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.

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.

Inner voiceIn part 1 of "The voices in our head", I talked not just about unwanted voices in our head (the worry voice), but also the wise voice that brings creative ideas and solutions to problems.

Nevertheless, both these voices are still spontaneous and intrusive. Even a creative voice in your head can be a pest if it wakes you up at 3am.

However there is another voice that can override all other voices and that is the voice of Mindful awareness. I'm going to call it 'Mind voice'.

Mental health professionals often refer to self-talk and by that, they mean talking to ourselves either in a bad or a good way, but again, much of the time in a negative way. Therapies like Cognitive Behaviour Therapy encourage us to change our self-talk for the better.

I prefer to think of the voice coming from our Mindful awareness, 'Mind voice', as volitional, that is an action of our own choosing; us choosing to talk to ourselves in a deliberate, positive, encouraging and/or rational way.

When we use our mind to observe or thoughts, feelings and physical state, we can not only observe but communicate from that perspective (the Me Perspective). Self-communication is a powerful tool and can be used to dispute irrational thoughts and self-regulate thoughts, emotions and actions.

Whether the voice in our head is a worry voice or a wise voice, we might not always choose to take notice – and here is where we can go one step higher to the ‘Mind voice' – our true or highest self – the self that observes absolutely everything in ourselves and in our environment, including worry and wise voices.

From that perspective we have more ability to choose whether or not we want to have the thought, idea, feeling etc. It is the ultimate voice and yet so many of us don't find it. We are not taught to look for it and in the past 'talking to yourself' either in private or out loud, has been seen as a sign of being mentally unstable.

Actually it can be entirely the opposite.