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

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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.

You Are Your Own Worst Critic

I woke up last night a bunch of times — each time with a different worry. Throughout the night I was rethinking plans for taking some time off, worrying about work and giving myself a hard time about things I need to get done but have been putting off. I woke up in a miserable mood. I was really down on myself.

Does this happen to you? Maybe it’s not when you’re trying to sleep; it could be at any point during the day when you’re caught up in your thoughts, and you’re being really hard on yourself. Suddenly you feel like poop.

When Your Life Makes You Anxious

Worrying can make you cranky

When I’m worrying and feeling bad about myself, I tend to get cranky with others and annoyed by things that normally roll off my back. Suddenly, even a small irritation becomes a big deal. Some of my angry thoughts this morning: Why is my husband chewing so loudly? The dog needs to stop barking, NOW! What the heck, my computer is so slow! I need a new one.

As I sat with these angry thoughts, I realized that my worries during the night left me feeling stressed, anxious and really unhappy with myself and my life. Instead of allowing those feelings to color how the rest of my day would go, I decided it was time for a little self-compassion.

Practicing Self-Compassion

I did a short, guided meditation to promote self-compassion and felt so much better! It reduced my anxiety, generated feelings of love and compassion for the struggle I was having, and allowed me to feel less irritable and anxious. Research has shown that practicing self-compassion reduces anxiety and generates feelings of goodwill towards self and others.

Want to try it for yourself? Below is a short, guided meditation on self-compassion. 

Having Compassion For Others

Regardless of your political views, right now the world feels extremely polarized, and social media can make us feel as if it’s “Us versus Them.” This can leave you feeling anxious, disconnected and stressed. Through a self-compassion practice, we can begin to accept our imperfections and feel more connected with those around us, because we are all human, and humans occasionally struggle. We learn to accept the ups and downs in life as a part of our experience, instead of a reflection of who we are.

If you’d like to explore more ways to silence your inner critic by practicing self-compassion, please call me at 410-340-8469 or email me.


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 for Unsplash.com.

Do Anxious Parents Raise Anxious Kids?

Anxiety is sneaky — so sneaky that we often don’t realize we have it until it’s a part of our daily lives. I didn’t recognize that I was experiencing anxiety until I was over 40 years old. I just thought I was irritable, stressed, introverted. When I began to recognize that my anxiety caused these things, I took a look back at my life and began to understand how often it showed up. After I saw the impact anxiety had on me, I worried about how much my anxiety had affected my kids.

The thing about anxiety is that you can pass it down to your kids without even trying or knowing that it’s happening.

Anxious Parents = Anxious Kids

kids pick up on anxious parents behaviors

Studies have shown that anxious parents can lead to anxious children. And it’s not genetics; the kids aren’t born that way. One of the ways children learn is by modeling the behaviors of others, then imitating them and internalizing them. Anxiety is one of those behaviors. If your child sees you getting stressed out or irritated before taking them to school, he picks up on your anxious feelings about going to school. If this occurs regularly, , your child might then develop her own anxieties about going to school. Your children can pick up on your anxieties in other areas, too, like social situations, making phone calls, phobias, when things are out of your control — you get it.

My children have manifested anxiety in their own ways: a fear of bugs (me too), anxiety attacks (I’ve had them) and social anxiety (I get it). This is not the legacy I wanted to pass down to my kids.

Learning To Manage Anxiety

The good news is that other studies have shown that parents who learn to model healthy ways of managing their anxiety have children who are less likely to develop anxiety themselves. When kids see their parents managing their anxiety in healthy ways, they learn how to manage their own anxious feelings. When I realized that I’d been anxious a long time, I discussed it with my kids and shared the ways I was learning to manage it.

create mindful moments to ease anxiety

My previous post gives some awesome tips from a colleague on how to help you manage your children’s anxiety. Below are a few suggestions for healthy ways to manage anxiety that you can model for your children:

• Practice calming techniques together when you’re not stressed out. Creating space to calm yourself when you’re feeling at peace helps you access that calm place when you’re stressed.  Involving your children will help them access it too. Meditation, breath awareness, yoga, mindful drawing and sitting quietly are all good ways to practice.

• Pause before reacting. Anxiety can make you very irritable and short-tempered. If you’re stressed or feeling uncomfortable, you might lash out at those you care about in ways you’ll regret later. Take the time to pause and take a deep cleansing breath, acknowledge your anxious feelings, think about what you want to say and how you want to say it. For example, maybe you’re driving in heavy traffic and your kids are singing or talking loudly in the car. Because you’re anxious about the traffic, you might find yourself yelling at the kids to be quiet. Instead, take a deep breath, recognize that you’re anxious and think about what you need from your kids to help ease your anxiety. You might then be able to say something like, “It’s super busy on the roads right now and it’s stressing me out. It would really help me if you guys can keep it down so I can pay attention to all the cars on the road.”

• Be kind to yourself. Anxiety often gets activated when we make mistakes or forget things. Beating yourself up only increases your stress. Try offering yourself words of comfort and support: “Oh no! I dropped the eggs! But that’s OK, everyone makes mistakes,” or “I missed my dentist appointment! That happened because I have a lot on my mind. But it’s OK because I’m human and sometimes I forget things.” Saying these phrases aloud shows your children that no one is perfect, and being imperfect is a part of life.

Therapy Can Help You Manage Anxiety

If you’re having trouble managing your anxiety and stress, counseling can help. It helps you understand what your triggers are and how they developed. Therapy provides support and a safe place to share your thoughts and feelings. A therapist can also help you figure out what strategies work best for you to help you manage more effectively. If you’d like to find out if therapy might help you, please call or email me.


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 Caleb Jones and London Scout for Unsplash.com.

Parenting Through Anxiety: Supporting an Anxious Child While Managing Your Own Anxiety

This week I have the pleasure of sharing a guest post by Sarah Leitschuh, MA, LMFT. Sarah is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and owner of Sarah Leitschuh Counseling, PLLC. She provides therapy services, groups, educational workshops and supervision services in Eagan, MN. Sarah works with parents who are overwhelmed and burnt out, as they figure out how to care for their children, nurture their relationship with their partner and attend to their own well-being. Prior to opening her own practice Sarah worked at a non-profit agency where the primary focus of her work was providing therapy for children who had experienced abuse.


Have you ever felt like your anxiety has gotten in the way of parenting the way you would like?  You are not alone.   As parents, the experience of our own anxiety and parenting can be a tricky combination; this is especially true when our child also experiences anxiety.  It is not uncommon for parents and children to feel like they trigger each others' anxiety.   Yes, it can be challenging to support our children when they are anxious and manage our own anxiety at the same time.  But, it can be done.  Below you will find five tips that you may find helpful to consider when you find that anxiety is at play for you and your child.

1.   Be mindful of which emotions you are experiencing and which emotions your child is experiencing.  

It is important to remember that our children's emotions don't always match our own.   Being clear on who is anxious is an important part of determining how to respond to the anxiety.    Is your child anxious?   Are you anxious?   Are you both anxious?  

2.   Utilize calming strategies. 

Calming strategies ease anxious kids

Often times, anxiety can be so intense for children that it is difficult for them to share much information about their anxiety with us.    By walking your children through some calming strategies, you may help them alleviate some of the immediate intensity of their anxiety while also getting the benefit of the use of these calming strategies yourself.

3.   Assess and process the situation causing anxiety and support your child in deciding how to move forward.  

I specifically encourage parents to be purposeful in taking a supportive role instead of taking on responsibility to resolve their child's anxiety because we want to empower our children to develop the skills needed to cope with the anxiety they experience.    In the long run, helping our children feel confident in their ability to respond to anxiety-provoking situations helps them successfully interact with the world as they get older while also taking some pressure off of us to always have the answer for them (thus reducing a parent's anxiety).

4.   Don't hesitate to ask for outside support for yourself and your child. 

If you feel so intensely anxious that it is hard to support your child through an anxiety provoking situation, it is ok to ask others to help you do so.    I also encourage parents to have a strong support system of family, friends, other parents, and even professionals that they can talk to about the situations that make them anxious, so that their own anxiety doesn't spill into interactions with their child.

5.   Try to consider your anxiety as an opportunity to connect with your child.  

Connecting with your child eases your anxiety

In my work with children and teenagers who experience anxiety, one of the things that they tell me they find to be most difficult is the belief that no one understands their experience of anxiety.    As a parent who experiences anxiety, you may have a unique opportunity to connect with your child through the shared experience of anxiety.  Sharing your understanding of anxiety and how you’ve worked through it may help your child feel more understood and less alone. I encourage you to consider how to share this type of information in a way that is helpful to your children without minimizing their experience or burdening them with your worries.

I hope that you find these tips helpful in figuring out the way to best support your anxious child, while also taking care of any of your own anxiety that may pop up.  Please feel free to leave a comment sharing other tips that you’ve found helpful for your family.

You check out Sarah's website or follow her on Twitter, Facebook,


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.

New Ideas For A New Year

I’m not a big fan of New Year’s resolutions. They always feel like a “should” list: I should exercise more; I should eat healthier; I should be a better friend, partner, parent or daughter. Later, I usually wind up feeling guilty about my resolutions, because I don’t follow-through with them. The guilty feelings can then easily turn into anxiety and stress.

This year, instead of making resolutions, I’d like to focus on the things I’d like to grow and sustain in my life. Here are my thoughts on ways to make my New Year more fulfilling:

Spend time with people I care about.

connecting with others eases anxiety

I recently had lunch with a colleague and friend. She had encouraged me when I went back to school, told me to apply for a job I didn’t think I was qualified for (but which I got), and gave me support and guidance when I decided to create my own therapy business. We hadn’t seen each other since the summer and it felt so great to connect again with her. In that moment I made myself a promise, and I shared that promise with her: “I will make an effort to spend time with the people in my life whom I care about but don’t see often enough.”

Take more time away from work.

I love my job and my clients, but taking time away from work recharges me. It makes me appreciate the work I do that much more. Taking time off also gives me the opportunity to travel, and I love traveling!

Connect with my kids more regularly.

I LOVE MY KIDS, and now that they’re grown and living in other states, I don’t see them enough. This year I’m going to make the effort to phone, email and see them more often.

Meditate more regularly and maybe attend a retreat.

Meditation helps manage stress

Meditation has been a real asset for me. It calms me when I’m feelings stressed and anxious, it grounds me when my worries are in overdrive, and it creates a space for me to be in touch with myself and my feelings. In 2017 I want to make meditation a part of each day. I also want to go to a retreat to meet people who share my interest.

Make my own therapy a priority.

Therapists need therapy too! My therapist supports, listens, guides and provides the healing space for me to process the difficult experiences that I’ve struggled with in my life. I encourage everyone to be in therapy (and not just because I’m a therapist)!

Create art and journal regularly.

Creating art and writing can be very grounding. Once upon a time I journaled regularly and I created artwork. I’ve been journaling again sporadically and feeling the pull to paint, so I’m going to try it! I’m not sure if I’ll take a class or jump right in, but just thinking about it makes me smile.

I would love to know what you’d like to focus on in 2017. Send me an email or leave a comment below!


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.

Some Last Minute Tips To Get You Through The Holidays

Stress Relief Tips For the Holidays

Over the last few weeks I’ve provided some ideas each week to help you manage holiday stress. You can check out all 30 tips or the weekly break down for those who like to take in information in smaller doses. This final week I’m sharing some things to help you reground yourself so that you can feel more at ease, even in the face of stress and anxiety!

Before you blow-up when stressed or anxious, pause before reacting.

Slow down your breathing. Take the time to think about what you want to say before you say it. You can then respond, instead of react.

Acknowledge that holidays can be SUPER stressful.

Allow yourself to feel the frustration, or anger, or whatever it is you’re feeling. Feeling your feelings, instead of pushing them away, can be very liberating.

Be mindful that every family has issues.

All families have issues

Know that your family’s stuff, whatever it might be, will not disappear just because it’s a holiday.

Allow yourself to defy tradition.

Before you cave in to the pressure of “we’ve always made 6 dozen assorted cookies,” ask yourself if that’s really how you want to do it or if there’s a simpler, less stressful alternative.

Try to de-stress while traveling.

If you’re driving, instead of getting angry about the traffic, take the time have a conversation with your traveling companion, play a travel game with your kids, or listen to your favorite podcast, audio book or playlist. Whatever your mode of travel, try to `enjoy the journey.

Manage your negative self-talk.

If you find you’re constantly reminding yourself of all the mistakes you’ve made, try a little self-compassion. It goes like this, “Yup, I could have done that better, but it’s OK. I made a mistake, but everyone makes mistakes, and I’m human.”

Communicate with those you love and care for.

Telling someone you love them and feeling the love from them can be very nourishing.

Each day, think of one thing you are grateful for and share it with a friend.

Get at least one hug a day to reduce your stress

Feeling gratitude can improve your mood if you’re feeling down, especially when you share your gratitude with others.

Get a hug(s) each day.

Hug your friend, your family, your partner, your therapist or your pet. If you live alone, you can hug yourself!

Whatever you celebrate, I hope you have a wonderful holiday! If you’re worrying a lot about what’s next and you think that you might need some support as we enter the new year please call or email me to see if counseling might help you, help yourself.


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 Cheryl Winn-Boujnida  and Nathan Anderson for Unsplash.com.

 

Handling Holiday Stress When You Don't Feel Like Celebrating

The holidays aren’t always joyous and happy, and the expectation that they should be full of comfort and joy can make you feel more anxious and stressed out. When you’ve lost someone, you’re far from home, your family isn’t supportive, or your memories of past celebrations don’t look anything like the “perfect holiday” portrayed in the media, this time of year can be especially difficult.

Connect with others to reduce holiday stress

There was a time in my late teens - early 20’s that my parents and I didn’t see eye-to-eye (and that’s putting it mildly). I was living at home, dating a guy they hated, and I was pushing boundaries and breaking lots of rules. My relationship with my parents was very strained and they told me I had to move out. I was upset and hurt and I’m sure my parents were too. I decided that I needed to spend time away from my family so I didn’t go home for the holidays for a few years. It was a painful time and really hard. I remember my sister calling me, pleading with me to come home, although she said she understood why I felt I couldn’t. Feeling alone and disconnected I reached out and found support through friends and my sister.

I share this because I understand what it’s like to be alone, to not feel like celebrating, to struggle during the holidays. If you’re having a hard time and wonder how you’ll survive between now and the New Year, connecting with others can help. Connect with friends, partners, counselors, family (if they’re not the ones causing you stress), or your family pet. Instead of focusing on what the perfect holiday should be, making the holidays about connecting and getting support can make a big difference.


If you’d like some other ideas on supporting yourself through the season you can check out the article I wrote for the Severna Park Voice. In it I share some more tips to help you survive when the holidays don’t feel like a celebration.


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.

Photo courtesy of Toa Heftiba for Unsplash.com.

Asking for Help and Setting Boundaries During The Holidays

Over the last few weeks I’ve shared some tips on how to manage holiday stress when you’re feeling overwhelmed. You can see the full post with 30 tips here, and the shorter posts on self-care and how to get organized to reduce your stress, for those who like to consume information in smaller chunks. 

This week I’m sharing tips on how to ask for help and set boundaries over the holidays. For some of us, creating, setting or keeping boundaries can be super hard. We feel guilty about saying no, we help others and often put their needs before our own, we don’t want to be a burden to others when asking for help, and we worry that others will be mad at us if we do say “no.”

Without clear boundaries you might feel underappreciated, irritated with others, taken for granted, anxious, stressed out, and you might not know why you feel overwhelmed with all of these feelings.  

Setting Boundaries Can Reduce Your Anxiety And Stress

Setting limits and creating boundaries allows you to tell others what you want or need without feeling guilty, you feel less burdened and you establish healthier relationships.

Relationships flourish with healthy bondaires

Say “no.”

Saying “no” isn’t easy, but saying “yes” to everyone and everything often leads to anxious, overwhelmed, resentful and irritated feelings.

Ask for help.

Asking for help can be difficult for people pleasers. You hope others will know what you want because asking for help feels vulnerable and needy. You might think your partner, friends or family can read your mind, but it’s not likely! The thing is, when you ask friends and family to help take care of the kids, your dog, or whatever it can relieve your stress and anxiety. Expressing what you need also allows others to help you out, and that can make them feel good too.

Manage others’ expectations.

Promising everyone everything they ask for will only lead to you feeling even more overwhelmed. Let your family and friends know your limits and stick to them. You’ll be able to accomplish what you need to do and you’ll feel more productive and empowered.

Let go of perfectionism.

You don't need to be perfect this holiday

I love Pinterest, but having happy holidays doesn’t mean that you have to try every Pinterest idea to create that “perfect” holiday experience.

Be kind to yourself.

When you forget to order something or forget to be somewhere you were supposed to be, know that you are not alone. Thousands of us out there are forgetting things, too. Instead of beating yourself up, offer yourself some words of comfort and know that you’re human, just like the rest of us.

A good resource to help you in this process is the workbook, Setting Boundaries Without Guilt by Sharon Martin, LCSW.  She writes, when you’re a people pleaser and are always doing for others “you compromise your own needs to make other people happy.”

Counseling can also help you learn how to set healthy boundaries so that you can live your life with more self-confidence and less stress, anxiety and resentment. If you think counseling might be helpful to you call me @410-340-8469 or email me.

Photos courtesy of Ian Schneider and Ellie Lord for Unsplash.com.

Preventing Stress This Holiday Season

Making yourself a priority can be difficult anytime, but it's even harder during the holidays. This week, my post focuses on ways you can take care of yourself while managing the season's craziness. I posted 30-tips to help you make it through New Year's a couple of weeks ago and over the next month I'm breaking it down by topic. Last week’s post provided tips on keeping you organized and your life under control to help you reduce stress and anxiety during the holidays and this week is all about taking care of yourself.

Practice mindfulness

Paying attention to your senses can calm the mind.

When stress overwhelms you, the sights, sounds, smells, tastes and sensations of the season and the holidays can be soothing. I know that frantic shoppers might not seem very calming, but if you take a deep breath and pay full attention to your senses, your body can relax and you might find something to appreciate in all of the craziness.

Allow feelings, even the icky ones

Let yourself feel your feelings, and know they, too, will pass.

Take time to enjoy the holiday

If we’re caught up in all that needs to be done, we forget why we’re celebrating.

Get a good night’s sleep

A good night's sleep reduces stress, is good for your body, and does wonders for your outlook on the day.

Eat healthy

Your body will thank you. Eating junk food can make you feel lethargic, bloated and uncomfortable.

Take time each day for self-care

Taking care of yourself can reduce stress.

Self-care can be as easy as reading for pleasure or taking a walk, just spend some time doing things that nourish your spirit.

Find time to relax

Calming your mind and body can help recharge you for the next task or challenge.

Fit exercise into your to-do list

Burning off that excess energy and stress does wonders for anxiety.

Check in with yourself

When stress and anxiety hits ask yourself, “What do I need in this moment?” and pay attention to those needs. If your body is screaming at you to take a break and relax, then do it!

I hope you have a happy holiday, but sometimes, no matter how much you try to take care of yourself, you still end up feeling overwhelmed, stressed, depressed or anxious. If you’re struggling this holiday season, know that you’re not alone. The holidays can be a very difficult time and therapy can help you talk about what’s bothering you, grieve for those you’ve lost or help you to process the difficult life experiences that keep you from moving forward. 

If you're wondering whether counseling is for you and you would like to talk about it please reach out. 


Elizabeth Cush, MA, LGPC is a therapist in Annapolis helping adults and adolescents manage their stress and anxiety. She owns and operates Progression Counseling — 410-340-8469.

If you'd like more self-care tips during the holidays check out Laura Reagan's LCSW Therapy Chat Podcast episode #61.

Photos courtesy of Samilla Maioli and Kash Goudarzi for Unsplash.com.

Keeping Anxiety In Check While Keeping Up With The Holidays

The holidays can be a stressful time. Whether you’re hosting an event, attending holiday parties, spending the holiday alone, traveling, or you have a long list of presents to buy, the holidays can create or ramp-up anxiety. Recently, I posted 30 tips to help you survive the season but over the next few weeks I'm breaking them down by topic. This week my tips will help you feel more organized and in control this holiday.

Keeping to-do lists short and can reduce holiday stress

Keeping to-do lists short and can reduce holiday stress

Keep to-do lists short

Limit your lists to items you can realistically accomplish within an allotted time frame. If needed, allow yourself to let some things go. Looking at unfinished items on your list can add to your stress.

Organize your to-do lists by location

If you have three stores to visit, try to group your errands so you’re going to places that are near each other. Or you can organize your trip by the things you need to buy. For instance, if you’re grocery shopping for the week you can also stock up on the non-perishables needed for the holidays like stuffing mix, or turkey broth.

Budget your money realistically to reduce future stress

You don’t want to go into extreme debt trying to create a perfect holiday, only to find you are totally stressed out later because of all the bills.

Budget your time

Set time aside some time to do a little each week. If you put off everything until the last minute, you’re only causing yourself more stress and anxiety.

Focus on the task instead of worrying about what's next

Worrying about what you need to do tomorrow, or the next day, or the next can be paralyzing. Try to stay in the present moment and focus on what you need to do today. “Whatever is going to happen will happen, whether we worry or not.”
Ana Monnar

When you’re stressed, take a moment to breath deeply a few times

Imagine a soothing presence as you breath in, and a letting go of the stress as you breath out. Focusing on your breath can ground you and help your body relax.

Keep it simple to avoid holiday burn-out

It’s easy to over think things, and get stuck worrying about making everything “just right,” but this can lead to holiday burnout. When deciding what gifts, food, or decorations you need, try not to get too caught up in finding the perfect ______ (you fill in the blank). 

Sometimes, no matter how hard we try to avoid or manage the holiday stress and anxiety, it can still overwhelm us. If you're struggling and feel you might need additional support, counseling can help. Counseling provides a safe, supportive, non-judgmental space to talk about what's happening. It also helps you find strategies to manage your stress and anxiety that work for you. Please call or email me if you think therapy might help you manage the stress of the holidays.


Photo courtesy of Olu Eletu for Unsplash.com.

Elizabeth Cush, MA, LGPC is a licensed therapist who works with high-functioning adults and adolescents experiencing anxiety and stress. She owns and operates Progression Counseling in Annapolis, Md.