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.

Stressed accountant

There's good stress and bad stress. Good stress is called Eustress and bad stress is called Dystress. We need Eustress to give us purpose, vitality and spark. It helps us to enjoy life and keep us motivated. It's the Dystress, or bad stress, that is the problem.

Our survival brain reacts to a stressor in the same way today as it did when we were tribal hunter/gatherers, when there were very big things to Dystress about; there really was a tiger or a bear in the mouth of the cave – the fire had gone out – the strange tribe was coming over the hill – you get my meaning. Otherwise our ancient ancestors were pretty much in a state of Eustress. Life was simple. Problems were few.

This is not the case today. In Western society we exist in a seething cauldron of stress; financial stress, job stress, relationship stress.

There's travel stress (our inner caveperson must be in a state of panic hurtling down the freeway at 100 kilometres an hour or flying in a plane 30 thousand feet above the earth) – and yet on a rational level we mostly take these things for granted; on top of that there is the adjustment to suddenly being In a totally different place and environment – another thing we think we should just 'get over' (although we at least do believe in jet lag).

Our ancient ancestors were travellers, but it took them a very long time to get to their destination, with plenty of time to adapt along the way.

There is also the stress of ill health; our ancient ancestors would have either recovered or died –not been subjected to a very long life full of invasive medical treatment often away from family and friends. Life was short but lived to the full and mostly in the present moment. Being unwell was very stressful for them.

Worried woman

Many of us are so used to being on a treadmill year that it's often hard to get off, even during a supposedly relaxing holiday.

You've had a couple of weeks off and yet you still feel uptight/wound up. You dread the thought of returning to work and when you get there you feel like you've never been away. You feel:

  • Unhappy
  • Anxious
  • Moody (irritable, angry)
  • Overwhelmed
  • Just want it all to go away and stay in bed

If this is you, you might want to re-think your whole life - seriously. This kind of stress can be due to recent life events and if they rate highly enough, you could be at significant risk of having a health breakdown (according to the Holmes-Rahe Life Stress Inventory).

You might think you don't deserve to be stressed since nothing major is happening to you (like a death in the family for example) but that doesn't mean you aren't still significantly stressed.

In our complex society a lifetime of striving to be successful, financially comfortable and socially acceptable (or even merely survive) can take an enormous toll on the mind, brain and body.

Holidays are supposed to be a remedy or a buffer against the stress of living and sometimes they are. Often though, holidays are spent trying to relax and not succeeding.

Often our mind and brain is not present and enjoying the holiday, but rather thinking and feeling about the unpleasant prospect of being back on the treadmill. Also there might be financial stress (perhaps self-employed people worry about not earning while on holiday and there is also the cost of the holiday itself).

Woman hoeing into cupcake

Don't be surprised that humans are emotional eaters – we're not designed to live at the pace we do today – eating is soothing and certain foods change our body chemistry and make us feel better – chocolate for instance. Our inner caveperson craves sweet and calorie rich foods as a survival mechanism. We crave salty things because salt is important to our body chemistry – our brain doesn't understand that these foods that were often rare to our pre-historic ancestors are now available in huge amounts at the supermarket. So it's biochemical as well as psychological that we eat to make ourselves feel better.

Try to flow with your human nature – when you feel like you want to emotionally eat – be empathetic with yourself and understand that because you feel emotional, vulnerable or whatever feeling you're feeling right now, the brain wants to give you a little oral gratification. Try and work with your natural self and don't get angry at it for wanting to do what it only thinks is best for you; be purposeful and mindful about it.

lifeguardAt the end of the first session, I often offer some "First Aid"; this is a small collection of coping skills that I have found most useful as immediate relief from stress, worry and anxiety. Here is a selection of my "First Aid" tips - some or all might apply to you.