Muriel Cooper
Psychologist in Mornington

Stress, anxiety and depression

 

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).

Can Vulnerability be useful?

It's been said that vulnerability can be an asset – for example it makes you more empathetic and compassionate.

I'm not sure vulnerable people would agree. The feelings are generally uncomfortable. You feel stressed and this can overflow into anxiety and/or depression.

Your world is filled with 'what if's?' and fears, or resentment because you didn't manage to amass enough wealth; super/investments let you down, leaving you feeling financially exposed.

Although any kind of adversity can be seen as a learning experience, I'm not sure I'd stretch it to an asset.

So, what can you do about feeling insecure and vulnerable?

  1. Make sure to be mindful to detect when feelings of vulnerability are there (sometimes it is a 'vague unease' and not immediately obvious). When you detect vulnerability is there – take action.
  2. Practice very stringent positive self-talk. Do not let your worry brain get away with feeding you fears. Stop them, let them go and re-focus. Remember, for every 'what if?' there's a 'SO WHAT!' Don't let fears stop you from living your life the way you want to live it.
  3. Always have a plan (for problems, worries etc.) The brain loves a plan! Write it down.
  4. Try to be around people who validate you and help you feel strong - not around people who feed your fears and are negative.
  5. Build up your physical strength - do regular exercise and strength training. Feeling physically strong will help your survival brain to feel more secure. Try to eat well and get enough sleep.
  6. Avoid stereotyping yourself – For example acting or talking 'old' or 'needy' to get help or attention. If you find yourself doing this – stop.
  7. Watch your body language and tone of voice – Vulnerability can lead to 'hunching' over (making yourself a small target) or talking in quiet whispers. This is an unconscious effort by the survival brain to get you help and attention. Observe yourself mindfully and if you find yourself doing this – stop! Open up your chest, hold your head up high and speak strongly. This will help you feel more confident.
  8. Don't worry about the future - Once you have a plan, enjoy being in the present and focus on what is happening now. Most worries are in the past or the future. Don't let vulnerability rob you of a present.
  9. Go over memories of confidence and success again and again – To build self-efficacy and self-confidence, re-enforce to your brain when you were successful; when you felt good about yourself. Your survival brain is wired to remind you about your failures (so that you'll avoid doing that thing again) and not your successes. Build patterns of thinking that are positive and that make you feel strong. If you honestly can't think of a success – strongly imagine what it would feel like to be successful and imagine it over and over again. Imagination is a powerful force. Write your own success script.
  10. Set yourself a challenge - A 'vulnerability challenge' is to set a goal to do something that your survival brain is stopping you from doing by giving you fears and insecurities. Decide to: go on that holiday; go to that party; build up your strength to leave an abusive relationship; do something that age or infirmity is stopping you from doing. If you feel a bit uncomfortable, tell yourself that's OK and you'll cope. Be brave – you have nothing to lose but your fear.

Please let me know if these suggestions have been helpful for you and as always, feel free to share this with others.

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