With Anxious Feelings, Knowledge Is Power

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Leaning Into Your Anxiety

In my blog,  How Leaning Into Your Anxiety Can Help You Manage It,  for Good Therapy this month I discuss how to manage your anxiety, even when you’re not sure why you got anxious in the first place.

When it comes to anxious feelings, knowledge is power. Here's how being curious and compassionate about your anxiety can help you lessen its grip on your life. You can find the article here. I hope you enjoy it and find it helpful!

I’ll be offering mindfulness groups in January 2018 to help manage anxiety. If you’re interested please reach out! 410-339-1979.


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. If you'd like to know more about how individual and group therapy can help ease anxiety and stress call me 410-339-1979. 

Photo by joyce huis on Unsplash

3 Simple Breathing Techniques For Stressful Times

The breath is an amazingly powerful tool that you can use to help calm you down when you’re feeling stressed. By tuning into your breath, breathing rhythmically or doing deep belly breathing, you can begin to feel differently. Practicing daily can increase the benefits.

You might be thinking, “I breathe all day long and I’m still stressed!” I hear you. The difference with these techniques is that you’re going to be breathing in ways that promote your body’s natural stress responses and your body will be soothing itself!

Ready to get started? Try the different techniques described below. Notice which one you find to be most helpful and use it any time you feel stressed.

Paying mindful attention to your breath can be calming

Paying mindful attention to your breath can be calming

1. Tune into your breath. Find a quiet place where you won’t be interrupted for about three minutes. Sit upright, comfortably, with your feet flat on the floor. Place your hands in your lap. You can have your palms facing up or down, depending on what feels good to you in that moment. Close your eyes or gaze softly in front of you. Take three slow, deep breaths, filling and emptying your lungs completely. Then let your breathing return to its natural rhythm. Tune your attention to your breath and notice where you feel it. It might be your chest rising and falling or your belly going in and out. Or, you might feel a coolness as the breath enters your nostrils and warmth as it exits. Continue to pay attention to your breath as you breathe naturally. Your attention might wander, because we’re always thinking. When it does wander, I want you to notice that it has and bring it back to the breath. Continue to do this for another minute or two. It’s that easy (or not!).  If you prefer a guided exercise you can click the recording below.

2. 4-7-8 breathing. This technique can help reduce overall stress and help you feel more calm in times of stress, especially if you’ve been practicing daily. To do this technique, you will breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth with the tip of your tongue placed on the roof of your mouth, right behind your teeth.

To begin, exhale slowly and then breathe in through your nose for a count of four. Hold your breath for a count of seven and then exhale through your mouth, with the air passing around your tongue, making a whooshing sound, for a count of 8. Repeat this 3 more times. Practice each day when you’re not stressed, so it becomes a habit. When it becomes a part of your routine, begin to use it to help manage any stress that arises.

3. Belly Breathing. Take a few deep breaths and pay attention to your chest and belly. If your belly rises and falls with each breath, you’re already belly breathing! If your chest rises and falls we’re going to do a little exercise to teach you belly breathing.

Deep belly breathing can be done wherever you are

Deep belly breathing can be done wherever you are

As you breathe in, try to imagine that your breath is traveling all the way down your spine and into your belly, filling up the space, so your belly fills up like a balloon. Then exhale fully, using your stomach muscles to push all of the air up and out, emptying that belly space. Begin by practicing this when you’re feeling pretty good. Then, as you feel more comfortable with belly breathing, pause and try it when you feel stressed. Here’s a fun video from Elmo to see how it works.

I’ve heard some clients say that intentionally allowing their belly to expand can be an uncomfortable experience. I think that because our culture values fit, tight stomachs, it feels weird to push it out. I suggest that you keep practicing, maybe when there’s no one around, until it feels more natural.

You can adopt one or all of theses techniques to help you live a less stressful life!


Photo by Ian KeefeAndre Hunter on Unsplash

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. If you'd like to know more about how individual and group therapy can help ease anxiety and stress call me 410-339-1979. 

 

 

 

Have A Happy (Mindful) Halloween!

Pay attention to what you see and hear this Halowwen

Pay attention to what you see and hear this Halowwen

Halloween has become a holiday of give me more, bigger, best — more candy, the biggest outdoor decorations, the best costume. If you’d like to make the event more meaningful here are three ways to bring more mindfulness to your Halloween day/evening.

  1. As you move through your day notice the fall colors on the trees, pumpkin patches, and decorations. Are there different shades and intensities of the orange, yellow and brown colors?
  2. If you have kids and they’re going out trick-or-treating take a few moments to stop and really pay attention to them. Are they excited, nervous, or anxious? Ask your children to pause with you and take a moment for a few deep breaths before they run out the door. This will help calm your nerves and theirs!
  3. When outside bring your attention to the sounds you hear, without lingering on one sound. Just allow the sounds to come and go into your awareness. Maybe you hear leaves crunching under your feet, or the sound of the wind or rain. You might hear the cars driving by, or if you live in a city you might hear fire engines or police sirens.

I hope you have a happy, safe Halloween!


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. If you'd like to know more about how individual and group therapy can help ease anxiety and stress call me 410-340-8469. 

New Mindfulness Groups beginning in January, 2018. Email me if you'd like to know more!

Photo by Cala on Unsplash

Mindfulness In Times Of Uncertainty

This week Daniela Paolone guest blogs about using mindfulness when things in the world are feeling unsettled and uncertain. She is the owner of Westlake Village Counseling and she helps those with anxiety, chronic pain, chronic illness, and medical trauma find new ways of coping so that they can live their best lives. Daniela uses an integrative and holistic approach that helps clients feel both empowered and informed.  The approaches used are influenced by her experience as a person living with chronic pain and illness. You can read more about her practice, and how to follow her on social media at the end of the blog.


There has been so much going on in our world lately that it can leave us feeling worried and uncertain.  We may find it hard right now to stay focused on our day-to-day tasks because we keep getting flooded with new information regarding world events.

So what are we to do when we are feeling this way?

Perhaps in these moments we need to allow ourselves to feel what we feel.  Giving ourselves permission to express our emotions can help us to better cope and move onto a path of healing and recovery.

1. Active Meditation

This approach also happens to be a mindfulness practice. 

Bring attention to one activity

Bring attention to one activity

During hard times, thoughts and concerns can show up in a person’s mind that can be overwhelming.  However, when bringing attention to only one concern, the mind and body redirect their attention to that single thought.  When this happens, the mind and body begin to slow down and become more calm.

The advantages of mindfulness practices is that they can allow us to gain greater self-awareness and focus on what matters most. Putting these thoughts into perspective helps to quiet down all the noise and distractions. This then can lead to experiencing life with less overwhelm and distress.

2.  Dial Back On The News And Social Media

Feeling the need to stay up-to-date on world events can oftentimes leave us feeling stressed.  The constant information overload tends to turn on our stress response which then can be difficult to turn off.

Thinking back to the last time you watched the news, how did it make you feel? Did you feel drained and unwell afterwards?

If that has been your experience, please know you are not alone.  The truth is, is that the brain is designed to only handle so much information at a time.  When that time goes on indefinitely, the mind becomes overstimulated.  It can also be difficult for the mind to get back into a relaxed state even after you have stopped watching the news.

Take time away from the news and social media

Take time away from the news and social media

So if you reduce the amount spent with these activities, you may notice a shift in how you feel.  Do you observe a change in your breathing?  Do your thoughts become more clear? Are you feeling more grounded and present in your current surroundings?  Is it easier now to stay on task?

3.  Breathwork

Breathwork is another way to cope when feeling overwhelmed by current events.  When there is significant loss and devastation happening in the world, it is easy to feel powerless.  However a breathing practice is another way where we can work towards feeling more calm and in control.  

With a regular breathwork practice, the mind and body are learning how to slow down and both mentally and physically.  This is because you are directing your attention to the breath.  Moving from a state of trying to multitask, to instead focusing on one action, is what mindfulness is all about.

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Breathwork serves as a great mindfulness practice because it reminds us about what we can control.  This can be such a welcome experience when we are going through difficult times.  Sometimes we need the reminder that there are aspects within us that we do have a say in.  Aspects such as how we are breathing, where we are sitting, and what activity we are taking part in.

There are a variety of breathing exercises, but the one I am sharing here is one that really seems to resonate with others. This exercise combines breathing techniques with visualizations.  So below, I put together a sample of a mindfulness script that I use both personally and with clients.

Sample Breathing Mindfulness Exercise

When in a seated position, I want you to have your feet planted firmly on the ground and your hands resting comfortably on your lap.  As you get comfortable in this seated position, you make small adjustments in your body to make sure you feel comfortable and well supported.  Once you find that comfortable position, you gently close your eyes and start practicing deep belly breathing.

As you inhale, you breathe in through your nose, and on the exhale, you open your mouth into a relaxed position and let the air go freely.  When on the inhale, you visualize your belly expanding out like a balloon, and on the exhale, that balloon becomes smaller.  As you continue to breathe in and out, you find a comfortable pace for each inhale in and exhale out.  With each breath, you start to feel your muscles relax because more and more oxygen is getting into you muscles.  You feel your body settle in more deeply and you continue to relax.

When you feel ready, you add in a thought on the inhale that you are breathing in calm, healing energy.  On the exhale, you visualize that you are breathing out your worries and concerns.  The more and more you breathe in and out, you continue to feel those worries leave your body. You begin to notice how you feel within, and observe it with curiosity. Your mind and body are also taking in all the healing and calming energy with every inhale, leaving you with the sensation of inner calm and peace.

You continue this breathing for a few more minutes in silence, and when you feel ready, begin to wiggle your toes and fingers.  Slowly open your eyes and look around the room, taking in what you see, hear, feel, smell and taste.   You are getting your mind and body back to where you are now.  You may feel like getting up and walking around to take note of what you see and hear.  Stretching and moving your body help you to orient yourself to where you are now.  Once you feel connected and present with the here and now, you notice how you feel physically.  You may feel more relaxed while also feeling energized and refreshed to continue on with your day.

Final Thoughts

While what is happening in the world may bring up feelings of instability and concern, there will always be aspects of life that remind us that we do know how to manage these worries so that they do not get the best of us. In the end, we get to have a say in many aspects of life.  How we set that up each day and implement it can make a big impact in how we feel each and every day.  We have the ability to reign in the distress by using mindfulness practices so that we can live our life on our own terms.  Small changes can lead to bigger shifts for the better to keep you grounded when upsetting world events takes place.


Daniela utilizes mindfulness based techniques, such as Emotional Freedom Technique, guided imagery and more. She helps them develop a new relationship with themselves.  As the body changes over time due to illness, which can be a difficult transition, Daniela honors where the client is in this process and helps them to become more in-tune with their body. She explores their emotions as different thoughts come to the surface.  

Daniela provides in-person and online counseling for California residents looking for more support.  You can find her offering free presentations in Southern California where she talks about pain management, the stress and pain connection, alternative techniques for improved sleep and more.  To find out where she is presenting next, or to learn more about her work and offerings, you can sign up for her monthly email newsletter here.

Daniela can be found on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn and Instagram

 


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. If you'd like to know more about how individual and group therapy can help ease anxiety and stress call me 410-340-8469. 

New Mindfulness Groups beginning in January, 2018. Email me if you'd like to know more!

Photos by Cassie Boca and Annie Spratt and  Aubin A Sadiki on Unsplash

 

Accepting All Your Parts

Connect with your true self and all your parts

Connect with your true self and all your parts

In my Good Therapy topic expert blog this month, How To Keep Your Anxiety From Ruining A Good Time,” I discuss why, for women, our anxious parts often lead us to minimize our successes and magnify our failures. The resulting disconnect implores us to own and accept all that we are.

For me, being a business owner, I don’t often share my successes or my stumbling blocks. I worry that I’ll seem overly confident, or I’ll disappoint the people in my life that I care the most about.  But, as I share in my blog, by embracing all of our parts and “… accepting ourselves for who we are—owning both our assets and our imperfections—it becomes easier and more comfortable to share our true selves.” And by sharing our true selves we feel more connected to ourselves and more connected to the people around us.

You can find the blog here- https://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/how-to-keep-your-anxiety-from-ruining-good-time-1017175

Please let me know your thoughts in the comments below or by commenting in Good Therapy.


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. If you'd like to know more about how individual and group therapy can help ease anxiety and stress call me 410-340-8469. 

Photo by Alicia Steels on Unsplash

What Is A Mindfulness Practice? Part Two: Mindful Awareness

In my last post, What Is A Mindfulness Practice, I shared that meditation and mindful awareness are two parts of a mindfulness practice. And I shared some tips to help you get started with daily meditations.

In today’s post we’ll explore mindful awareness. Like meditation, mindful awareness takes practice — but instead of picking one time during the day, as you would to meditate, you can be more mindfully aware of the present moment throughout the many moments of your day. So how do we go about being more mindful in our daily lives and why would we want to do that?

Mindfulness can deepen your focus

Mindfulness can deepen your focus

Practicing daily meditation and mindful awareness will help you focus your attention with greater ease and it will deepen your connection with yourself and others.

When you’re more present in your daily life, you get out of your head and away from all the stories, worries, planning and judging that happen mindlessly. You intentionally place your focus on the sensory stimuli in the moment. Here are some examples:

  • Listening with your full attention when someone speaks to you.
  • Tuning into the feel of the water and soap on your hands as you wash them.
  • Looking intentionally at the leaves, or flowers or cars as you take a walk or drive.

Here are a few ways to get you started with your own mindful awareness practice:

Pay mindful attention to one activity a day.  

You can choose to focus on any one activity, but I’ll use washing your hands as an example. As the water runs from the faucet into the sink, listen to the sound it makes and watch how it flows. As you slowly put your hand under the water, notice how the patterns change and feel the warmth on your skin. Curiously move your hand in and out of the water, noticing the temperature change and the feel of the water. As you add soap, notice the feeling as you lather it; breathe deeply, pulling the scent of the soap into your nose. Feel the lather between your fingers and watch it flow down the drain as your rinse your hands. Feel the coldness of the taps as you turn off the water.  Pay attention to the roughness of the towel and the sound it makes as you dry your hands.

You can do this with any activity you choose and, although it took me a paragraph to write it out, the exercise will take you only a few minutes to complete.

Walk mindfully.

Below, I've included a mindful awareness walk in the recording below. It's downloadable so you can listen while you walk!

 

When conversing, listen with your full attention to whomever you’re talking with.

Be present with whomever you're talking to

Be present with whomever you're talking to

Put down your phone or iPad. Mute the TV or computer. Put work aside and give your full attention to the person who is talking to you. If your mind begins to drift, bring it back to the conversation. Notice your reaction in the moment. Are you anxious that you’ll miss something on your phone? Do your eyes wander back to the TV or computer? Or do you feel more connected to the person who’s talking to you? If you’re face-to-face, notice the person’s expression or movements while he or she is talking. If you’re on the phone, pay attention to the rise and fall of her voice and his speech patterns.

These are just a few example of mindful awareness. You can bring your attention to any activity that you do automatically each day. As you continue to practice, you might notice that you automatically take moments to be fully aware in your day.

Do you bring mindful awareness to activities during your day? I’d love to know your practices. Please leave your comments below on how you’re bringing more mindfulness into your life.


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. If you'd like to know more about how individual and group therapy can help ease anxiety and stress call me 410-340-8469. 

Photos by Khosit Sakul-Kaew and by Bryan Apen on Unsplash

 

 

 

 

 

 

What Is A Mindfulness Practice?

Meditation is one part of a daily mindfulness practice

Meditation is one part of a daily mindfulness practice

Meditation and mindful awareness are two components of a mindfulness practice. Both are equally important. Meditation helps you learn how to focus your mind, which in turn helps you focus your attention on the world around you in the moment. Mindful awareness, or focusing your attention on the present moment, can be as simple as paying attention to an activity you do mindlessly everyday, like brushing your teeth.

Because we’re so used to just doing, without thinking, each part of a mindfulness practice really does take practice. We’re so used to going about our day with our mind running in a million different directions that bringing it back to the here and now can seem difficult. For some it can be frustrating, because it doesn’t always come easily. 

What Is Meditation?

Learning to focus your attention is where daily meditation can help. Meditation is sitting quietly and focusing on an anchor. An anchor can be your breath, a mantra or something else you choose to bring your attention back to each time it wanders. And it will wander, because we’re human and we’re wired to be thinking, planning and worrying beings. Each time you bring your attention back to your anchor, you’re being mindful! It’s that easy — or not!

A key component of meditation is being compassionate and non-judgmental with yourself. Some days it might come easily; other days, when you’ve got a lot on your min or you’re easily distracted, it can be harder. What’s important is to enter into the meditation with the intention of being mindfully centered and try not to give yourself a hard time if it feels difficult. You can even say to yourself, “My intention was to meditate mindfully for 10 minutes today. It was very hard for me because my mind was all over the place. My intention is to try it again tomorrow.”

Mindful Meditation: Getting Started

Meditation can be guided or you can guide yourself. I think that when you begin a mindful meditation practice, it’s much easier to have some gentle guidance. A bunch of apps for you phone, websites with free meditations and YouTube videos are available to help you get started. I’ve listed a few resources at the bottom of this post.

Make meditation a part of your daily routine

Make meditation a part of your daily routine

When talking with my clients, I suggest picking a time of day when you won’t be disturbed and finding a place where you can sit quietly. I like to meditate in the morning when I’m at home by myself, or when I’m between clients in my office. To start, try meditating once a day for 3–5 minutes. It’s important to do it everyday, but if you forget, be compassionate with yourself and do it tomorrow.

Once you’ve established a routine, begin increasing the amount of time that you meditate. Ideally doing it for at least 10 minutes a day is a good goal. You’ll probably begin to notice that your thoughts automatically come and go, and it gets easier to come back to your anchor and to be less reactive about the thoughts that do pop up. That’s because you’re learning to let your thoughts pass through, instead of latching on to them.

My Experience

I find that when I take the time to meditate before I start my day, I can approach the day with greater sense of ease and intention. Do I still get stressed out? Of course! But I know that the stress will pass too, much like my thoughts. Meditation allows me to feel stress, but I don’t have to be stressed. If I don’t overly identify with the feeling, then I can acknowledge its presence without it pulling me under.

Do you meditate, or have your tried it? I’d love to know your experience in the comments. If you don’t meditate but would like to start and think having a group to support you would be helpful, I have an eight-week group, beginning later this month, where we will practice meditation and mindful awareness together. You can find out more here.

In my next post, I’ll talk about mindful awareness and how to bring more of it into your life.


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. If you'd like to know more about how individual and group therapy can help ease anxiety and stress call me 410-340-8469.

You can also find me on Twitter, Facebook and Linked In

Photo by Natalia Figueredo and by Ben Blennerhassett on Unsplash

 

 

I'm A Featured Guest On Selling The Couch!

This week I was the featured guest on Melvin Varghese’s Selling The Couch podcast (STC). The podcast is rated one of the Top 100 Business and Top 30 Career podcasts in iTunes and featured in Psychology Today, Psych Central, and Good Therapy.

STC has been influential in helping me build my business because Melvin interviews people who’ve experienced a lot of the same issues and obstacles that I’ve encountered while building my business, Progression Counseling. We dive deep into how I developed my business and what drives me to continue to grow in new ways.

In the podcast I discuss:

  • Starting a new career in “mid-life”
  • Why I chose to work with clients who are experiencing anxiety
  • Why I’ve moved into group work
  • How managing my own website has allowed me to speak to my clients in a genuine way that comes from my heart. 

I hope you’ll take a moment to listen, and if you feel inclined, please leave a review for the podcast on iTunes. Feel free to leave me a comment on my blog too!


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. If you'd like to know more about how individual and group therapy can help ease anxiety and stress call me 410-340-8469.

Five Journaling Tips For When Anxiety Takes Control

When Your Anxiety Feels Like A Runaway Train

Anxiety can feel like we're on a runaway train

Anxiety can feel like we're on a runaway train

As I’ve shared before, I struggle with anxiety. I’ve learned to manage it most of the time, but once in a while it jumps into overdrive, like a runaway train, with no intention of slowing down. It can be a humbling experience. My job is to help other people mange their anxiety, so when mine takes over, it leaves me feeling a little like a fraud, which only increases the anxiety!

But I believe that because I know what anxiety feels like and what it’s like to experience some relief from anxious feelings, I’m in a unique position to truly help others who struggle.

Anxiety Is Often Your Body Telling You That You’re Not Listening

My anxiety feels out of my control (which is super scary), when parts of me believe that I’m not listening to or hearing them. Maybe I ignored my own needs and went along with something I didn’t want to do, or maybe I overdid it by staying up late too many nights in a row, when I know I need a good eight hours of sleep to feel like myself. Or maybe I ate too much or drank more than I intended because I was stressed. Whatever the situation, a part of me is fearful that I will revert back to my old bad habits — the habits that kept me anxious a lot of the time.

The deep-seated fear that I’ll undo or mess up everything I’ve worked hard to turn around puts my anxiety into overdrive. But sometimes we do revert back to old ways, because we’re human. I wrote in my last post, and I often tell my clients, that personal growth isn’t always a linear process. One step forward, two steps back.

Creating New Habits Through Mindful Journaling

As I said above, my steps backward usually have something to do with ignoring or not recognizing my own needs, which is a habit years in the making.  And old habits die hard because they’re habits. We have to learn or re-learn how to make changes.

Journaling can help you idendtify what's making you anxious

Journaling can help you idendtify what's making you anxious

So, when my anxiety goes speeding down the track, my habitual, go-to response has always been to avoid diving deep into my fears. After all, they’re fears! But what I am learning to do, and what works best, is make a deeper, mindful exploration of the worry or fear. What is it? Why is it showing up now? A great way to be more mindful of what’s happening, non-judgmentally, is through journaling.

Journaling externalizes the issues and gives you a chance to see them with a little more perspective. It also allows you to better understand some of the unconscious thoughts and feelings that might be brewing. Journaling also uses the right side of your brain, and that’s helpful when you’re reacting and not thinking. It allows you slow it down through writing and that can calm down your whole neurobiological system.

Here are some journaling prompts to get you started:

  1. What am I feelings right now? Describe the physical and emotional components of your anxiety.
  2. Draw a picture of the anxious sensations in your body. Don’t worry if you’re not artistic — just draw what you think it looks and feels like.
  3. What part of me is feeling afraid? What are the fears? Fear of failure, fear of rejection?
  4. Imagine soothing that scared part. What can you say to help calm the fears? If you can’t think of something, journal what a friend might say to comfort you.
  5. Draw how the anxious feelings have changed or stayed the same.

If you’d like to practice mindful journaling, and practice with a group on daily mindfulness activities, there are groups starting this fall. Early sign-up discounts end soon. You can find out more by reaching out to me or clicking here.


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. If you'd like to know more about how individual and group therapy can help ease anxiety and stress call me 410-340-8469.

Photo by Amine Rock Hoovr and Milos Tonchevski on Unsplash

 

The Journey Of Self-Awareness

The journey of self-awareness continues

The journey of self-awareness continues

The journey of self-awareness, self-compassion and acceptance has been a focus for me over the last few years. Recently I was giving myself a very hard time because I wasn’t truly “there” yet. I have moments, days, sometimes weeks where I feel like I’m on autopilot and not really in touch with how I’m feelings or being. These reflections left me feeling as if I’d fallen backward, that I'd never move forward or be evolved enough where I felt that I’d reached my goal.

I shared these thoughts with my therapist, who assured me that evolving is just that, an evolution. And evolutions don’t get to a place and stop. Stephen Jay Gould, paleontologist and popular science author, wrote, “Evolution is a process of continuous branching and diversification from common trunks.” So maybe self-discovery doesn’t have an end point..

But I still wasn’t convinced. I was holding onto this belief that my backward motion in this journey meant that something inside me would keep me from reaching my goal of true self-knowledge.

Later, I was watching a video from Elizabeth Gilbert, the author of Big Magic and Eat, Pray, Love. She shared that she’s also ruminated on the idea that there should be some end point where we have it all figured out, that we’ve reached the pinnacle and we show up as our true selves everyday, every moment of our lives. She laughed about that idea and shared that’s she’s realized through guidance and her own search that the steps backward are just as meaningful as the steps forward.

Evolving is a part of the journey

Evolving is a part of the journey

That really resonated with me. How can we know where we want to be and the changes we want to make without being in the place where we desire change? Evolving is a part of the journey, and as we evolve we discover news ways to evolve even further. 

Mindfulness And Connecting With Yourself

My journey of self-awareness has depended a lot on my practice of mindfulness. If I’m present with what’s happening internally and externally, in the moment and without judgment, it helps me feel more connected to myself. In turn, that helps me to understand myself better and to offer self-compassion when I’m being hard on myself.

When I’m being mindful, I’m able to pause, breathe deeply and be present, and that helps me identify how I’m feeling and respond with intention. It gives me a way to ground myself when things are stressful and that helps me manage my anxiety.

If you’d like to learn how to use mindfulness to reduce stress and to start a mindfulness practice, I have groups starting in October.


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. If you'd like to know more about how individual and group therapy can help ease anxiety and stress call me 410-340-8469.

Photo by Mar Newhall  andJustin Luebke on Unsplash

Why Women Are More Likely Than Men To Be Anxious

Women are 2x more likely than men to experience anxiety

Women are 2x more likely than men to experience anxiety

I recently applied and was accepted as an expert contributor for Good Therapy. Good Therapy is a therapist directory, much like Psychology Today. They also have lots of great content and resources, like posts for particular populations or psychological issues. I’ll be writing about women and anxiety.

My first post discusses why women are twice as likely as men to experience anxiety. The human body is wired to respond with anxiety when it senses a threat. Here are some of the factors that make women more likely to be anxious than men:

https://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/is-she-more-anxious-than-he-is-probably-heres-why-0912174    

I would love to know your thoughts! You can leave a comment below or on the blog at Goodtherapy.com. .


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. If you'd like to know more about how individual and group therapy can help ease anxiety and stress call me 410-340-8469.

Photo by Sydney Jackson on Unsplash

 

 

 

Embracing Your Imperfections Guest Blog

Instead of walking the tightrope of "being perfect" try being self-compassionate instead

Instead of walking the tightrope of "being perfect" try being self-compassionate instead

I’m excited to share my guest post for Sharon Martin’s blog, Happily Imperfect, on Pysch Central!

Striving for perfection can increase anxiety because it’s an impossible task.

Being mindful of our internal response when we make mistakes and bringing more self-compassion into our lives when we’re imperfect, can reduce our stress and anxiety!

Check out the blog post, Embracing Your Imperfections Can Reduce Stress and Anxiety. And if you would like to be learn how to be more mindful and self-compassionate you can check out my mindfulness group beginning in October. There are a few spots left and early enrollment discounts are available.


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 Leio McLaren on Unsplash

The Journey Toward Mindfulness

midnful woman.jpg

I’ve written about mindfulness a lot since I began blogging a couple of years ago. As I entered private practice, I became aware of mindfulness as a concept, but I didn’t really appreciate how powerful it could be until I started my own mindful meditation practice and began incorporating mindfulness into my therapy practice.

I’ve Seen Mindfulness At Work

I’ve seen clients take up daily meditation and report that when they’re stressed they can recover a sense of calm much more quickly. I have clients who’ve experienced trauma begin to tune into their bodies so that they can more easily identify what they’re feeling and where, in the moment. I’ve been witness for clients who were voicing their needs for the first time. And I’ve seen the transformation when clients begin to truly see themselves and embrace all of their parts, not just the parts they like, but even their inner critical part that judges and demeans, and all the other imperfect, messy, human parts.

But I never would have encouraged clients to take up mindfulness if I hadn’t experienced myself just how powerful it can be. Being more in tune with who I am, how I feel, how my body reacts and what triggers me makes me a better partner, mother, friend and therapist. And mindfulness helped get me there.

Mindfulness and Managing Anxiety

Do I still have days when being mindful escapes me? Of course! If things are really difficult or stressful, if I get triggered and revert back to my old ways of reacting, or if I’m tired or anxious, it’s easy for me to lose sight of how to be mindful in the moment.

Self-compassion eases anxiety

Self-compassion eases anxiety

But one of the best parts of being mindful is that it helps foster a sense of understanding and compassion for yourself and for others! So on the days when mindfulness has escaped my attention, I’ve learned to be compassionate with myself. I understand that I will have hard days — everyone does. If I didn’t struggle, I wouldn’t be human. It’s just a part of who I am, and I’ve learned that that’s OK.

So, instead of beating myself up and listening attentively to my inner critic, who always wants to point out just how deficient I am, which leaves me feeling anxious and stressed, I can offer myself compassion and love. I can recognize that maybe I had a bad day and I can just be with that, in the moment. I can allow that there will be good and bad days and that one bad day doesn’t make me a bad person. It makes me human.

Mindfulness Group Practice

I know the benefits of making mindfulness a part of my daily routine and I’d like to share them with you. I have mindfulness groups beginning in October 2017 and I am accepting new group members now.

If you would like to:

  • Understand the components and practices of mindfulness
  • Feel more present in your daily life
  • Use breath, body and emotional awareness to calm your mind and connect with yourself in new ways
  • Be more compassionate with yourself and others
  • ·Use grounding techniques when your stress and anxiety show up

Then fill out this form so we can set up a time to see if this is the right group for you.  Discounts are available for early enrollment. Let’s get things started!


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 Lua Valentia and by Jakob Owens on Unsplash

 

 

 

 

Anxiety and Fear Complicate Our Communication and Relationships

This week I have Dalila Jusic-LaBerge, LMFT from Westlake Village, CA, guest posting on relationship communication. She tells us that our needs might go unmet if we’re not able to identify and communicate them effectively. Incorporating a daily mindfulness practice into our routine can help us become more aware of how we’re feeling, allowing us to better understand what we need in the moment. Check out her post!


We Were Raised To Be Anxious Beings

We often hear, “Relationships are complicated." But, why are they so complicated? The answer may be simple. Relationships are complicated because we are complicated, due to an upbringing that fostered anxiety. For most people in our society, this anxiety has become intertwined with our being.

This prevents us from being authentic and being in touch with our true emotions, which is essential for successful communication and good relationships. Furthermore, we may be so entrenched with anxiety we may not even realize when anxiety takes over and makes our life a real struggle. When you put two people with this kind of mindset together, communication becomes difficult because the anxiety each of them brings amplifies this struggle.

Anxiety Complicates Communication

anxious communication.jpg

Our anxiety doesn't allow us to communicate openly and authentically. When you feel anxious, or simply when you are less relaxed, you come across in ways you don't intend. Other people may have a difficult time getting your true message, due to the different defense layers that you create due to anxiety and fear.

These defenses protect you from feeling exposed, but they also act as filters that don't allow your true personality to get through to the other person. Don't worry you are not the only one who goes through this. This is quite normal for all of us. In some ways, we were raised to be like this.

Your body language reflects your anxiety and signals caution to your partner

As you try to make sure your vulnerabilities don't become revealed, your body posture is assisting you in maintaining “safety." When you are anxious or have fear, your body is not relaxed. Instead, your body becomes tense, which signals to your partner that you are ready to fight.  This further triggers your partner’s defense mechanisms, and they become tense and ready to fight or perhaps flee.

Have you ever seen your partner in a wide-open leg stance with their arms crossed and their chest puffed? This is one version of how your partner may look when they’re tense. This may also be their natural posture because of your partner’s need to assert themselves due to issues stemming from their childhood.

Thus, don't despair. You are not the only one who struggles with communication. Your partner in the conversation most likely has his or her own fears and anxiety, which prevents them from communicating authentically and understanding where you come from.

Your partner's fears and anxiety put them on defensive and then you get a negative, emotional reaction. Then the situation becomes tenser between the two of you.  The downward spiral continues and the gap between partners may increase. Your anxiety and their anxiety paired with tense body language often lead to difficult communication and potential struggles in the relationship.

This leads to neither party feeling understood or cared for. This is why many therapists and relationship counselors tell you to work on your communication and listening skills.

Clear Communication Requires Authenticity and Empathy

Body and language and empathy impact communication with your partner

Body and language and empathy impact communication with your partner

Another important point we may forget is that the clarity and authenticity of communication are everyone's burden. Clear, authentic communication doesn't only involve you spilling your guts with all your opinions but also making sure that your partner understands you well.

This means being empathetic with your partner. You can understand how they feel when you say or do something. Basically, if you want to make sure your message is heard, you must adjust your communication so your partner gets it the way you meant it.

But, how can you be empathetic towards your partner, when you have a difficult time accessing your own emotions? Listening to your anxiety will help you be compassionate towards yourself first. It will also help you ease up and be able to empathize with your partner too.  Start by practicing mindful communication. This means, you are aware of your feelings, what your needs are, and how you can communicate this so your partner gets it without feeling threatened.

From unaware to mindful communication

You probably never mean to say that they’re is worthless and that you don't like anything that they do for you, but sometimes our partners feel like this when we complain.

Let's analyze a simple example of communication with your partner.

What comes out of your mouth due to your anxiety filters:

You casually mention, "You never take me out on Saturdays anymore."

Here, you probably hope that they will get the hint and show how they care about you by arranging an outing on Saturday.

The unspoken part of your communication:

You may have a difficult time expressing your needs openly due to some neglect in your childhood and you may carry some anger related to this. Although you don't express your anger openly towards your partner, your body language and short complaint tells them more than you know.  You are in some ways projecting this old anger towards your partner.

Because your parents were unable to see what you needed as a child you hope your partner will. But remember, they are not a mind reader. Your partner probably tells you this. In addition, they may have their own anxiety and defensiveness. Due to this they might feel attacked by you even though you’re just hoping they will meet the needs from childhood you felt were ignored or unrecognized.

What your partner may hear, due to your body language, as well as their upbringing and the anxiety that comes with it:

"You are worthless. You don't do anything right. You can never make me happy"

By seeing your body language and hearing your words, your partner will feel criticized. Maybe they were criticized in childhood and never felt good enough either.

So instead, you can meet your needs and help your partner feel empowered by saying something like:

"I really enjoy when we go out on Saturdays like we used to when we were dating."

Or, if you want to be more direct and take the initiative:

"Let's go out on Saturday. We had so much fun when we did it before."

Mindful Communication Starts With Self-Awareness

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Do you see the difference in the communication style? You truly want to feel cherished and desired by your partner, but they feels attacked when you try to communicate this to them. You may not be aware of your anger due to the neglect in childhood, and thus you may take it out on your partner without ever intending it.

Similarly, their own anxiety and difficult past may not allow them to understand your needs. If you were able to authentically communicate your needs, your partner would feel empowered and honored because you express this to them. We all need to be needed in relationships.

When you become more aware of your feelings, needs, and your value, genuine communication becomes easier. Once you start working on this, your anxiety symptoms will also decrease.

Mindful communication and self-awareness can help you heal

It's important to note that being in a relationship can help you both heal. What matters is you are able to build enough trust where you two can be open and authentic with each other. It takes a lot of personal growth to be in a relationship. Learning how to communicate with your partner will help you both grow and feel empowered.


Dalila Jusic-LaBerge is the owner of Be Here & Now Counseling, and she helps women and teen girls heal trauma and emotional wounding, so they can enjoy life and love in healthy relationships. Dalila specializes in working with accomplished women who yearn for love but feel lost in romantic relationships.

Utilizing mindfulness based body-mind oriented therapy modality, she helps them heal, connect to their own emotions, develop intuition, and be ready to connect on a deeper emotional level. This empowers women to be authentic and in touch with who they truly are. Dalila focuses on helping her clients manage difficult feelings and emotions that come with stress, anxiety irritability, and anger issues, that are preventing them from enjoying life and happy relationships.

Dalila can be found on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.


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 Crew, jens johnsson & JD Mason on Unsplash

Overcoming Feelings of Guilt

Guilty feelings are so much a part of our lives that we take little notice. They show up when we’re feeling like an issue or problem is our fault, or when we’re neglecting things we “should” be doing or “should” have done. Sometimes guilty feelings can prompt us to do things we might not feel like doing. They push us to be pro-social, reaching out to grandparents, parents, partners or friends because we feel we “should,” and we know we’ll feel guilty if we don’t. In these instances, guilty feelings can have a positive effect on our relationships.

Feeling Guilty and Anxious For Things You Can’t Control

But, much of the time the guilty feelings aren’t based on facts or the reality of the situation. They’re often formulated around things we have little control over. They arise when we worry about the way things might be different if only we’d done X, Y or Z. Worrying about the “what-ifs” or “if-onlys” creates guilty, anxious feelings because a part of us believes that maybe we’re the reason things went wrong.

feeling guilty can increase anxiety

feeling guilty can increase anxiety

When guilt creeps in, it can stop you from moving forward and from really connecting with what’s happening inside you. Guilt can leave you feeling incompetent, not good enough or even worse — that you’re worthless; reinforcing what your internal critic tells you all the time. Then your anxiety and depression increase, throwing you for a loop.

The question is, do we really have that much control over the randomness of life? Is it really our fault when bad things happen? Maybe we can start paying closer attention to those times when we’re feeling guilty and be curious about how much control we really have.

Why Mindfulness Is Helpful

Being more mindful can help slow things down. It can make you more aware of how your body reacts to your stress and guilty feelings. It can help you to be curious about what you’re telling yourself when you’re feeling guilty. Being mindful of our emotions can help us identify what we’re feeling and what triggered those feelings. Then you can work toward offering yourself some compassion. Here’s an example from my own life:

My son was leaving our home to go back to his. About an hour after he left, he called to say his car was acting strangely. My husband and I both spoke to him, offering advice, and he continued on his way. Not long after, he called again to say the car had broken down in the middle of a huge freeway, and he was stuck inside it in the middle of traffic. We were panicked, to put it mildly! My husband and I helped him through the crisis. He and the car survived, but it was a harrowing experience.

Afterward I experienced a few moments of worry over how we could have done things differently. I felt a little guilty about things I didn’t say but wished I had. The feelings weren’t strongly present, and I went to bed feeling relieved that my son was safe. I awoke in the middle of the night with my heart pounding. I couldn’t fall back to sleep, because the thoughts of what I “should” have done were circling my brain, leaving me feeling stressed, anxious and guilty as hell. I was telling myself that if only I’d only done X, Y and Z, everything would’ve been different. The car wouldn’t have broken down and all the stress would’ve been avoided.

Now that I see my feelings put down in writing, my thoughts seem pretty ridiculous and grandiose. As if I have that much power over the universe! But in the moment, my responsibility in the crisis felt very real.

Mindful Attention

Mindful journaling can clarify your thoughts.

Mindful journaling can clarify your thoughts.

I was able to go back to sleep after using some mindful deep breathing to calm myself, but the next day the feelings returned. So I slowed things down, I sat with my uncomfortable feelings and, using mindful journaling, I curiously explored what was happening for me in that moment. Here are a few things I discovered:

  • I felt like I had a tight ball of cold energy in my stomach.
  • My mind kept rehearsing the things I wished I’d said.
  • The thoughts weren’t only about the car and his safety. I’d moved into “this proves I’m not a good mom.” And that touched my core.

Paying mindful attention to my physical and emotional reactions allowed me recognize what was going on as I sat with those difficult feelings. I placed a hand on my stomach where I stored the tension. I took some slow deep breaths and then offered myself some compassion. And I felt better! I was no longer obsessing about the “what-ifs” and “if-onlys.” I was able to recognize that, although the situation made me have thoughts about being a bad mom, I could be compassionate about how hard I was being on myself and I could reinforce my self-worth. The tension released, and I slept like a baby the next night.

Practicing Mindfulness

Would you like to learn how to:

  • Slow things down?
  • Be more curious about your experience?
  • Practice more self-compassion?
  • Identify and understand your feelings?
  • Be more present in the moment?

Mindfulness groups will be starting this Fall. If you’re interested in learning more, please reach out so we can get started!


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 Nik Shuliahin and Green Chameleon on Unsplash

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

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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.

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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

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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