Muriel Cooper
Psychologist in Mornington

Stress, anxiety and depression

 

indecision

Too many people leave it too late to take action on their stress. They miss the warning signs and as a result stress can get out of control – possibly turning into anxiety and/or depression (remember the S.A.D. cycle – Stress overflows into anxiety and/or depression). Some would say in the majority of cases anxiety and depression begins with stress.

Getting in early right at the start of stress makes it much easier to make an intervention and reduce your level of arousal. Some of the early warning signs I'm telling you here are not commonly identified, which is why I'm telling you about them. They're signs I notice in myself and that many of my clients identify with; "Yes – absolutely, that happens to me!" Other symptoms (rather than signs) are described elsewhere on this site.

But what are the early signs that aren't described so often and what do you do about them?

I'm going to invent a term for the early warning signs of stress – it's 'FITCHI' (let's pronounce it 'fit‐chy').

I am not only inventing this word for you, but for myself because everyone gets stressed and these are the things I notice in myself that make me pull back and take either short term or longer term action to address my stress levels. So from now on when I notice these things – I will mindfully notice that I'm getting 'Fitchi' and take action to immediately adjust my attitude or do something to reduce my arousal.

Here's what 'Fitchi' stands for:

  • Forgetful
  • Irritable/touchy/oversensitive
  • Tense
  • Clumsy
  • Hasty/rushing
  • Indecisive/dithery

1. Forgetful

Can't find your keys – forgot an appointment? If this happens more than once – it may be your stress levels are going up. Be mindful and notice when this is happening. Remember stress chemicals cross the blood brain barrier and hamper your cognitive ability. Short-term memory loss is common in stressed people. It's an early warning sign that shouldn't be ignored.

What to do

Be mindful in your organisation and careful where you put things. Have regular places where you put your keys or diary. Write yourself a visual reminder to check your day (not in an obsessive sense of course). Do NOT stress about being forgetful and think you're developing Alzheimer's. Of course if the memory problems continue and become worse – then don't hesitate to act.

2. Irritable

You notice that things annoy more than usual; small niggly things. You find yourself being short with family or colleagues and you take things personally when they're not meant that way. You lose your sense of humour and feel grumpy in general. Don't wait until this becomes anger, aggressiveness, defensiveness or extreme frustration – notice right at the beginning when you first start to feel irritable and take action.

What to do

Be actively tolerant – take a deep breath and let it out slowly. Re-discover your sense of humour and laugh at yourself for being grumpy. Take things slowly and be patient with yourself and others. Remind yourself not to be so sensitive and take things personally when they're not meant that way.

3. Tense

This is a physical sensation that can sneak up on you. Before you know it you have a headache, a backache or literally a 'pain in the neck'. You feel restless and can't settle – you might rely more on alcohol or other drugs to relax.

What to do

Be especially vigilant with tension, since it can 'sneak up on you'. Scan your body regularly for areas of tension – breathe deeply – really tense up the muscles in that area while taking an even deeper breath – then let the air out suddenly (with a whoosh or if you can be vocal an Ahhh!) – And just flop. It's surprising how much tension can be relieved using this simple method.

Stretch and yawn, then shake a little – shaking out the stress. Do some physical exercises (go for a walk – put some music on and dance a little).

Have a massage or a bath instead of a drink (although one glass can be relaxing – one)

4. Clumsy

You drop things – you break things – you bang into things – then you get mad at yourself for being clumsy and create more stress – 'I'm such a klutz'. Even Dancers – the most elegant and precise movers we know – can become clumsy when they have too much stress (my authority for saying so is that I was once a dancer).

What to do

Become aware of being in your body – bring yourself back to the present moment. Again, move slowly and don't rush. Cultivate poise (graceful and elegant bearing in a person) and good posture. Move mindfully. Practice good stress management.

5. Hasty/rushing

You grab your bag and race out the door (maybe banging yourself on the door jam on the way out) – you get to the front gate then realize you've forgotten your keys – you race back inside to get them – then you race back out to the car – jump in – start the ignition and the alarm goes off to tell you, you haven't attached your seat belt – you hastily grab it and shove it in.

By the time you're ready to drive off you are actually in NO state to drive (in my opinion).

Haste is not only caused by stress it causes stress – also you are much more likely to make mistakes (e.g. forgetting the car keys) – so you take longer to do what you're doing or get where you're going.

What to do

  • When you realise that you're hasty or rushing – (hopefully you're being mindful and noticing 'That's interesting, I'm getting 'Fitchy')
  • Slow down
  • Take a breath
  • Be deliberate in your movements
  • Stop before you do something and let your brain catch up so it can remind you about things like the car keys.

6. Indecisive/dithery

Faced with a decision – you dither – you can't make up your mind, especially under pressure. Again this can be a result of the brain's cognitive abilities being compromised by stress chemicals – it's hard to think and make choices through that fog.

What to do

Never make life-changing decisions when you're under severe stress.

Even small choices can seem a challenge – don't pressure yourself. Take your time to make the decision and if you can't do it straight away – do not allow yourself to be pressured into making a hasty decision.

Ask for time – say "I'll have to think about that and get back to you" (to self – "When I'm not so Fitchi").

If you find yourself getting 'Fitchi':

  • Forgetful
  • Irritable
  • Tense
  • Clumsy
  • Hasty, or
  • Indecisive

Make that a call to action to address the stress in your life; to ramp up your mindfulness, stress management and general self-care.

Don't wait until it's too late and your stress has turned in anxiety, depression or other destructive emotions. Taking action means addressing the stress in yourself and in your environment – do as much as you can to both, until you feel better. As for other people who might be stressing you, well you can ask them for change – and they very well may be open to it.

So don't get 'Fitchi' and remember, 'You are what you think'.

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