Breaking From Your Routine: Why and How

Discomfort From Anxiety- Part 2

Change can create discomfort

Change can create discomfort

In my last post, When Discomfort From Anxiety Creates Resistance,  I discussed how change can leave your mind and body feeling threatened, even when you consciously want to change (or make changes). I noted that the perception of a potential threat is often unconscious, and the reaction to it can happen so quickly that it escapes our awareness.

By way of example, I shared how the suggestion of riding bikes at a time when you routinely did other things might make you react from that place where you feel challenged or threatened. Reacting when you feel threatened might stop you from doing things differently, even when you’re the one who wants to make changes.

I recently read a passage from Mark Nepos The Book Of Awakening, Having the Life You Want by Being Present to the Life You Have, that I think speaks to the benefits of stepping out of your routine into the uncomfortable waters of change:

“Risk opens safety. It doesn’t shut it down. Only through the risk to open can we inhabit and receive the strength and fullness of what is whole.”

In other words, if we don’t try new things, if we keep our routines in place because they make us feel “safe,” we stop ourselves from fully engaging in our lives. If we don’t take the risk, we won’t live our life to the fullest, and we won’t heal the parts of us that are afraid of change.

How To Embrace Your Uncomfortable Feelings

So, how can we slow things down so we don’t react before we think it through? Mindful awareness. When we begin to recognize that potential changes might trigger a threat response, we can slow things down in the moment. Our body will still react to the perceived threat, but we can choose to take a moment to feel the reaction. We can identify what happened, own it and say it out loud (or in your head, if you’re within earshot of a bunch of people).

First take a slow, intentional, deep breath. Then, using the example from the last post, you might say to yourself, “Wow, just the suggestion of riding bikes Sunday morning makes me super stressed out. It makes me feel like my whole day will be turned upside down and I won’t get anything done.” Sometimes, naming and allowing your feelings in the moment is enough to bring your mind and body back to a calmer state.

If you’re still distressed after being with your feelings, you might need to explore and get a little more curious. In these moments, it might be that the suggestion of doing things differently is triggering a distant memory, what we therapists call an implicit memory. Implicit memories bring your brain and body back in time to a place where things might have been very stressful or to a place where you didn’t feel safe. If you want to know more about implicit memories, you can read about them in my blog post, 3 Grounding Techniques To Help you Manage Anxiety.

How To Get Curious About Your Anxiety

When we feel extremely anxious, sometimes it’s hard to get to a place where we can be curious. That’s because our brain is registering a threat. It wants us to react quickly, so we need to slow things down, to get more grounded and get back to the present moment. Here’s a video that leads you through three different grounding techniques.

The idea behind grounding is to bring the more conscious, problem-solving, curious part of your brain, the prefrontal cortex, back online. It gets kicked offline when our brain senses or perceives a threat. I italicized the word “perceives” because the threat might not actually be an unsafe situation, but our brain associates similar situations in similar ways and reacts as if the threat were real. By bringing the more conscious parts of our brain back online, we can then assess the true threat level.

5 Steps To Deactivate Your Stressed Brain And Get Curious

Slow things down

Slow things down

1.     Take a few slow, deliberate, deep breaths. You can count to help you really slow things down. Inhale for the count of 4, hold for 4, exhale for 4, pause for 4. Do this a few times.

2.     Notice the sensations in your body, whatever they are. Name what you’re feeling. “My head is pounding. I have an ache in my chest.” Put whatever you’re feeling into words.

3.     Now get curious. Ask yourself what feeling word or phrase you associate with your bodily experience. You might ask yourself:

a.     What am I worried about? Am I afraid of something? Take some time and pay attention to what surfaces.

b.     Can I name the feeling?  Does this feeling bring up any memories of occasions when I might have felt the same way? Again, take some time to listen and allow the feelings and sensations to arise and present themselves.

c.      What is my body telling me right now? Give yourself permission to hear whatever it might be.

4.     Be compassionate toward yourself and toward the feelings that arise. You can offer some kind words to the parts of you that are fearful. Placing your hand on your heart and acknowledging your fears in a compassionate, loving way can help ease the anxiety.

5.     Acknowledge that different isn’t always bad. Remind yourself that the discomfort you’re feeling might just be your brain believing that you’re doing something dangerous, and it’s prompted by your perception of the situation. Tell yourself, “Sometimes doing things a different way, or trying new things can feel uncomfortable, and that’s OK.”

Practicing Mindfulness Can Help

Sometimes it’s difficult follow these steps in the moment. I get it. When we’re totally stressed out, it’s hard to slow down and be mindful of our feelings. That’s why they call it a mindfulness practice; it takes doing it again and again for it to become a habit. And the good news — you can go through the above steps after the event. It’s just as helpful, and initially a lot easier, to take yourself back through the event at a later time, to feel the feelings once the perception of threat has passed. Not only does the distance from the event give you a different perspective, but also you’re less reactive, so you might find it’s easier to get curious about your emotional state.

New mindfulness practice groups will be starting this Fall. Please send me a message if you’d like information about them.  You'll learn how to bring more mindfulness into your life to help you better manage your anxiety.


Elizabeth Cush, LCPC is a therapist and the owner of Progression Counseling in Annapolis, Md. She helps busy, overwhelmed men and women manage their anxiety and stress so they can live their lives with more ease, contentment and purpose.

Photo by Avi Richards and Cristian Newman on Unsplash

 

 

 

 

 

When Discomfort From Anxiety Creates Resistance

Stepping Away Routines Can Make You Feel Anxious

Recently, I’ve been considering making some changes in my personal and professional lives. The changes aren’t huge, and some of them only require me to switch things to another day or time. However, the amount of anxiety and stress I’ve felt when all I’ve done so far is to think about making these changes is making me reconsider how much I need routine to manage my stress.

Using routine to manage stress isn’t all bad. It's helpful if your anxiety often hijacks your day. The problems enter when you choose not to do things differently because the thought of change creates anxiety and the uncomfortable feelings hold you back from something you’re excited about.

Keeping Things The Same Might Reduce Anxiety But It Also Keeps You Stagnant

Anxiety can creep, or jump, in when things don’t go as planned, but it can also arise when we intentionally shake things up. The discomfort we feel isn’t really about the changes themselves. It’s about our perception or interpretation of what the changes mean. I’ll give you an example.

riding bikes.jpg

Let’s say that each Sunday morning you dedicate a certain amount of time to getting ready for the week ahead. Maybe you straighten up your house, go to the grocery store and go through your work schedule so you feel prepared for the week to come. This gives you the sense that all is right with the world.

Now, you and your partner have been talking about getting new bikes. You both love to ride but your bikes are old and in need of repair, so you haven’t been riding them much lately. You decide to bite the bullet and buy new ones. Now you have these beautiful new bikes! Your partner suggests creating time to ride on Sunday mornings, before it gets too hot.

You really want to ride your new bike, but now the thought of it makes you anxious and irritable. You might attribute the anxiety to the act of riding the bike or to fear that your to-do list won’t get done. The reality is, your anxiety peaked because your sense of “all is right with the world,” has disappeared.

How We Perceive Change Can Make Us Anxious

When your sense of stability is rocked, your brain thinks that there’s a threat it needs to manage, and your body responds:

Your body reacts to perceived threats

Your body reacts to perceived threats

  • Your heart might race.
  • You might feel tightness in your chest or throat.
  • Your stomach might begin feeling upset.
  • You might become hyper-aware of things touching your skin. 
  • You might get an overwhelming feeling of discomfort.

Our body’s reaction to the perceived threat cranks up the anxiety. It happens unconsciously and within milliseconds of the stimulus. Because it happens so quickly, we often attribute our discomfort to the event or situation where the change occurred, or we might attribute it to the person who suggested the changes. And, without thinking it through, we react.

Using the example above, you might yell at your partner for suggesting Sunday mornings as a time to ride bikes. You might decide you no longer want your new bike or question whether you even like bike riding anymore. You might go along for the ride but resent your partner the whole time, and wind up feeling upset, anxious and unhappy.

So, how do you do things differently? How can you learn to respond in the moment with intention, instead of reacting without thinking? In my next post I’ll discuss how you can slow things down, identify your feelings and begin to recognize the perceived threat for what it is: just your perception and interpretation of the events — not your reality.


Elizabeth Cush, LCPC is a therapist and the owner of Progression Counseling in Annapolis, Md. She helps busy, overwhelmed men and women manage their anxiety and stress so they can live their lives with more ease, contentment and purpose.

Photos byAlexander Mils and by Alexander Mils on Unsplash

Exploring Women’s Anxiety — And My Own

Women and Anxiety.jpg

My Anxieties

I had the honor and pleasure of being interviewed by Lourdes Viado for her Women In Depth podcast. I was very nervous going into the interview. Because I‘ve struggled from anxiety, I wanted to be sure I was doing justice to the topic of women and anxiety and providing helpful, accurate information on the subject. Of course, because of my anxiety, I had TONS of self-doubt about my ability to do this!  But Lourdes is an accomplished interviewer, and she made it easy.  During the recording session, it felt more like a conversation than an interview. I hope it sounds that way to you, too.

 

I was relaxed and felt very comfortable during the process, and right after I felt really good about how well it went. But the next day I got cold feet and offered to do the whole thing over again. I was sure I could have done a better job (Oh, anxiety!).  My anxiety snuck up on me without much warning. Although, in the moment I attributed my discomfort to the interview it was really about the exposure, and putting myself out to the world in a new and different way that made me uncomfortable. Lourdes reassured me that it was great and that I had no need to worry! And she was right the podcast came out amazingly well. I’m so proud of our conversation!

 

 

Women and Anxiety

In the interview, I share why I was drawn to this work — because of my own personal journey with anxiety. We discuss how anxiety can show up, including the physical and emotional symptoms. We also explore the cultural, familial and environmental factors that make women 50 percent more likely than men to struggle with anxiety. We dive deep into how anxiety can affect women over the course of their lives and how mindfulness, meditation and self-compassion can help reduce anxiety and make it more manageable.

 

If you haven’t heard the Women In Depth podcast before, I hope you’ll become a fan after listening. In her podcast, Lourdes goes deep into the issues women struggle with, including motherhood, aging, loss, authenticity and self-acceptance.

 

Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.


Elizabeth Cush, LCPC is a therapist and the owner of Progression Counseling in Annapolis, Md. She helps busy, overwhelmed men and women manage their anxiety and stress so they can live their lives with more ease, contentment and purpose.

Embracing Your Anxious Parts

Listening To Your Anxious Parts Takes Practice

In my last post I talked about your parts — about when they show up and how they can make you feel, whether it’s anxious, depressed or like an angry or sad 16-year-old. I explained that your inner critic is often the most easily identifiable part, but that we have many parts that develop over our lifetime.

woman fragmented in mirror.jpg

Some of our parts are so hidden that it takes some time and practice to listen and hear what they have to say. Other parts feel so comfortable that it’s hard to distinguish the difference between them and our true selves — our everyday-showing-up selves. Yet, when they show up, we don’t feel genuine or truly connected in our relationships or with ourselves. We might feel like we’re responding from a much younger self or that, deep down, we don’t know who we are.

Recognizing and beginning to identify our parts can help us better understand who we are, how we feel and what we want and need in our lives, in our relationships and within.

Noticing Your Parts

Your parts often show up when strong feelings arise. By paying attention, you begin to notice that you have many different parts. You might hear them in the different messages you tell yourself. They may give you a general sense of uneasiness when life is difficult. Here’s an example:

You’ve decided to step out of your comfort zone and join a yoga class. Never having tried yoga, you’re feeling a little nervous, anxious and unsure of yourself. Below is a conversation that might go on in your head:

Voice One: “Good for me! I signed up for that class!”

Voice Two: “It’s about time. I should have done it six months ago instead of procrastinating! I might even be in shape by now if I’d started then.”

Voice Three: “Everyone is going to know I’ve never done yoga. They’re going to look at me and laugh. I just know it.”

Voice Four: “I should call and get my money back. I have no business being in a yoga class and it’s better to quit then to make a fool of myself.”

Voice Five: “Don’t be such a wuss! You’re always quitting before you even try!”

Voice Six: “Be quiet! Why am I making this so hard for myself? It’s a yoga class, not a dissertation!”

Each one of those voices in your head could be a different part, and they all believe they’re helping, guiding and offering quality advice. Unfortunately, instead they often leave us feeling exhausted, overwhelmed and unsure of what we want. 

Quieting The Inner Critic And Other Anxious Parts

woman journaling.jpg

If you pay attention, you begin recognizing the different parts that get triggered when you’re feeling uneasy, depressed or anxious. Journaling, or noting to yourself in an intentional way each time they arise, can help you identify when and where they show up.

Next time a part shows up, instead of telling it to be quiet or arguing with it, I want you to be curious about it. Ask that part, “What are your concerns, worries, or fears? What do you need me to know?” Take a moment to listen, with compassion.

Your inner critic might be worried that by putting yourself out there in new ways you’ll get hurt by others. So it wants to warn you, and keep you safe, but the only way it knows how to do that is by criticizing you.

Your part that wants to avoid, withdraw or submit might tell you to stay home. It worries that being around new people will open you up to their judgment. That part wants you to stay home and avoid anywhere there might be people you don’t know, because that will keep you safe from the uncomfortable feeling of being judged.

Your defensive angry part might yell at you for staying home or not engaging in new, different things. That part thinks that shaming you is the only get you to go out and do the things you say you want to do.

And your true self is overwhelmed, worrying and wondering whether you’re crazy to have all these voices in your head, which leave you feeling unsure about what you want, need and desire.

Listening To Your Self

When you begin to understand that your parts are reacting from deep-seated worries and fears, that they want to keep you safe and protect you, try offering them some compassion for working so hard. Try asking them to quiet their constant dialog, or to step back for a moment to allow you to assess what you really want.

Identifying and dialoging with your parts takes time and practice, because we either accept the messages as truth, or we try to ignore the parts altogether. As your parts feel heard, understood and welcomed, they’ll begin to quiet down. As they become less reactive and anxious, it will be easier to listen and really hear what your true self wants, needs and desires.


Elizabeth Cush, LCPC is a therapist and the owner of Progression Counseling in Annapolis, Md. She helps busy, overwhelmed men and women manage their anxiety and stress so they can live their lives with more ease, contentment and purpose.

Photo by Mike Wilson  and by Aidan Meyer on Unsplash 

Listening To All The Anxious Parts of You

Your Anxious Parts

We all have parts of us that can get triggered when we’re in distress, especially if we’re feeling vulnerable. Lots of my clients tell me that the voices in their head make them anxious, stressed, depressed and feeling as if their brain never quiets. They report that the constant barrage of input leaves them exhausted at the end of the day.

connect to yourself

connect to yourself

These clients come to therapy to help them quiet the noise, to reduce their stress and to feel more connected with themselves. They also say that sometimes the things they tell themselves contradict each other. The confusing, conflicting self-talk leaves them feeling unsure about what they want or need and makes it really hard to connect with and show up as their true selves.

Your Inner Critic Isn’t Easing Your Anxiety

Most of my clients can easily identify the part that I call “the inner critic.” It’s the little (but sometimes quite loud) voice that points out when you make mistakes. Maybe it even calls you names when things don’t go well. For instance, my inner critic is quick to pile on the guilt when I’m worrying about not being a good enough mother, partner, friend, business owner… you name it. It tells me all the things I should have done differently.

My clients will often defend that voice, saying that it keeps them in line and makes them more conscientious about not making mistakes in the future. But they also say that the inner critic can make them feel “less than.” It leaves them constantly worrying and rethinking how things might have gone better, “if only they were… (you fill in the blank).”

The inner-critic part might sound a lot like a caregiver, parent or someone in your life who was critical of you when you were growing up. It’s often the loudest and easiest part to identify. However, it’s only one of many parts of you that can fuel your anxiety.

I Felt Like An Anxious 16-year-old

teenage girl.jpg

Some clients are so aware of these other parts that they can tell me how old they felt at a particular moment when they were triggered. I know that’s happened to me. My go-to response when I sense a potential conflict is to withdraw, and I feel like the hopeless, angry teenager part of me licking her wounds. The problem with responding from your wounded parts is that you repeat patterns of behavior that probably aren’t very useful, and which might even be harmful in your present life.

Family or friends who’ve known you for a long time can often trigger some of your parts, but they can also just pop up when situations make you feel like that younger self. You might find that your voice changes, or you respond with the old coping skills you used way back then, but which aren’t very productive today.

Some of my clients say that younger parts are often angry, easily offended and very defensive. Some say they’re withdrawn, anxious or depressed. So when stuff happens that makes them feel vulnerable, the parts that feel threatened want to jump in and react the way they did in the past. If this happens to you, it can lead to arguments, wanting to avoid situations, or feeling very anxious and depressed, because you’re caught up in one of your parts that wants to protect you or hide from the perceived threat.

What Is This Noise In My Head?

The different parts can make you feel overwhelmed and maybe a little worried that  something might be wrong with you. “Do I have multiple personalities? Why are all these voices in my head?”

There’s nothing wrong with you. We all have different parts. Some people have an easy time recognizing them; for others, the parts are less defined. Our parts developed over our lifetime to help us cope with stressful life events. So, if you had a difficult childhood — if you were emotionally, physically or sexually abused; if your parents emotionally neglected you; or if your life experiences were difficult or traumatic, it’s likely that your various parts are pretty active.

In my next post, I’ll share how you can learn from your parts and build up your true, everyday showing-up part to help you quiet the noise in your head. When you learn to work with your parts and identify their worries, you can truly connect with yourself and live your life with more ease and purpose.


Elizabeth Cush, LCPC is a therapist and the owner of Progression Counseling in Annapolis, Md. She helps busy, overwhelmed men and women manage their anxiety and stress so they can live their lives with more ease, contentment and purpose.

Photos by Cynthia Magana  andElena Ferrer on Unsplash

 

Knowing Me, Knowing You

Mid-Life Can Be A Time Of Uncertainty And Anxiousness

I thought that once I got past my 40s I’d have it all figured out. I’d feel centered, grounded; I’d be living my life with purpose and intent. For some women that might be true. For others, myself included, not so much. Instead of being a period when you feel like you have it all figured out, mid-life can be a time of uncertainty and anxiousness. 

Not Knowing Yourself Can Make You Anxious

Not knowing you can leave you feeling anxious.

I found that once most of my kids left the nest, I was thinking more about me — where I was, who I was and where I wanted to be. The realization that I wasn’t sure of the answers to those questions left me feeling shaken, anxious and without a clear picture of my true self.  I’d played so many roles (daughter, partner, mother, friend, student, coworker, colleague) throughout my life that when the time came to just be me I wasn’t sure who I was. 

When you no longer identify with the various roles that you play, or you feel as though they no longer hold true for where you are in your life, it can be unsettling. You’ve got to figure out what you want and need and you’re not sure what that is. You might be asking yourself, “How did I get to this point in my life and not know what I need?”

Not Knowing How You Feel Can Drive Anxiety

When I was growing up, my family didn’t talk a lot about feelings. If your caregivers didn’t demonstrate how to express and process emotions, it makes it really hard to know how you’re feeling when you’re an adult. The same is true if your family didn’t support your having feelings, or if you were punished for expressing strong, difficult emotions, When I felt vulnerable, or when there was a lot of unpredictability in my life, I got really anxious because I didn’t know how to identify and share those feelings. So when it was time to figure out what I wanted, my anxiety peaked and I was left and wondering why I didn’t have a clearer picture of me. 

I’ve written about the impact of your childhood experiences and your attachment to your parents on how you interact with yourself and others. If you’ve experienced childhood abuse or emotional neglect, or if your emotional, spiritual and physical needs weren’t met as a child, it can leave you feeling:

  • Anxious
  • Disconnected from yourself
  • Untethered
  • Not feeling truly connected in your intimate relationships
  • Wanting more, but unsure how to make it happen

How Therapy Can Help

If this sounds familiar to you, I’d like to share how therapy can help. 

Therapy gives you the time and place to look inward, to explore and process your past in a supportive non-judgmental space. That last sentence might put some people on the defensive: “My parents loved me!” “I’m not going to therapy to tear apart my relationship with my caregivers!” “You can’t make me hate my parents.” 

But therapy isn’t about telling you how to feel about your parents, and it isn’t about painting your parents in an unflattering light. It’s not about laying blame. Therapy is about knowing your true self and how you got there, pimples and all.

When you connect with yourself it's easier to connect with others

When you connect with yourself it's easier to connect with others

Therapy gives you the space to identify your feelings, as they happen, in the moment. You can explore all the parts of you — including the critical, judgmental part; the child parts that get scared easily; the parts that want to withdraw, isolate or disconnect; and the parts that want to fight. When you learn to feel and express your own feelings with compassion, it’s a lot easier to figure out how others are feeling. And that makes you feel more connected to yourself and to those close to you.

If you’re interested in exploring YOU, I would love to talk to you.


Elizabeth Cush, LCPC is a therapist and the owner of Progression Counseling in Annapolis, Md. She helps busy, overwhelmed men and women manage their anxiety and stress so they can live their lives with more ease, contentment and purpose.

Photo by Devan Freeman and Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

3 Grounding Techniques To Help you Manage Anxiety

Have you ever felt like your anxious feelings came out of nowhere? It’s possible your anxiety was triggered by an unconscious, implicit memory. In the video above I explain more about implicit memories, the affect they have on our mental and physical well-being, and 3 grounding techniques to bring you back from the memory and into the present moment.


Elizabeth Cush, LCPC is a therapist and the owner of Progression Counseling in Annapolis, Md. She helps busy, overwhelmed men and women manage their anxiety and stress so they can live their lives with more ease, contentment and purpose.

Be Kind To Yourself

Everyone makes mistakes, but some of us continue to think about what we could have done better after the event. We beat ourselves up about small things. If you find that you are your own worst critic—harder on yourself than others—maybe it’s time to show a little self-compassion.

What Is Self-Compassion And Why Is It So Hard?

Why is self-compassion so hard?

Why is self-compassion so hard?

We seem to be able to offer others, even strangers, compassion when times are tough. Why is it so hard to be kind to ourselves when we are struggling? Some people think, “If I am not hard on myself, I will never get things done.” Others might say, “Self-compassion is self-indulgence, or selfishness.”

Many people think self-compassion means we give ourselves a pass for everything we do. That’s not it. Self-compassion means that we offer ourselves the same message of comfort and understanding that we might offer a friend who was going through the same thing.

Dr. Kristin Neff has done a lot of research and writing about self-compassion. She identified that self-compassion has three components: self-kindness, common humanity and mindfulness. You can read more about her findings here.

The Argument For Self-Compassion

I’d argue that if we don’t take care of our own emotional well-being, we’ll have a hard time helping others when things get tough. If we are struggling emotionally, frustrated with ourselves, or constantly self-critical, it is very hard to give balanced support to someone else. If we can’t accept and love ourselves, faults and all, how can we offer that compassion to others?

Self-Kindness

Believe and be kind to yourself

Believe and be kind to yourself

Self-kindness means that if we are feeling fearful, or sad, or we are questioning our behavior, we offer ourselves words of kindness, instead of criticism. When we imagine what we might say to a good friend who was suffering and then offer those same words to ourselves, we can acknowledge our discomfort and recognize that no one is perfect. This can help challenge our inner-critic, which can cause us to feel bad about ourselves, create anxiety, and keep us from taking chances or trying out new things.

Common Humanity

When times are tough—maybe you’re feeling anxious, depressed, or just having a bad day—if you can remind yourself that everyone has bad days, that everyone struggles, it can ease the intensity in that moment. When we ease the intensity, we can reduce the feelings of anxiety and depression. Here’s a guided meditation to help you.

 

Mindfulness

Dr. Neff writes that “Mindfulness is a non-judgmental, receptive mind state in which one observes thoughts and feelings as they are, without trying to suppress or deny them.”

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When rethinking a mistake, we can get stuck in the “what ifs,” or if onlys.” Learning to come back to the present moment, through mindful breathing and grounding techniques, we begin to understand that thoughts, feelings and behaviors all come and go. Instead of the constant worry about the past or future, we become accustomed to allowing what is. This can help reduce negative thinking, ruminating, self-blame and shame, because we learn not to over-identify with our feelings or thoughts.

How To Move Forward With Self-Compassion

Through self-compassion practice, we can begin to accept our imperfections, and to feel more connected with those around us, because we are all human, and humans struggle from time-to-time. We learn to accept the ups and downs in life as a part of our experience, instead of a reflection of who we are. We learn that the anxious inner critical voice is just one part of us, and with compassionit can be quieted.

Trying anything new takes practice. At first, it might be hard to offer yourself kind, compassionate understanding but keep at it. The more often you can see yourself with love and kindness the easier it becomes.

If you want to bring more self-compassion into your daily life, check out my blog Spring: A Time To Cultivate And Grow Self-Compassion, or contact me, 410-340-8469.


Elizabeth Cush, LCPC is a therapist and the owner of Progression Counseling in Annapolis, Md. She helps busy, overwhelmed men and women manage their anxiety and stress so they can live their lives with more ease, contentment and purpose.

Photos courtesy of Yoann Boyer and Seth Doyle for Unsplash

 

 

 

 

 

Managing Anxiety When Things Don’t Go As Planned

When Unplanned Changes Create Stress

I’m not super organized. I don’t have my days planned down to the minute, but I like to know what the day has in store. It brings me comfort and it helps me manage my anxiety. If I know what to expect for the day ahead, I feel more settled. But no matter how organized I am, or how much I plan, things don’t go the way I expect, and that makes me anxious.

I know that life can’t be completely predictable. It would be way to boring if it were. I also know that it’s important to be able to manage change, but anxiety creeps in when you don’t know what happens next. If you’re like me, it’s much harder to manage anxiety in the face of an emergency or even a sudden change of plans.

When your plans do change unexpectedly, you might feel:

unplanned changes can leave you stressed

unplanned changes can leave you stressed

  • Tightness in your chest, or stomach
  • A general sense of foreboding
  • Resistant to doing something else
  • Hyper-focused on how things could have gone differently
  • Worried about the new or changed plans
  • Stuck and unable to “go with the flow”
  • Wary, but unsure as to why
  • Angry about having to make changes
  • Unsettled and upset

Anxiety Builds When We're Not in Control

Many people manage their anxiety by trying to control their environment. Control over your life and environment gives you the sense that things are right with the world. You tell yourself, “I’ve got this, easy-peasy.”

When that sense of control is shaken, it can feel threatening and scary — and that’s a vulnerable place to be. The feeling that the world could turn upside down without warning creates a lot of anxiety and stress. You feel unsafe, sensing that a potential danger lies ahead. Research has shown that being able to recognize and name your fears can calm you more effectively than avoiding or ignoring them.

Here are 5 steps to help you manage your anxiety with self-care:

1.     Check in with yourself with curiosity. Ask yourself, “What’s happening for me right now? What am I worried will happen?”

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2.     Name your fears and worries. Use the list of feeling words I shared in my last post and dive deep to get at the root of those fears. Say it out loud to yourself: “I’m feeling ______ because I don’t feel in control of my world right now.”

3.     Allow the feelings to be present. We’re so used to avoiding difficult emotions, especially if we’ve been traumatized or neglected. And our culture and society reinforces that message. Just watch television for a little while and you’ll get the idea that we’re supposed to move on from difficult feelings. But research has shown that acknowledging how you’re feeling, allowing the feelings to be there, can ease anxiety and depression.

4.     Self-soothe. It’s possible you were never taught how to offer yourself compassion or how to soothe yourself. Placing your hand on your heart and saying a few soothing phrases can help reground you and calm your anxious mind and body. Say to yourself, “I’m struggling right now. We all struggle from time-to-time and this is really hard for me in this moment.” Again with your hand your heart, you can also offer yourself these calming phrases: “May I be safe. May I be peaceful. May I be healthy, and may I live my life with ease.”

5.     Check in with yourself again. With curiosity, ask yourself again how you’re feeling. Check in with your thoughts, feelings and your body. It’s possible that you’re feeling better. If not, ask yourself if you need to repeat the steps again.


Elizabeth Cush, LCPC is a therapist and the owner of Progression Counseling in Annapolis, Md. She helps busy, overwhelmed men and women manage their anxiety and stress so they can live their lives with more ease, contentment and purpose.

Photo courtesy of Nik Shuliahin and Aidan Meyer for Unsplash.

Reconnecting With Yourself

Feeling Different or Flawed: Part 2 in a two-part series

I recently posted about the impact that childhood emotional neglect and abuse can have when you’re an adult: Intentional and unintentional trauma and abuse can leave you feeling that some part of you will never feel truly connected to others  — that maybe you’re just different in some way. Dr. Jonice Webb calls it the fatal flaw.  I also posted my own story, A Story of Survival and Healing: A Therapists Story into Seeing and Being Seen, sharing how trauma impacted me as a person and as a therapist.

Reconnecting with yourself can ease anxiety

Reconnecting with yourself can ease anxiety

Feeling different or apart can make it hard to feel connected from the people in your life you care most about. Or it can make it hard to form new connections. It can leave you feeling anxious because you don’t feel like you’re showing up as your “true self.” But what keeps that distance between you and others isn’t a fatal flaw that can never be healed.

If you’ve felt disconnected from others, there’s a good chance you were never taught how to manage or regulate your feelings when you were growing up. Maybe difficult feelings like anger, fear or sorrow weren’t validated, or you were punished or shunned for expressing them.

Anxiety Shows Up

When you’re taught that feeling and expressing our emotions isn’t safe, and you didn’t have people in your life who modeled how to manage emotions, it’s really hard to figure out these skills by yourself. You become uncomfortable when strong emotions surface, so you push them down, avoid and ignore them. Avoiding the difficult emotions creates a disconnection from yourself because you don’t know how you’re feeling in the moment. Anxiety creeps or jumps in, because your body understands that you’re feeling discomfort and it wants to alert you to any potential danger.

You might feel numb, unable to describe how you feel, or you might find it hard to identify the more subtle emotions. As a result, you use very basic language when describing your feelings:

  • I’m angry.
  • I’m sad.
  • I’m happy.

Those few phrases barely scratch the surface. There are so many ways to describe our different emotional states. Here’s a list of words you can use to better illustrate how you feel. Just to give you an idea of the diverse language of emotion, here are 10 words to express sadness to help you get to the core of what you’re experiencing:

  • depressed
  • dejected
  • in despair
  • despondent
  • disheartened
  • forlorn
  • gloomy
  • hopeless
  • melancholy
  • wretched

Reconnecting With Yourself

In order to feel connected to others, you have to be able to connect with yourself first, because when you don’t know how you’re feeling it can be hard to understand how others are feeling. So the first step is to get back in touch with those feelings that you have avoided, pushed down and ignored.

6 Suggestions For Getting In Touch With Your Feelings

Meditate. Meditation allows you to calm your mind and understand your body’s reaction to stress.

Practice mindfulness. Being more present in the moment gives you a greater understanding of your body, your thoughts and your feelings. Pausing and being mindful when you’re stressed and anxious can help you understand your feelings as they’re happening. And when you know what’s bubbling up, you can better soothe yourself.

Journal your emotions. Use the list of emotions try to identify exactly what you’re feeling. When you can name an emotion with authenticity, you might feel your body relax, because you’re allowing yourself to see it and feel it.

Get in touch with the “felt sense.” Try the exercise below to help you better understand what your body is telling you about how you feel. It helps you get in touch with the felt sense and honor what your body has to tell you.

This is an exercise to help you get in touch with your body when feeling difficult emotions.

Offer yourself some compassion. When you’re struggling or you feel like you’re “less than” or flawed, you might blame yourself or feel ashamed. Maybe you’re very critical of the mistakes you make or maybe you get caught up in the things you should have done or said. Offering yourself compassion can calm and soothe you in times of stress.

Share your story with a counselor. Finding a therapist who specializes in trauma and attachment, and childhood emotional abuse can help you feel understood and seen. Therapy can help you learn how to reconnect with yourself in meaningful ways.


Elizabeth Cush, LCPC is a therapist and the owner of Progression Counseling in Annapolis, Md. She helps busy, overwhelmed men and women manage their anxiety and stress so they can live their lives with more ease, contentment and purpose.

Photo courtesy of Samuel Dixon for Unsplash.

Seeing And Being Seen: My Story Of Survival And Healing

Me as a young girl

Me as a young girl

Earlier this year I decided to write what I thought would be a “how therapy helped me become a better therapist” story. Over the years, I’ve been in and out of therapy to help me manage my anxiety and depression. I created what I thought was a vulnerable, open piece that shared how my own therapy helped me learn to cope with trauma and how each of the therapists I’d worked with led me to insights that help me be a better therapist today.

I submitted the piece to colleagues who have a contributor’s blog on their website, The Practice of Being Seen. Although I felt I’d been open, honest and vulnerable, I was told that the piece didn’t go deep enough into my story. I think one of the comments they had was, “We want to know about you, not your therapists.”

I went back to the computer and started again. After multiple edits and rewrites, it turns out that the story I needed to tell was a much different, much more personal story — the story of being the survivor of childhood sexual abuse. You might wonder, “Why anyone would want to share that story? Isn’t that too much to share with the world?” That’s precisely why I needed to tell it.

I recently had the honor and pleasure of attending a talk by author, speaker, researcher, social worker extraordinaire Brené Brown who said, “When we deny our stories, they define us. When we write our own stories, we write the ending.” I knew then it was time for me to write my own ending.

When we hold our stories so close that they rarely see the light of day, the story remains the same. For me, avoiding the story created a negative feedback loop. For years I felt damaged by the abuse, because all I could feel was the shame of what happened. Avoiding what happened, and the feelings associated with it left me feeling disconnected from me and those around me. I needed to retell my story from a place of strength.

Writing my story, A Story of Survival and Healing: A Therapists Journey Into Seeing and Being Seen, has been a difficult, raw and extremely empowering experience. As Anne Lamott writes, “It's good to do uncomfortable things. It's weight training for life.”

Let me know your thoughts and if you’re ready, start writing your own story.

 

Symptoms Of Anxiety You Might Not Recognize

Some Not So Obvious Symptoms of Anxiety

Part 1 in a two-part series.

woman at window.jpg

Anxiety causes many physical and emotional symptoms. Some are more obvious and you can read more about them here. Others are subtle, so you might not recognize them. Maybe anxiety leaves you feeling disconnected from the people you care most about and wondering if there’s something “different” about you that keeps you from making deeper connections. Or maybe you believe that other people have some “thing” that enables them to pursue and maintain relationships with ease, and that you lack whatever that “thing” is.

That deep-down sense of difference can keep you stuck in the same patterns and justifying your isolating behaviors. You might tell yourself:

·      “I’m too busy to hang out.”

·      “I don’t want to be a burden.”

·      “I’m just not feeling social.”

·      “I prefer to stay home.”

·      “I’m not a ‘people person.’”

These statements keep you from reaching out and asking for help, or getting involved in things that might make you feel closer or connected to others in a deeper way. These thoughts reinforce your belief that you don’t have whatever that “thing” that others seem to have and can lead to feelings of difference and unease, loneliness, sadness or desperation.

What Makes It So Hard To Connect?

We all were born with the need to feel connected to others but, for some people, making or keeping close relationships can feel threatening or unsafe. You might read that last sentence and think it’s ridiculous. “I don’t feel unsafe! No one is going to hurt me!” But if you were emotionally neglected or abused in childhood, opening up and showing your true self can be a frightening experience. A deeply held sense that you can’t trust the people in your life, even those closest to you, to support and be there for you can keep your true self from showing up. When we hold back, other people sense our reserve; they feel our reluctance to bring them in close. This keeps them at a distance, leaving you feeling unsatisfied with your relationships, and reinforces your belief that there’s something wrong or different about you.

kids in a field.jpg

When we are children, our needs are met when we're taken care of emotionally, physically and spiritually. If some of those needs are neglected, punishment is severe, or nurturing is intentionally withheld, you wind up feeling disconnected from yourself. If your parents didn't model how to manage difficult feelings, if they ignored your feelings or punished you for expressing them, you learned that feelings are bad and should be disguised or hidden. When you don’t learn how to manage emotions, you wind up as an adult without the ability to recognize what you’re feeling and you don't know how to regulate your emotions or soothe yourself.

We Blame Ourselves

As children, we often blame ourselves and feel shame when the caregivers who are supposed to love us aren’t able to meet our needs. Those feelings shame and the inability to understand what we’re feeling in the moment can lead to an underlying notion that you’re flawed or damaged, believing that there is a “thing” about you that’s different from everyone else. Dr. Jonice Webb calls this “The Fatal Flaw,” and describes it this way:

“A deep-seated feeling that something is wrong with you. You are missing something that other people have. You are living life on the outside, looking in. You don’t quite fit in anywhere.”

You can read more about this in her book, Running On Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect.

Feeling inherently different from others can make it incredibly difficult to feel connected. If you think you’re flawed, then you might think that you’ll never change, that you’ll never have what others do. This can lead to feeling isolated, unsatisfied and anxious or depressed.

But there’s hope! Feeling disconnected or flawed isn’t a life sentence. In my next blog post, I’ll discuss ways to help you begin to recognize your feelings in the moment, and how to self-soothe when you’re feeling difficult emotions.


Elizabeth Cush, LCPC is a therapist and the owner of Progression Counseling in Annapolis, Md. She helps busy, overwhelmed men and women manage their anxiety and stress so they can live their lives with more ease, contentment and purpose.

Photos courtesy of Daria Nepriakhina and Kevin Gent for Unsplash

 

 

 

 

How To Manage Fear

Fear can make us feel isolated

Fear can make us feel isolated

Fear is one of those emotions that gets a bad rap, In our society fear is often identified as a weakness. We even have slurs for people who we deem scared or fearful: sissy (or worse), wuss, scaredy cat or wimp. However, fear often lies beneath other more acceptable emotional states like grieving, feeling anxious or being angry.

Why Do We Have Fear?

Fear is a natural, primal response to a perceived threat. According to Merriam Webster fear is:

“an unpleasant often strong emotion caused by anticipation or awareness of danger.”

Way back in the day, when we were being chased by lions or other predators, our fear kept us on our toes, ready to fight or flee. Fear kept us safe. And fear still keeps us safe. When we sense a threat, we guard ourselves both physically and emotionally. The problems come when we live with fear as a constant companion, and it creeps into how we manage our everyday life.

Fear In Modern Life

Early childhood trauma, childhood emotional neglect, sexual abuse or assault, and physically and/or emotionally abusive relationships can all manifest themselves in a deeply held sense that you’re not safe. Your mind and body want to protect you so they’re ready for danger all the time.

This constant underlying level of fear can make even mundane tasks seems scary or dangerous.

I know that fear has kept me from exploring new opportunities or opening myself up in new relationships. There were times when I even found it difficult to make phone calls because it didn’t feel safe. Because of my fears, I often felt stuck, lonely, afraid, disconnected and isolated. My own therapy has helped me to understand how my fears keep me from connecting with others and myself.

How Fear Shows Up

Because fear often lurks below the surface of our consciousness, it can show up in many different ways, and we don’t often recognize it for what it is. Here are a few ways that fear can present itself:

  • Anxiety — This is the fear of situations and things that are uncertain or that you feel you can’t control.
  •  Social Anxiety — This is the fear that others are judging you. You worry that you might embarrass yourself.
  • Grief  — This can include fear of the future, fear of death and fear of being alone.
  • Fear of rejection — This can keep you from opening yourself up to others.
  • Fear of abandonment — You might make you cling to those you love because you worry they will leave you.
  • Anger  — Anger can mask fear. For some people it’s easier to feel angry than it is to feel scared.
  • Fear of failure — This keeps you from trying new things.

No matter how fear shows up in your life, it can leave you feeling anxious, depressed, stressed and stuck.

Overcoming Fear Might Not Be The Answer

Most people manage their fear by avoiding the things they’re afraid of. If you worry about being judged by others, you avoid places where you might meet new people. If you’re afraid of rejection, you avoid opening yourself up to others. If you’re afraid you’ll be abandoned, you avoid confrontation, and you often put others’ needs before your own. If you’re grieving, you might fear you’ll never get over it, and you tell yourself it’s time to move on. If you’re scared of being emotionally hurt, you might lash out in anger to avoid feeling that pain.

The problem with using avoidance to manage your fears is that it’s only temporary relief. Ultimately, avoiding situations that make you fearful can leave you feeling anxious or depressed because you want to overcome your fears. You want to change, but you can’t do so if you constantly avoiding what you fear. Avoiding your fears makes you feel stuck where you are, disconnected from those you love and care for, and worrying that maybe there’s something wrong with you. 

Facing Fear With Compassion

Facing fear with compassion

Facing fear with compassion

 It’s not possible, or even desirable, to overcome fear completely. If we did, we would no longer sense real danger, and knowing when to protect yourself is a valuable tool for survival. What we can do is learn to how live with our fears.

Being afraid can be physically and emotionally uncomfortable. You sweat. Your heart rate increases. Breathing becomes shallow. It can be hard to swallow. Your stomach or head might ache and you might begin to shake. All of these bodily sensations alert you to possible danger ahead. And then there’s your brain. It’s probably telling you to get away from whatever it is you’re fearful of. Although your body and mind are telling you to run away from or avoid the scary things, research tells us that the best thing we can do (when there is no actual danger) is to be open and curious about our fears.

Now I get that you’re probably saying that leaning into your fear is the last thing you want to do! But if you allow your fear to exist, if acknowledge it, if you’re open it and willing to explore what your fear wants you to know with compassion, it can actually reduce the fear response. Sounds crazy, right?

An Exercise To Help You Manage Fear

Here’s an exercise you can try the next time fear is keeping you from living your life fully:

If you find you’re avoiding something because the idea of it makes you uncomfortable, find a quiet place and really tune into your body.

What physical sensations do you notice?

  • Is your chest tight?
  • Are your breaths shallow and quick?
  • Can you feel your heart racing?
  • Are sweating a little
  • Does your throat feel constricted?

Accept whatever sensations you experience. Take a few slow deep breaths. Breathe into any tension you might feel in your body, and imagine the tension melting away as you breathe out.

Now check in with what’s going on in your head.

What are you telling yourself? Are you…

  • Worried you’ll embarrass yourself?
  •  Worried that others will be judging you?
  • Afraid you’ll make a mistake, or be rejected?
  • Worried that by feeling your fear you’ll get sucked into it or that feeling your fear will make it worse?

I want you to acknowledge all those uncomfortable thoughts. You can say to yourself, “Wow, I’m really scared and struggling right now.”  Sometimes it can help to place a hand on your heart and say, “This is so hard. I’m so afraid to ______.” (You fill in the blank.) Try to hold your fear with compassion.

Take some more time to check in with your body once again. Notice if any of the physical sensations have changed. Are they more intense? Have they lessened? If you’re still feeling the strong physical presence of fear, take a few more deep breaths, breathing into tension and imagining the edges of that tension softening just a little. 

Now, imagine that your fear is there in the room with you. What does it look like? What color and shape is it? If you have the supplies on hand, draw a picture of it. If not, create a mental picture of the fear.

Get Curious About Fear

Once you have a clear sense of how the fear feels and looks, ask it if it would be willing to let you get closer. Ask it if it’s willing to let you be curious about why it’s showing up. If it feels safe, ask the fear what its worries are and what it wants you to know. Often, our fear wants to protect us, to keep us safe. Maybe it’s worried that you’ll be hurt and wants you to stay at home so you’ll never be hurt again. Maybe it’s worried that you’ll be overwhelmed by grief, and so it wants you to stop thinking about it and move on.

If you can, thank your fear for wanting to protect you. Acknowledge that it’s kept you safe, but that now it’s time for it to step back and let you move forward, so you can take some chances and feel your feelings. When you can appreciate and feel gratitude for your fear and how it’s protected you all these years, it can open up space inside you and calm your body.

It might be too hard to be curious about your fear because it still doesn’t feel safe. If you’re not ready to investigate your fear, that’s OK. Instead, I want you to ask your fear if you can just sit with it for a bit. Allow the fear to be present. Take a few deep, cleansing breaths. Notice where you feel it in your body and continue to offer yourself compassion.

Moving Forward And Facing Your Fear

If you’ve experienced childhood trauma or childhood emotional neglect and you want help managing your fears I’d love work with you on this journey. Please send me an email or call me at 410-340-8469.


Photos courtesy of Milada Vigerova andGiuila Bertelli for Unsplash.

Elizabeth Cush, LGPC is a therapist and the owner of Progression Counseling in Annapolis, Md. She helps busy, overwhelmed men and women manage their anxiety and stress so they can live their lives with more ease, contentment and purpose.

 

How To Put Mindfulness Into Practice

woman on the beach.jpg

I am fortunate to live near the water. When I take a walk, I try to pause for a few moments to take in the sights and sounds. I find that I feel calmer and at peace with myself even if I stop for just a few minutes. It’s not surprising. Studies have shown that just being in nature, especially near water, can have positive mental health benefits, such as reduced feelings of anxiety and depression.

I took a walk the other day. It was such a lovely day, so peaceful, warm and calm. I captured a minute of it on video.

If you’d like to learn how to be more mindful, or you’re already practicing, here’s a quick exercise on being mindful in nature. First, take a moment to read through the guided mindfulness exercise below, and then watch the video, paying attention to what you hear and see.

About Mindfulness

It’s important to know there’s no right or wrong way to be mindful. The purpose of mindfulness is to be present in the moment, with curiosity and without judgment. Some days, it’s harder to be mindful; other days you feel truly present. And that’s OK.

Mindfulness is not about eliminating your thoughts or cares. It’s not about pretending to be happy when you’re not. It’s about allowing yourself to be here, now, for this moment instead of being caught up in thinking, planning and worrying about past and future events.

Mindfulness Exercise

When you watch the video, be in the moment. Here are some ways to do that:

  • Notice the different sizes and shapes of the boats. What colors do you see?
  • Try to pick out the different sounds that you hear. Can you hear the wind, the birds, the sail riggings, someone doing work on a boat or the dock? What else do you hear?
  • Pay attention to movement. What do you notice about how the reflection of the boats and houses move on the water?
  • If you were there, what smells might you notice?
  • Finally, check in with your body. What are you feeling? Pay attention to any tingling, warmth, coolness, numbness, or discomfort. If you’re sitting, notice the contact of your back and bottom with the chair. Whether you’re sitting or standing, focus on your hands and try to soften your hands. Can you feel your feet on the floor? How about your toes? What sensations are you noticing?

Now I want you to click on the video above or watch the video here. Just allow yourself to be present in the moment and observe what arises. What catches your attention? How does your body feel?  What thoughts do you notice? Can you feel your breath?

Coming Back To Presence

When you’re finished watching the video, take a few slow, deep breaths. Take a look around and notice what’s in the room in front of you. You’ve just spent a few minutes being mindful. It was that easy. It’s easy to be so busy, or caught up in thoughts, that you miss the things that are right in front of you.

If you’d like to bring more mindfulness into your daily life, try taking a few minutes each day to stop and notice your sensory input (sight, sound, smell, touch and taste) and your body’s sensations. Leave a comment below and me know how you do.


Elizabeth Cush, LGPC is a therapist and the owner of Progression Counseling in Annapolis, Md. She helps busy, overwhelmed men and women manage their anxiety and stress so they can live their lives with more ease, contentment and purpose.

When Stress Gets Overwhelming

At times I get overwhelmed by stress and anxiety. Usually it’s because I have too many things to do. Sometimes, just the thought of adding something else to my busy life makes me stressed. Other times, something unexpected pops up and leaves my well-laid plans in shambles, and then I have a hard time staying relaxed and calm.

If you’re overwhelmed by stress and anxiety here’s how you might be feeling:

Stress can leave you feeling overwhelmed

Stress can leave you feeling overwhelmed

  • You have lots to do but don’t know where to start.
  • It’s hard to concentrate and focus.
  • You lack motivation.
  • It’s hard to fall asleep or stay asleep because your worries play on a continuous loop in your head.
  • You’re irritable with those you care about.

 

It’s Hard To Manage If You Feel Overwhelmed

When you’re stressed, even daily tasks like doing the dishes, laundry, shopping or taking the dog out can feel like a burden. Today I completely avoided vacuuming. I really wanted clean carpets, and I knew it would only take a couple of minutes to do it, but guess what? I didn’t do it because the idea of having another thing on my plate left me feeling totally stressed out. I told myself, “I’ll do it tomorrow.”

Not vacuuming for a day isn’t a big deal. The problem comes when you’re constantly avoiding stuff just to avoid the stress and anxiety. Then things begin to snowball, leaving you more stressed out than you were to begin with.

How To Manage Your Stress

You may not be able to eliminate stress from your life completely, but you can find ways to manage it so you don’t feel as overwhelmed or anxious. Here are some tips that have worked for me and my clients:

Keep to-dolists short
  • Keep to-do lists short. Long lists can add to your stress. Make the list manageable enough to complete easily in a day. I suggest no more than four items on your list. If you quickly cross them all off, you can always make another list — or just revel in your productiveness!
  • Start small. Begin with the easiest thing on the list. If making that phone call that you’ve been putting off feels like too much, put the dishes in the dishwasher first. Sometimes checking off items on your list gives you the motivation to do more.
  • Practice mindfulness when doing your to-dos. When you’re doing one task and you’re also busy thinking about and planning the next thing, or you’re multi-tasking, you’re creating more stress for yourself. Paying close attention to what you’re seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling and touching while doing the task at hand allows you to get out of your head and into what’s happening now, right in front of you. And that can calm your frazzled nerves.
  • Create some time for you. Take a few minutes out of your day to sit and have an herbal tea, or whatever sounds good to you. It’s important to take care of yourself, even if that means you’re just taking time to get a drink of water, a snack, or go to the bathroom.
  • Be kind to yourself. If that voice in your head is yelling at you all the time, you might think it would motivate you — but the reality is, it’s just making you feel bad about yourself and adding to your stress. Feeling bad can take the wind right out of your sails, leaving you feeling unmotivated once again. So instead of being overly critical, how about offering yourself some kindness? Say to yourself, “Today I didn’t get as much done as I wanted, but I did cross two things off my list. I will face challenges, and I’m OK with the things I accomplished.”

If you frequently feel overwhelmed and would like some help with managing your stress, please send me an email or call me at 410-340-8469 for a free 15-minute consultation.


Elizabeth Cush, MA, LGPC is a therapist and the owner of Progression Counseling in Annapolis, Md. She helps busy, overwhelmed men and women manage their anxiety and stress so they can live their lives with more ease, contentment and purpose.

Photos courtesy of Aidan Meyer and Tamarcus Brown for Unsplash.

 

Cultivate And Grow Self-Compassion This Spring

Crocus in spring

I love seeing the spring flowers break through the ground at this time of year. That first crocus blooming on a chilly day always makes me smile. When I hear the sound of robins chirping in the trees, I think that they, too, are excited for warmer weather and sunnier days.

But, for some people, springtime isn’t always a happy, hopeful time of year. You might feel disconnected from the people in your life and wonder what you’re doing wrong. Maybe you’re feeling that it’s time to make some changes in your life, but you don’t know where to start.

Depression and anxiety make it hard to grow and change

If you feel stuck, the changes spring brings can be a constant reminder of your immobility, which can bring on feelings of intense anxiety and depression.

Maybe you feel stuck because:

  • You lack motivation.
  • Your inner-critic is harsh or demanding
  • The idea of making changes leaves you anxious or scared.
  • You don’t believe that you have much to offer.
  • You get overwhelmed easily.
  • You feel disconnected or numb.
  • You yearn to connect with others but fear rejection.

Often, feelings of inadequacy or inferiority generate fears that keep you stuck. Then you feel bad about yourself because you worry that you won’t ever move forward or make changes. The more you avoid making changes, the worse you feel, and you get caught in a cycle that spirals downward and leaves you feeling anxious and depressed.

Practicing self-compassion can help ease depression and anxiety

Instead of beating ourselves up for not making changes, or telling ourselves we’re lacking in some way, let’s make spring a time to change how we think about ourselves!

If we can learn to see ourselves with compassion, to embrace our imperfections and accept our fears, we can start to embrace differences in others. This opens us up to the possibility of new connections.

When we allow ourselves to be human, to make mistakes and respond with compassion, we begin to understand that we’re not alone in our struggle. Our sense of isolation recedes, the self-judgment softens, and that can ease the anxiety and depression.

What is self-compassion?

Self-compassion sounds like a great idea, but what exactly does it mean? Through extensive research, Dr. Kristin Neff found that self-compassion has three components—self-kindness, common humanity and mindfulness. You can read more about her findings here.

5 steps to help you cultivate self-compassion

What does practicing self-compassion look like in day-to-day life? Here are some things that have worked for me and for my clients:

Woman hugging herself
  1. If you’re always beating yourself up about mistakes or things you wish you’d done differently, remind yourself that we all struggle from time to time. Everyone has challenges. In fact, you probably know someone who’s having hard time right now, and there are probably people in your community you see every day who are struggling, and there are definitely people all over the world who are experiencing their own challenges. So in these difficult moments remind yourself, “This is really hard right now. I’m struggling, and we all struggle at times because we’re human.”
  2. Practice self-compassion and loving kindness meditations.
  3. When you feel anxious or stressed, place your hand on your heart, close your eyes and tell yourself, “I’m here. I will always be here, and I will always love you.” Sometimes making a loving statement to yourself is difficult. If this statement is too hard, instead you can say, “I am here and my intention is to love you.”
  4. Practice mindfulness. This helps you understand that although the present circumstance might be hard, life is full of ups and downs, and things won’t always be as hard as they are right now.
  5. Imagine what someone close to you might say to you if he or she knew you were having a hard time and repeat those words to your self.

If you would like help cultivating and growing your self-compassion and need some guidance for your journey, please email or call me at 410-340-8469.


Elizabeth Cush, MA, LGPC is a therapist and the owner of Progression Counseling in Annapolis, Md. She helps busy, overwhelmed men and women manage their anxiety and stress so they can live their lives with more ease, contentment and purpose.

Photos courtesy of Elizabeth Cush and Brooke Cagle for Unsplash.

When Standing Up For Yourself Gets You Down

Why is it so hard to say "no"?

Why is it so hard to say "no"?

Why is it so hard to say “no”? Why is it that asking for what we want or we need makes us anxious and stressed out? I know I’ve struggled with speaking up for myself. If you’ve had a hard time expressing yourself, here are some of the kinds of thoughts that might be standing in your way: 

  • “They won’t agree with me.”
  • “It doesn’t really mater what I want.”
  • “As long as everyone else is happy, I’m OK.”
  • “I can always do what I want another time.”
  • “I don’t want to seem selfish.”
  • “I don’t want to be a burden.”
  • “I’ll just go with the flow.”

Putting yourself out there can be very difficult, especially if you’re used to going along with others instead of expressing yourself. It might seem easier to keep quiet instead of speaking up, but being able to say, “No thanks, I can’t help you move next weekend,” or “I don’t really like Indian food. Can we eat somewhere else?” or “Sorry, I can’t watch your dog,” can be very liberating!

If you find you’re always deferring to others, or helping out when you don’t really want to, you might be feeling:

  • Resentful
  • Angry
  • Anxious
  • Taken for granted
  • Guilty

Steps To Help Understand What You Want

  1. When someone asks for your opinion about where to go or what to do, or if they’re asking a for a favor, and you’re feeling stuck or uncomfortable about speaking up, ask to have some time to think about it.
  2. Sit with the request and ask yourself, “What’s coming up for me right now?” Do you feel obligated? Are you afraid you might make the wrong choice? Are you feeling burdened? Would you like to say “no,” but are worried they’ll be mad at you?
  3. Whatever it is you’re feeling, it’s OK. Sit with it, acknowledge it and welcome the feelings.
  4. Once you’ve acknowledged how you feel, repeat the request to yourself. Now you can weigh it with more clarity.
  5. If you find that you really don’t want to do the favor, or that you’d rather eat in than dine out (or whatever the options are), practice saying what you want out loud. Sometimes I find it helpful to write down a few notes about what I want to say, and then I rehearse it.
  6. After you’ve gotten in touch with your feelings and what you want to say, you’re in a better position to respond. Call, text, email or talk to the requester and tell him or her your decision.

Sometimes we do have to do things we don’t want to. I get that. The problem comes when you find that you’re not comfortable expressing your needs, and you’re always doing things that you don’t want to do. If this sounds like you, try the steps above and let me know if they helped!


Elizabeth Cush, MA, LGPC is a therapist and the owner of Progression Counseling in Annapolis, Md. She helps busy, overwhelmed men and women manage their anxiety and stress so they can live their lives with more ease, contentment and purpose.

Photos courtesy of Jimmy Bay for Unsplash.com

Uncovering the Roots of Anxiety and Stress

Therapy can be a fascinating process. Some people compare it to peeling an onion. Each layer offers new insights and understanding. Case in point — many of my clients come to me because they want to learn how to manage their stress and anxiety more effectively. As therapy progresses it becomes evident that they’re not just stressed about what’s going on in their lives today. What triggers their anxiety are deeply rooted negative thoughts and feelings they have about themselves. These thoughts often determine the stories we tell ourselves about who we are.

Some of the deeply held negative beliefs that my clients have shared in sessions include:

Deeply held beliefs can leave us feeling flawed
  • I am not enough.
  • I don’t matter.
  • I will always disappoint those who care about me.
  • I am unlovable.
  •  I am flawed.
  • If they knew the real me, they wouldn’t like me.
  • I should not be forgiven.

My clients are often surprised to learn that their situation is not unique. I’m not saying that each individual isn’t unique, but I have many clients who hold similar beliefs about themselves, because of their past experiences.

Doing the Deeper Work

Uncovering these beliefs often takes time because they’re unconscious, barely showing themselves when your anxiety starts to ramp up. As our work together progresses, trust begins to grow, and the deeper work begins. Sharing stories and impressions of past experiences in therapy can open the door to recognizing the messages you received growing up. Often, what I call the critical inner voice (or Negative Nelly), originates from experiences we had in those early years.

Because these messages are so painful and difficult to process, they’re often pushed down below the surface and bubble up through negative self-talk. That inner critic’s message can lead to anxious or depressed feelings. Therapy helps by bringing those negative messages to light. You can determine where they stem from, what drives them, and whether they are legitimate.

When Trauma and Emotional Neglect Aren’t Resolved

If you were emotionally, sexually or physically abused in childhood and that trauma wasn’t resolved or validated, it can leave you feeling inadequate or “less than” when you’re struggling. The same can be true if you were told to buck-up, to get over it, never show to when you’re hurt. These events and messages can also lead to being disconnected from your physical and emotional experience in adulthood, which makes it hard to know how you’re feeling. This can leave you uneasy or numb.

Mindfulness and Meditation Can Help

Mindfulness can create awareness of negative thoughts

Mindfulness and meditation can help make you more aware of your negative thoughts and allow you to be more comfortable with your difficult feelings. Finding and practicing self-compassion also plays an important role in letting go of the negative self-talk that comes so easily when we make mistakes, or we embarrass ourselves through our actions or statements. Self-compassion acknowledges that we’re human and often make mistakes and that, although we all suffer, this too will pass. It also creates a space to offer yourself some support and comfort.

Therapy Can Make a Difference

If you’re suffering from trauma-related anxiety or depression, and it feels overwhelming, therapy can help. It’s important to find a therapist you feel comfortable sharing with and opening up to. You want someone who you feel will understand, empathize and support you in your journey forward. If you struggle with anxiety or depression that might be related to past trauma, please call me at 410-340-8469 to begin the journey to healing.


Elizabeth Cush, MA, LGPC is a therapist and the owner of Progression Counseling in Annapolis, Md. She helps busy, overwhelmed men and women manage their anxiety and stress so they can live their lives with more ease, contentment and purpose.

Photos courtesy of Joshua Earle and Ashley Batz for Unsplash.com

Talking Bad

Sara Herstich, LCSW in her Huffington Post article, When We Tear One Woman Down, We Tear All Women Down, argues that it’s time to break that “mean girl” stereotype and that instead, women need to support and hold each other up. She says, “When we support and stand up for one another, we break the mold and give ourselves the space to lean into deeper social issues.” This got me thinking about whether or not I support other women.

I sometimes gossip about other women but it usually makes me feel uncomfortable. Putting others down to pull myself up is something I try to avoid. Often, the urge to put others down comes from our insecurities and anxieties.

Gossip Girls

Gossip can create stress

My aversion to talking badly about others began way back in junior high.  I had two friends who would always gossip about the one who wasn’t there. I was a kid who wasn’t sure where she into the world. So, when my friends drew me in with their confidences I felt like I was really a part of something. They were sharing secrets with me! I would then join in and gossip about the friend who was absent.

One day I was putting books into my book bag; I was crouched down and around the corner at the top of a flight of stairs. My two friends were coming up the stairs and they were talking about me. They were complaining that I had been talking about another girl who was new to the school. I felt like I’d been punched in the stomach twice. My friends were gossiping about me. They thought I wasn’t being fair to the new girl. They said I talked badly about her and then turned around and was nice to her face. They thought I was being a “mean girl.” I remember standing up and looking at them as they walked up the steps. They were surprised I was there and stopped talking immediately. We never talked about what they’d said but it stuck with me. I felt bad that I’d treated someone so carelessly. After that incident I remained friends with them through junior high, but I worked hard to stop participating in the gossip.

Let’s Change It Up

Support each other

I haven’t always held my ground about bad-mouthing other women and it’s not something I’m proud of. I find that I can still get sucked into talking about other women, and it always leaves me with a bad taste in my mouth. In this new year, I’ve made the intention to be more real, to be more vocal about my needs and to truly show up in my life. By letting go of the habit of putting others down I’ll be supporting other women and I’ll be showing up for myself.

Let’s make an intention; that instead of feeding off of our own insecurities, we hold each other up. Let’s celebrate community. Let's be kind. Let’s not get dragged into old patterns of behavior. Let’s create new ways to be in the world by supporting each other and looking for our commonalities instead of our differences.


Elizabeth Cush, MA, LGPC is a therapist and the owner of Progression Counseling in Annapolis, Md. She helps busy, overwhelmed men and women manage their anxiety and stress so they can live their lives with more ease, contentment and purpose.

Photos courtesy of Ben White and Cristian Newman or Unsplash.com.

Managing An Anxiety Attack

anxiety attacks leave us feeling alone

Anxiety attacks often come out of nowhere and cause a lot of physical and emotional distress. The attacks feel so random and beyond your control and that's scary. My recent article, How To Manage An Anxiety Attack, in the Severna Park Voice gives some pointers on things you can do when anxiety hits to help you feel more in control.  You can check out the article here.

I'd love to know your thoughts!

Elizabeth Cush, MA, LGPC is a therapist and the owner of Progression Counseling in Annapolis, Md. She helps busy, overwhelmed men and women manage their anxiety and stress so they can live their lives with more ease, contentment and purpose.