; the rolls were extra crusty and the mustard and tomato sauce were made from his garden.

People would go out of their way to drive past so that they could salivate over the thought of eating one of Henri’s hot dogs.

One of the reasons Henri worked so hard is because he wanted his children to have a good education.  His son did particularly well and became an economist.

One day he came to visit his parents and said to Henri, “Dad, don’t you know there’s a big economic crisis going on that’s affecting the whole world!  You will have to be careful with money!  You spend far too much on ingredients and such for your hot dogs. You could save a lot of money there!”

Henri was reluctant to let go of the idea of making the best hot dogs, but his son was an expert and the world was in trouble, so he followed his son’s advice.

Instead of the plump, juicy sausages, Henri substituted them with cheaper ones.  He bought cheaper rolls that weren’t so fresh and crispy.  He spent more time manning his hot dog stall by buying cheap tomato sauce and mustard instead of tending his garden and making his own.

Eventually the flood of cars stopping at Henri’s Hot dogs started to slow down from a flood to a flow and finally to a trickle.

Henri was sad.

“Aah”, he sighed, “My son was right after all” and he developed depression.

Sometimes ignorance is bliss.  Henri kept making his delicious, successful product because he didn’t know there was a recession.  Had he never found out – he probably would have continued to be a successful, (and more importantly happy) hot dog man.  But he believed the bad news and he let it dictate not only his enjoyment of his work and seeing the happiness of his customers, but it affected his whole mental and physical health.

We can protect ourselves against ending up like Henri in the following ways:

One of the most successful buffers against hard times is optimism, believing in a successful and happy outcome.  Sometimes it’s hard to do but if we have faith, we can focus on the preferred outcome and not the worst-case scenario.

It’s not necessary to be ignorant. But it can be very helpful to cut down as much as possible, your exposure to bad news.

Don’t watch television news (at least don’t watch it for several hours before bedtime), only listen to radio news once or twice a day, learn to edit your talkback radio and television viewing, not watching or listening to over-exciting or depressing TV and radio programs – again especially several hours before bed.

As for blogs, sometimes they are written by good writers with an impressive profile (in this case about the economic situation or world conflict) and others are negative, uninformed and ‘beat-up’ their blogs to make them more interesting.  Either way, it can be too much information or not reliable.  Be choosy and again, limit ‘blogging’ to a few people you know are reliable and make it a daytime activity.  Before bed read (a real book, not on your Kindle) and listen to music.  Now is a good time to meditate.

In summary:

Be aware and very selective about what you read, expose yourself to or believe.   

If you are susceptible to stress, anxiety and depression, exposing yourself to constant negative and depressing material can really wind you up, or bring you down, especially at night before bed. 

If you don’t want to worry about the bad stuff in the world, find media sites that are uplifting, calming or funny and limit graphic visual images to beauty or enlivening themes.

Here’s a great site where you can find good news stories that do include serious issues like politics and the environment.  It warns you when stories might not be suitable (like a plane crash).  It’s a good start to changing our habits to encourage ‘media hygiene’ to help ‘mental hygiene’.

Some might think this kind of approach is ‘head in the sand', that’s OK, some people can stand the stress, but for those who can’t, ‘be careful out there in media land’.

Thank you to the client who shared the story of the 'Hot Dog Man’ with me.

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