Vulnerabilities are areas in life that are susceptable to attack or wound. This concept that I'm talking about is different from "being vulnerable" with another person--allowing them to see the real you--that is a good thing. The kind of vulnerabilities I'm talking about are neither good nor bad, they're just situations that we can control in order to maintain our psychological and physical well being. 

If you're aware of your vulnerabilities, you can do your best to shore up your defenses and minimize the risk of succumbing to anxiety or depression. There are several such vulnerabilities but three of the biggest that have amazing effects on our psychological well being are sleep, nutrition, and physical health.

I talk about these three to many of my clients because they tend to be the three areas that get little attention when things go wrong. When you have a stressful event that you're dealing with at work, you might say "I'll skip lunch so I can deal with this and I'll grab a burger on the way home." You might say "I'll stay up late or get up early to give myself more time to work on this project." Or, you might neglect your physical health, end up with a cold or flu and, if the problem at work is significant enough, you may go to the office despite not feeling your best. Anyone that has done any (or all!) of these things knows when you do, you're not feeling very positive, have a tendancy to be snappy, impatient, and argumentative, and the day goes down in your memory as one of the worst days ever. An off day now and then is pretty normal but when its consistent, there is a bigger problem.

Anxiety and depression can both contribute to these vulnerabilities. In fact, changes in eating or weight and sleeping are part of the criterion to meet the diagnosis of a depressive disorder. Being vulnerable in these areas can wear us down so that we're more susceptible to anxiety and depression. 

The first assignment to most of my clients is to improve their sleep habits. This includes doing some breathing exercises and encouraging consistency in bed times and wake times (even on the weekends). Yes, that sounds rather harsh because basically I'm saying that you shouldn't sleep in. I'm not saying you should never stay up late and/or sleep in, but I am saying that it would be beneficial if these indulgences were few and far between. For most people, staying up really late for two nights in a row and then waking up later than normal the next day can cause a disruption in sleep patterns that takes a bit of time to recover from. If this is something you do every weekend, you may notice that going to work on Monday morning is harder than any other day--and not just because the weekend is over. 

My recommendation is for all adults to get at least 7 hours of sleep every night (8 is better). Children should get even more (9 to 10 depending on the age of the child). When this is consistent (bedtime is 10pm, wake time is 6am every day including weekends for example), we have minimized the vulnerability.

Next, skipping meals or eating "junk food" for lunch or dinner is out. If there's a lunch meeting planned, plan for it. Bring a healthy lunch and eat it. If there is a big project at work and you feel like you just can't take a lunch break, take the break anyway. You'll think better, be more productive and efficient if you're properly fed and have had 30 minutes out of the office. You're likely to return with better ideas and improved motivation. Again, this minimizes the vulnerability.

Finally, getting a bit of exercise and respecting our bodies is imperative. If you can get in 30 minutes a day of some moderate activity (walking at a brisk pace is best), you'll help to stave off minor (and major) ailments. When you do get sick, respect the fact that your body needs more rest than usual and allow it. 

When we consistently try to keep on top of our vulnerabilities, minimizing them as much as possible, we improve our defenses against anxiety and depression and maximize our chances for better overall mental health. If anxiety or depression is increasing your vulnerabilities (causing changes in sleep, eating, and exercise--either more or less than recommended) these are the first areas to focus on in order to get back some of the functionality that may be suffering.

I often use the following analogy: Life is like a marathon. Every day you're required to run 26.2 miles. If you don't sleep enough, you get to add another 5 miles that. If you don't properly fuel your body, add another 5 miles to that 26.2. Don't train for the daily marathon by getting a little exercise every day? Add another 5 miles. Finally, if you find you're sick but still try to run the marathon instead of spending the day resting, its like adding another 5 miles. So, all in all, it FEELS like that 26.2 mile marathon is really far longer! No wonder you're exhausted! Life is hard enough as it is. Don't make it harder on yourself!