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.

xmas reindeerHappy 'Mindful Christmas'!

Whether you celebrate Christmas or not, everything seems to be busier and noisier at this time of the year and stress levels can rise as a result.

So I'd like to wish you a mindful Christmas and New Year and this article – 'A Mindful Christmas' - has some hints on how to make your way into 2014 in a less stressful way.

If you do celebrate Christmas - I'd like to wish you a very merry one and a Happy New Year in 2014.

A Mindful Christmas

In my last e-letter, I talked about what mindfulness is and you can visit (re-visit) that here.

My definition is: 'Mindfulness is engaging our "observational self" for the purposes of meditation, self-development and to help with managing uncomfortable thoughts, emotions and sensations”.

The 'observational self' is our ability to be self-aware and watch our thoughts and feelings from a mindful perspective, rather than being so caught up in, and reactive to them.

Flying into rough weatherMy client was having flying instructions a long time ago when instruments were pretty rudimentary, and the instructor was giving advice for what to do when you're in, or about to go into, a storm.

He told my client "If you get caught in a storm – never turn!"

My client asked why (since running away seemed like a very obvious thing to do).

"Because", said the instructor, "They never build storms in straight lines".

My client said a "blind went up" and he never forgot the advice. Of course, storms are not endless, as long as you stay the course, the storm will pass and you'll come out the other end – if you don't stay the course, you may end up flying in circles around and around in the storm, or get disorientated or lost.

When you're in an emotional storm, like the inexperienced pilot, you might panic, run around in circles, go off course and make hasty decisions. If you stay the course, keep going and wait for the storm to pass (which it always does), you'll be in much better shape.


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.

Depressed overweight womanFear of Relapse

You've been through a pretty tough time with S.A.D. and finally you feel like you're getting on top of it. You've been feeling much better – pretty 'normal' in fact. You've been mindful, using your coping skills and (hopefully) been pro-active using daily practices like Mindfulness, exercise, re-focusing, and so on.

Then you wake up one morning feeling bad.

Now everyone has good and bad days, but when you've been through a bad period of S.A.D. – a day that just might seem a bit 'blagh' to someone else – feels catastrophic to you, and that question starts going through your head.

What if my Anxiety or Depression comes back?

What if I go right back to the beginning and I have to go through this all over again?

Suddenly you start to feel worse, you start to ruminate and worry – and before you know it – you're on the 'slippery slope' again.