Depression

A Story of Survival and Healing: A Therapists Journey Into Seeing and Being

*This post was originally published on The Practice of Being Seen blog.

Healing begins when you’re seen. Healing deepens when you see yourself.

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Throughout most of my life, anxiety has been a constant companion. As a young child, anxiety was part of my emotional landscape, and it also inflected my physical world. I needed to feel that my body was safe and secure. I’d get my mom to tie the ribbons at the waist of my dresses so tightly that I could feel them cutting into my skin. I couldn’t fall asleep at night unless the covers were tucked so tightly that I felt the pressure of the blankets pushing me into the bed.

As a teenager I often disconnected from my difficult feelings. I wasn’t fully present and it was as if I was in a fog. At other times, it was as if all the wires in my system fired at the same time. When I was stressed and anxious I became hyper aware of my clothes touching my skin. Irritable and angry much of the time, I struggled with depression. All of this confused me. I wasn’t making the connection between the physical sensory discomfort and my emotional discomfort.

I felt like I didn’t fit in. I believed that there was something wrong deep within me and that I was the problem. When I’d try to “fix” that, I’d mold myself to other people’s needs and agree to things I wasn’t sure I wanted. My body would try to get my attention: a heavy tightness would press down on my chest. To this day, that pressure continues to remind me when I’m holding back and not speaking up for my wants and needs.

Surviving Abuse

It’s not easy for me to open up and it takes a lot for me to let down my guard - to be vulnerable, to trust, to be me. So much of that comes back to my childhood. The physical and emotional symptoms that I described didn’t just crop up one day. When we were very young, my sister and I were abused by a powerful man in my family. The abuse was allowed to continue even after my sister and I came forward and told my parents and they consulted with the other adults in the family. It took a huge leap of faith to tell our story, but the adults we relied upon rationalized the abuse. My sister and I were told to figure it out on our own.

We were 4 and 6 years old.

I can picture my younger self in a starchy, smocked calico printed dress. Chubby legs, a smile on my face, wanting to be loved, cared for... I just wanted to be seen, heard, and protected. Instead the message I received was, “Don’t make a fuss! Please, go figure out how to protect yourself.” As we grew older the abuse stopped, but the emotional scars are still present and they show themselves when I’m feeling most vulnerable.

Seeing the Unseen and Hearing the Unheard

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I know what it means to feel like no one sees you and no one hears you.  I know the fear of showing my real self. And this is why I became a therapist, because I care so deeply about those who feel unseen and unheard.

As a therapist, I hold sacred space as I see my clients in their most vulnerable moments. I work with women who have trouble showing up as who they really are. They feel inauthentic in their lives and they struggle with anxiety and depression. As we work together, they experience what it’s like when their voices, their needs, their wants, and their pain are finally seen and heard.

Truly Seeing Myself

My own deep dive into therapy has helped me understand my shame and self-blame. It’s helped me to re-integrate the parts of me that I pushed away. I’m able to feel the power of those voices inside me that long to be heard. I’m able to acknowledge the parts of myself that need to have their stories told, shared, and embraced with compassion. I’ve begun the process of listening, loving, trusting, and seeing all of me.

I’m not sure I’ll ever rid myself of the need to protect myself, or the worry that I’ll show myself and there won’t be anyone to see me, but I’ve learned that I can be there for me. I am the one who will be able to see me, to hear me, to support me, and love me.

The abuse I experienced used to feel like a liability, but now I see it as my strength. I am a better therapist because of my story and I appreciate how it’s shaped me both personally and professionally. My clients feel that I truly understand their pain and trust that I can see their true selves in ways that might be hidden from them. I receive their stories with empathy and I support them with encouragement and compassion. As they reach out, as they explore their experiences and move forward on their journey, I continue to grow and heal right there beside them.

**You can hear me read this story aloud on the Woman Worriers podcast. episode 40.


Elizabeth Cush, LCPC is a therapist, blogger,  creator and host of the Woman Worriers podcast, and the owner of Progression Counseling in Annapolis, Md and she’s been featured in these major publications. Elizabeth 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, online and group therapy can help ease anxiety and stress call me 410-339-1979.  

You can follow me and the Woman Worriers podcast on these social media platforms — Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and Twitter

What Helps Manage Anxiety During The Holidays?

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The holidays can be stressful. Even if Christmas, Chanukah, Boxing Day, Diwali or Kwanzaa is your favorite holiday, this season can add stress to your life. And stress can invite its more difficult cousin — anxiety — to the celebration.

Because anxiety often makes us feel uncomfortable, many of us avoid or fight the anxiety in an attempt to make it stop. Those strategies might work sometimes, but usually the anxiety returns with greater force and can lead to a panic attack.

Below are some strategies to help you manage the anxiety so that you can enjoy the holidays!

Remind yourself that you’re not alone. A lot of people struggle with anxiety during holiday season. Knowing that you share this experience with others can help you feel less isolated and alone.

Acknowledge your anxiety and allow to be there. Think of the anxiety as a message from your body telling you that there’s some kind of danger lurking. Your anxiety wants to keep you safe. When you ignore or avoid it, it just gets louder, because it wants you to pay attention. Practice saying, “I’m feeling very anxious right now.” Or you can greet your anxiety like an old friend: “Hello anxiety. It’s nice to see you again.” Or, “Here you are again.” Then ask it, “What is it that you want me to know?” You might not find an obvious answer right away, but as you get used to talking with your anxiety, it can make the feelings less intense.

Get curious about your anxiety. Notice where you feel the stress in your body and tune into the physical feelings. Can you breathe into that body part? Does is shift or change? Is it hot or cold? If you could assign it a color and/or shape, what would it look like?

Tune into the present moment

Practice self-care. I’m not talking about facials or mani-pedis here — although they sound like great ideas, too. I’m talking basic needs like eating, hydrating, sleeping, exercising and going to the bathroom regularly. When we get stressed, anxious and overwhelmed, it’s easy to let go of or put off the moment-to-moment needs. So, take time throughout your day to pause. Take a deep breath. Ask yourself, “What do I need right now?” Notice how easy it is to tell yourself you don’t have time to pause or to take care of your needs, and then do it anyway.

Practice mindfulness. When the anxiety gets activated, we can get stuck ruminating over past and future events. When you notice you’re stuck in your head—re-thinking, planning, worrying — slow down and bring your attention to your immediate surroundings. It doesn’t matter where you are. You can pay attention when you’re driving, walking, shopping, laying in bed or at work. Tune into your five senses:

  • What can you see? Colors? Shapes? Lights? Shadows?

  • What can you hear? Horns? Cars? Music? Voices? Wind? Rain?

  • What can you touch or feel? Your feet on the ground? The chair under your butt? Your hands holding your keys or a drink?

  • What can you smell? Food cooking? Exhaust from cars or busses? Scented candles or perfume?

  • What can you taste? Sweet, salty, bitter, sour?

When you allow your anxiety to serve as a reminder that you might need to take care of yourself, it can help you feel less intimidated and overwhelmed when it shows up. I’ve also recorded two podcast episodes to help you manage holiday stress using gratitude, self-compassion and mindfulness techniques.


Elizabeth Cush, LCPC is a therapist, blogger,  creator and host of the Woman Worriers podcast, and the owner of Progression Counseling in Annapolis, Md and she’s been featured in these major publications. Elizabeth 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, online and group therapy can help ease anxiety and stress call me 410-339-1979. 




 

 

 

 

Nine Helpful Tips For Stressful Holidays

Handling The Holidays When You Don’t Feel Like Celebrating  

Holidays can overwhelm

Holidays can overwhelm

The holidays are here in full force with all the associated decorations, music, advertisements and crowds. For some, the season is a joyful, happy time; for others it can be difficult, stressful, even painful. Lots of articles focus on how to manage holiday stress — how to fit it all in without feeling overwhelmed. This  isn’t one of them. This post is for anyone who is struggling this holiday season.

Maybe your memories of holidays aren’t happy ones. Maybe you’ve lost someone, and celebrating seems impossible. Maybe you feel disconnected and lonely, or you’re living far from family and can’t get back to be with them. Maybe just the thought of spending time with family makes you anxious, depressed or stressed. Regardless of what you’re struggling with, if the holidays don’t seem like a time to celebrate, the constant seasonal reminders can make you feel pretty terrible. Below are nine tips to help you manage your anxiety or depression through the holiday season.

 9 Tips For Holiday Stress

  1. Take care of yourself. When we feel down or anxious, self-care is usually the first thing we drop. Taking care of yourself can be as easy as taking a bath, a walk or a drink of water. Whatever you do, it’s important to be kind to yourself when you’re struggling. If you need tips for practicing self-compassion, you can find some here.

  2. Manage expectations. Whether you’re spending time with family or friends, or you’re alone for the holidays, it can be helpful to manage your expectations. If your family or your friends are dysfunctional, combative, unsupportive or hard to be around, don’t expect them to be different or the holidays to be amazing. If you have friends who don’t connect unless you reach out first, don’t expect them to reach out just because you’re feeling down. Knowing that the holidays won’t provide a happy elixir to make all your troubles disappear can help you let go of the media’s portrayal of what the holidays “should” be.

  3. Create things to do. Whether you’re with family and friends or alone, having things to do can give you a sense of purpose and offer a distraction from holiday “stuff.” Planning a long walk, going to the movies, volunteering or traveling can provide some relief from holiday overload.

  4. Limit your exposure. Take your own car or have a separate mode of transportation, so you escape from a holiday celebration early if needed. Knowing you’re in control of when you leave can be very liberating.

  5. Find support. Reach out to those in your life who provide positive support if you’re feeling depressed and anxious. Connecting with others can be hard to do if you’re struggling, but it can provide a sense of belonging and meaning.

  6. Take time to be mindful. When we’re anxious, it’s often because we’re thinking about past or future events that make us uncomfortable. If you find that you’re rehashing the argument you had during last year’s holidays or worrying about what might happen this year, take a moment to pay attention to where you are. What do you see, smell or hear? What can you touch or taste? Being present in the moment can help get you out of your head and can ground and calm you.

  7. Feel what you feel. Allow yourself to feel your emotions. If you’re mourning a loss, feeling lonely, sad, angry, whatever… try not to push those uncomfortable feelings away. Instead, sit quietly for a moment and try to get in touch with them. Acknowledge and allow the pain, sorrow, loss or anger, and offer yourself, as you would a good friend, some compassion and kindness in this difficult time.

  8. Pause.  Things can get very busy around the holidays. Taking time to slow down, pause and reflect on your environment and your needs can be very nourishing. A great place to do this is in the bathroom. Take a moment to breathe deeply, look at yourself in the mirror, smile and take another deep breath.

  9. Get a good night’s sleep. Your body and mind need sleep to reset. If you’re burning the candle at both ends you probably go to bed stressed and wake up stressed. Make your bedtime routine a priority and try to get seven to eight hours of sleep every night. Your body and brain will thank you! You can find out more about sleep and stress here.

 

If you feel that managing the holidays seems too hard to do alone, counseling can help. Therapy can give you support, connection and a non-judgmental space to talk about what’s happening for you.

If you’d like help this holiday and aren’t sure if counseling is right for you, email or call (410) 339-1979 to set up a 15-minute free consultation.


Elizabeth Cush, LCPC is a therapist, blogger,  creator and host of the Woman Worriers podcast, and the owner of Progression Counseling in Annapolis, Md and she’s been featured in these major publications. Elizabeth 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, online and group therapy can help ease anxiety and stress call me 410-339-1979. 

Photo by Johannes Hofmann on Unsplash

 

Sleepless On Sunday Nights

Sunday Scaries

Sunday Scaries

Occasionally I struggle with falling or staying asleep. I hate those nights! I can often tell early in the day when I’m going to have a night like that, but I usually ignore the feeling until it’s too late. That’s how I wind up lying in bed on Sunday night, a full week of work ahead, and I’m bug eyed. I’m tired, but my body can’t relax enough to drift off.

If you’re sleepless on Sunday night —or any other night of the week — you’re not alone. According to the National Sleep Foundation, women are more likely to report insomnia than men. The Foundation also notes that, “Surprisingly, 24 percent of women say they have woken up feeling well-rested zero of the past seven days, compared to 16 percent of men, despite reporting similar sleep times.” Well-rested ZERO of the past seven days!

Sunday nights, in particular, seem to be a big problem for sleeplessness for many people. I Googled “Sleepless on Sundays” and got a full page of results on the topic. So let’s look at why it’s so hard for us to fall asleep on Sunday nights.

Why Does Anxiety Make It Hard To Sleep?

We’ve gotten very good as busying ourselves to manage anxiety. If we’re always “doing,” we don’t have time to feel the anxiety, the difficult emotions and the stress that build up over the week. Many people work Monday through Friday jobs, so maybe they’re slowing down on Sundays. Slowing down opens the door to feel feelings, to notice anxiety and stress.

Anxiety can make it hard to sleep

Anxiety can make it hard to sleep

If your workweek is stressful or you’ve put off doing things at work that are now looming, the idea of going back to work on Monday might leave you full of stress.

Or maybe you’re stressed because time is moving forward and you don’t feel as if you’ve done enough over the last week, or you hate your job and it’s already time to go back. Then you to lie awake dreading the week ahead.

Another possibility is that you sleep so little during the week that on weekends you sleep more than usual and come Sunday night your body might not be ready to rest.

Get Curious About Your Stress

If you’re not sleeping on Sundays, it’s time to get curious. Set aside some time to sit with the worry about sleep. It’s best if you can do this sometime before bed, during the day. You might ask some questions to prompt your curiousness, like:

 

Journaling can help

Journaling can help

  • Where do I hold the stress in my body? Is it a tightness in your chest? Increased heart rate? An empty or painful feeling in your belly? Tension in your neck? Once you’ve identified the body’s sensations, just notice them without trying to change them.

  • What am I telling myself about the insomnia? Do you tell yourself not to think about it and to push the anxious feelings down? Do you tell yourself that your sleeplessness is your own fault? Maybe you’re telling yourself to ignore the feelings, because they will only make the insomnia inevitable.

  • What am I worried about? Draw or journal about your worries. Getting the words or pictures on paper can help ease the distress. It gets them out of your head and onto the paper.

  • Am I being too hard on myself? Try offering yourself some compassion about how hard it is to be sleepless. If you were talking to a friend or a child who struggled with insomnia, what might you say to them? Maybe you’d say, “I’m sorry this is so hard for you. I know how hard it is to lie awake on Sundays not sleeping.” If what you’d say to others is kind and compassionate, try offering the same phrases to yourself.

 

If it feels like you’re never sleeping, or that the idea of trying to sleep causes you distress, therapy could be a resource for you. Talking about the stressors, learning relaxation skills and understanding that you’re not alone in the struggle can help. 

It’s also important to keep regular sleep routines. If you’d like to improve your sleep habits, check out my Good Therapy article, Can Better Sleep Help You Manage Anxiety for tips on things you can do to sleep better.


Elizabeth Cush, LCPC is a therapist, blogger,  creator and host of the Woman Worriers podcast, 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. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How Trauma Imapcts the Mind and the Body

Traumatic Memories

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Coping with a traumatic event isn’t only about managing what happened at the time, but it’s also a process of managing how it affects you throughout your life. Traumatic memories can be triggered years later or re-experienced through dreams, flashbacks, physical symptoms and emotional overwhelm.

For trauma survivors, traumatic memories can feel very scary. You’re left feeling as if you have no control over your body and mind. The good news is that you can bring some light and healing to the stored trauma by working with a trauma-informed therapist.

Storing Traumatic Experiences

Whenever a traumatic event happens, whether in childhood or adulthood, you store the experience two ways. You store visual memories and you store memories in your body. When these traumatic memories are triggered, some survivors report “seeing” the trauma as if it just happened. They can recall places, faces, smells, sounds and tastes.

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Emotions can spring up without prompting, and you can feel as if you’re in a dangerous situation even when the present moment isn’t dangerous or scary. Traumatic memories can also leave you feeling anxious or depressed. It might seem like you’re feeling bad for no reason at all, but when memories that are stored in the subconscious get triggered, intense feelings seem to come out of nowhere.

I know about traumatic memories because I’m a trauma therapist and a trauma survivor. I see my clients struggle in sessions everyday. I also struggled with anxiety for many years without truly understanding the impact my trauma had on me or why I was such an anxious child, teen and young adult.

What I’ve learned as a counseling psychology grad-student, as a therapist and as a client in therapy has helped me understand that you can’t control when your memory is triggered by past events. What you can control is how you react or respond to the feelings and memories as they arise. 

Avoiding the feelings that arise when you’re feeling triggered — pushing feelings away, telling yourself to get over it, using substances, disconnecting from your feelings — might help for a short time, but the feelings are still there, and they want to be heard.  In my interview with Kristen Ulmer, we discuss how to tune into our fear (which is usually the root of anxiety and depression) so it can be heard and honored. Brain research suggests that naming your feelings can diminish the intensity of these feelings.

Trauma, Difficult Feelings And Therapy

The hard part about naming feelings if you’re trauma survivor is that initially you might not know what you’re feeling. Because the traumatic feelings were stored in the unconscious memory and that helped you survive. You might also be worried that your feelings will overwhelm you if you tune in and pay attention. In fact, trying to resist or avoid your feelings can actually increase the intensity of your emotions.

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Working with a counselor who specializes in trauma-informed therapy can help. You learn how to soothe yourself when you’re feeling emotionally overwhelmed. You learn to regulate your emotions as they arise and you learn to honor you story of healing.

Trauma therapy used to mean you had to retell your trauma story in order to heal, but that’s no longer a given. In trauma-focused therapy, you may share the story when you’re ready, but not before you have the skills create a space where your body and mind are ready.

If you’d like to know more about trauma, traumatic memories and healing here are some resources:

I spoke with Laura Reagan and Robert Cox about trauma, the brain and healing. You can find those interviews at WomanWorriers.com.

Dr. Bessel van der Kolk has done some groundbreaking work on the subject of traumatic memories. You can learn about his research in his book , The Body Keeps The Score. Additionally, the Sidran Institute’s article What Arte Traumatic Memories, explains traumatic memories and how they’re stored. 


Elizabeth Cush, LCPC is a therapist, blogger,  creator and host of the Woman Worriers podcast, 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. 

Photos by whoislimos and Anita Jankovic and Michael Browning on Unsplash

Maybe It's Time For A Little Self-Compassion

*This blog was originally published in the Severna Park Voice.

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

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

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

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

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

The Argument For Self-Compassion

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

When we're overly critical of ourselves it can also increase our anxiety. Imagine a friend that always pointed out your faults, and told you you weren't enough, or worse that you were a failure. Imagine that friend was with you 24/7, constantly reminding you of things you could have done better, and that this was for your own good.

It might stress you out, or you might try to ignore them, or push them away but the bad feelings about yourself remain, because maybe a small part of you begins to believe what the constant criticism and that can make you feel very anxious.

Self-Kindness

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

Common Humanity

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

Mindfulness

Mindfulness is a non-judgmental, receptive mind state in which one observes thoughts and feelings as they are, without trying to suppress or deny them
— Kristin Neff, PhD.

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

How To Move Forward With Self-Compassion

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

If you want to bring more self-compassion into your daily life I host mindfulness each Spring and Fall. You can find out about the groups here.


Elizabeth Cush, LCPC is a therapist, blogger,  creator and host of the Woman Worriers podcast, 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 gabrielle cole & Philipe Cavalcante on Unsplash

 

 

 

Does My Sleep Affect My Anxiety?

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Anxiety can make a good night’s sleep very difficult. Maybe your mind is on overtime and you can’t fall asleep right away, or you wake up at night full or worry. Or maybe you struggle with insomnia and you’re awake most of the night. No matter what the issue, the lack of a good night’s sleep affects your health and your mental health.

Sleep gives your body and mind the chance to reboot, and just like a computer if there are glitches in the system and you don’t reboot the glitches continue. Maybe your stress carries into the next day. Maybe you’re not thinking as clearly as you would like, and maybe you’re just exhausted.

I can remember having trouble falling asleep as a child being terrified when I was the only person awake at night and I still struggle with sleep from time-to-time, but I’ve learned some ways to help me manage.

In my post for Good Therapy this month, Can Better Sleep Help You Manage Anxiety? I share some well-researched and some common sense tips to help you sleep better, and maybe feel less stressed when you’re not sleeping.

In other news, this week on the Woman Worriers podcast I’m talking to Rebecca Wong, LCSW about relationships, anxiety, boundaries and intimacy. You can find the interview here.

This is the work of living relationally: To really show up in relationship with our partners and ourselves.
— Rebecca Wong, LCSW

Also, the Woman Worriers Mindfulness groups begin in this month! Early bird pricing is still available and there are only two  spots left! The group is for you if:

·  You’re always in your head — thinking, planning, reassessing….

·  You believe that your stress and anxiety impact your relationships.

·  Your anxiety holds you back from living your life fully.

·  Your worries wake you up at night or make it hard to fall asleep.

·  You’re tired of your anxiety taking control.

You can reach out if you’d like more information on any of the information above. Please feel free to share this information with anyone who might benefit!


 

Elizabeth Cush, LCPC is a therapist, blogger,  creator and host of the Woman Worriers podcast, 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. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What's Your Body Telling You About Anxiety?

When you struggle with anxiety, sometimes you might wonder why you even get anxious in the first place. What purpose does it serve? And why does it make you feel so bad?

Over the years, while struggling to manage my own anxiety, I’ve learned that signs that I’m uncomfortable often show up before the anxiety is running full tilt. It might be a feeling of pressure in my chest. Sometimes my throat feels like it’s full of sand, or my belly feels hollow (like I have a pit in my stomach), depending on what’s making me uncomfortable and anxious.

My mindfulness practice has allowed me to be more aware of my body’s sensations in the moment when stressful things are happening (or I’m interpreting that the events are stressful). My body signals me long before I’m fully aware that the situation is overwhelming or triggering.

Where Do You Feel Anxiety?

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I ask clients to tune into their physical reactions when they’re talking about something stressful or difficult. When I ask, “Where do you feel that in your body?” they can often point or place their hand right where they feel it. Or is I ask, “What physical feelings do you have when your anxiety shows up?” Some clients can identify exactly where anxiety lives in them. For others, it’s a little harder to figure out, but usually clients at least have a general sense of some internal sensations.

Many times the body signals come before the anxiety is fully recognizable. Basically your body is telling you that you’re feeling something, usually something uncomfortable. It’s alerting you, wanting your attention and letting you know it’s time to tune in, it’s time to listen, it’s time to take care of yourself.

Tune Into Your Anxiety Through Your Body

So how do we learn to tune into our body so we can hear what it wants us to know?

Start a mindfulness practice. Mindfulness helps you become more aware of yourself — your reactions, your thoughts, your feelings and what’s happening inside your body. If you haven’t already recognized the patterns, you might begin to notice that when certain thoughts or feelings enter your consciousness, your body reacts to those thoughts and feelings in particular ways.

Practice yoga, tai chi or another form of movement. They help you learn to focus on the different parts of your body.

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Start a meditation practice. Body scan meditations guide you from head to toe (or toe to head), gradually moving your non-judgmental awareness from one body part to another. It helps fine-tune your focus as you practice the meditation. It also brings an awareness of how your body holds stress and how the stress might change as you bring a conscious awareness to it.

Take a moment to pause. When you’re anticipating a stressful event or encounter, take a minute to pause. Take a few slow, deep breaths. Check in with yourself and ask “Where am I feeling this in my body right now?” If tuning into your body is something new, you might need to do it a few times before you’re able to pinpoint where you feel the stress. That’s okay. Be patient and keep tuning in.

Work with a therapist. The right therapist — one who’s been trained in somatic, movement or body awareness therapies — can help you work toward a greater understanding of your body and help you learn why it reacts the way it does.

As with all new habits and skills, getting in touch with your physical reactions can take some time and practice. Be gentle and compassionate with yourself on this journey!


Elizabeth Cush, LCPC is a therapist, blogger,  creator and host of the Woman Worriers podcast, 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 Tanja Heffner and by Caique Silva on  Unsplash

 

Your Inner Critic and Expectations Can Create Anxiety

The Inner Critic

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The inner critical part is something I write about and talk a lot about  a lot. That’s because it’s usually easy to identify and it can make us feel pretty terrible. This month my post, Does Your Inner Critic Fuel Anxiety? What Can You Learn Instead? for Good Therapy explores how our inner critic can often make us feel bad about our mistakes. But I also share that it's trying to protect us—and with a little practice, we can get it to be less critical. You can find it here.

Managing Expectations

In this week's Woman Worriers podcast I interview Agnes Wainman, PhD, of London Psychological Services. We talk about woman worriers and how the expectations that we learn from our culture and our own families can stand in the way of living a life that feels right. You can find it here.

You can tune in and subscribe to auto-download new podcast episodes to your Apple or Android device on IHeartRadio Spotify and on Stitcher. After you listen to a few episodes, please consider leaving an honest rating and review in iTunes  and let me know how you think this podcast might benefit women.

You can also follow the podcast on Twitter, Facebook and the Woman Worriers homepage.

Have a wonderful week!


Elizabeth Cush, LCPC is a therapist, blogger,  creator and host of the Woman Worriers podcast, 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 Kinga Cichewicz on Unsplash

Anxiety and Anger: Manage Them Mindfully

When you don't express your anger it can turn inwards

When you don't express your anger it can turn inwards

When you’re very anxious and you’ve spent a lifetime pleasing others in order to manage your anxiety, it can be very hard to express anger in ways that feel safe or comfortable. Telling someone you’re angry with him or her can feel too much like an all-out conflict. But if you don’t tell the people you care about when you’re unhappy or angry, your anger can turn inward. Then, that at critical part of yourself might be mad because you always let others have their way. You might say things to yourself like:

  • “I’m a pushover.”
  • “I’m a wimp.”
  • “I have no spine.”

The inner critic will remind you each time you choose to stay quiet. Your critical voice will tell you over and over how you might have done things differently. Or it might wonder, in not so nice terms, why you can’t stand up for yourself.

Anger’s Impact On Relationships

Anger can build inside you if you don't say what you need

Anger can build inside you if you don't say what you need

Sometimes you might hold onto your anger and resentment because you believe that the people in your life should know how you feel, even if you don’t tell them. The anger builds inside you with each event where you don’t say what you need. People you care about might hurt your feelings,; when you don’t speak up for yourself, the resentment grows. You store away each wound, and occasionally you take it out to re-examine it and refresh the hurt feelings.

As the anger builds up inside, it leaves you feeling on edge until maybe something small happens and you explode! You wind up reeling off the list of all of the hurts that led up to this moment. This can be difficult for the person you’re angry with. Chances are that he or she wasn’t aware of how their behavior was impacting you. Now they’re wondering why you didn’t bring it up when it happened.

If blowing up isn’t comfortable for you, you might swallow your anger once again, withdrawing from the people you care about most. This can be overwhelming for you. It’s also difficult for the person you’re angry with because he or she had no idea that you were upset.

5 Mindful Ways Top Manage Your Anger

So how can you do things differently? How can you begin to say what you need, or express your anger in more healthy ways, so that you feel heard and not hurt?

Pause and pay attention when angry feelings show up

Pause and pay attention when angry feelings show up

Here are a few tips to help you get started:

  1. When your irritation starts to grow, begin to notice how you’re feeling. Where do you feel the irritation in your body? If you could describe it, what color and shape would it be? What are the thoughts that go with the feeling?
  2. Pay attention when you start to go over all the times this person has irritated you before. If you’re scrolling through a list of all the times you’ve been angry or hurt by this person, notice how those thoughts change how you’re feeling in the moment. Does the irritation grow into full-blown anger or does it lessen?
  3. Take a few slow, deep breaths, breathing deeply into your belly. Belly breathing can calm and relax you in the moment, but it’s also good to practice it when you’re feeling calm. It can stimulate your parasympathetic nervous system, and that helps you feel more at ease.
  4. Try writing down what’s bothering you, or try drawing a picture of the irritation that you’ve come up with from #1, or both!
  5. Ask yourself how old the angry, irritated part feels. Does this part feel like an adult or like a child? Are the angry thoughts and feelings familiar? Do they feel similar to a time in your past when you felt the same way? Is there something your angry part wants you to know? Journaling can help here, too.

Anger and irritation can also be a symptom of anxiety. If you think that you need help managing your anger in healthier ways, seek out a therapist who can help you work through and better understand the root of your anger. Counseling can help you find strategies for expressing your anger and irritation in healthier, more meaningful ways when it surfaces.


In his week's episode of the Woman Worriers podcast we're talking about trauma, attachment trauma and anxiety with Laura Reagan. You can check it out here.

Elizabeth Cush, LCPC is a therapist, blogger,  host of the Woman Worriers podcast, 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. 

Photos by Gabriel Matula & Stanley Dai & Nik MacMillan on Unsplash

 

Stress-busting ABCs: Anxiety, Boundaries And Clarity

Owning your own business can be a challenge because you don’t have set working hours. You could work all the time if you let yourself. Being your own boss is particularly hard if you struggle with setting or keeping boundaries. It’s easy to talk yourself into working past a certain time or to schedule a work appointment when you’ve set aside the time for personal, leisure or self-care. Who’s going to stop you?

Setting Boundaries Sparks Anxiety

The other thing about fuzzy boundaries is that the people in your life come to expect that you will meet their needs when they ask. They might not intend to take advantage of you, but if you’re always willing to do what others ask of you and never say “no,” then the people in your life will become used to having their needs met first and foremost.

Saying "no" can be hard

Saying "no" can be hard

Creating and maintaining boundaries isn’t just hard when you own your business. Saying “no” can be extremely hard for a lot of people. But problems arise when you don’t say “no” enough. Not meeting your own needs can breed resentment, feeling taken advantage of and feeling underappreciated.

When you start setting boundaries, it can be hard on relationships, too. Listening for and meeting your needs can change relationship dynamics. If the people in your life are used to you always doing for them, it will be an adjustment when you begin to speak up for what you want and need. It might even lead to some hurt and angry feelings, because they don’t understand why you’re not doing what they want. And that’s really hard! Not too many people like conflict, but people who have trouble with maintaining strong, healthy boundaries usually hate conflict. They avoid it by putting their needs last.

Learning To Listen To What You Need

Listen to what You need

Listen to what You need

It takes time and practice to really hear what it is that you want and need. You can start by being aware of your resentment, anger, anxious or hurt feelings bubbling up when you agree to do something. Then you can ask yourself these three questions:

  1. “I’m feeling some resentment right now. Did I agree to do this to because I wanted to or because someone else wanted me to?”
  2. “What was it that made me agree to this? Did I want to make others happy? Was I trying to avoid conflict? What was my motivation for agreeing?”
  3. “What does my anger, hurt, anxiety or resentment want me to know?”

Try to be curious without judging yourself. Having some self-compassion can include reminding yourself that the part of you that wants to please others or avoid conflict is trying to protect you. It believes that by always meeting other’s needs you will avoid feeling uncomfortable.

Clarity Helps Avoid Conflict

So how can you meet your own needs and not create a world of conflict?

The answer is, you can’t avoid conflict! It will take some time for the people in your life to get used to you doing things differently. Until they do, they might be confused or angry. But, if you keep doing things the same way, all of the conflict will be alive inside you. You’ll be frustrating the parts of you that want you to see and hear that you have needs, too. Holding the conflict inside can make you feel anxious or depressed.

You can help the people in your life better understand the changes in your behavior. It takes being open and honest about doing things differently and communicating your needs without judging others for wanting you to stay the way you were.

If you’re struggling to know what you need, or want help with creating and maintaining boundaries, therapy can help by providing a safe space to explore and get support.


Elizabeth Cush, LCPC is a therapist, blogger,  host of the Woman Worriers podcast, 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 Isaiah Rustad &   Dawid Sobolewski on Unsplash

 

Why Do We Get Anxiety?

Many of the clients I see in my Annapolis, Md., counseling office suffer from anxiety, stress and feelings of being overwhelmed. Anxiety often slips slowly into lives, and it’s not always easy to recognize. I like working with clients who have anxiety because I know what it’s like to experience anxiety, and I realize the impact that it has on me. I also know that there’s hope. You can learn ways to manage anxiety that allow you to feel more in control.

When Anxiety Shows Up

Anxiety shows up in different ways. The most common form is called “generalized anxiety”—that is, you feel anxious about lots of things throughout your day. You might even have an anxiety attack occasionally, where you feel extremely anxious and experience intense physical symptoms.

Anxiety is a response to a perceived threat

Anxiety is a response to a perceived threat

Anxiety is a response to a perceived threat. When you’re anxious, it’s because a situation or event makes you feel uncomfortable, out of control or unsafe. Sometimes these uncomfortable feelings are unconscious and below the surface. Then, the anxiety bubbles up and you don’t have a clear understanding of why. That’s scary and leaves you feeling like you have very little control.

When you feel unsafe—and this might be an unconscious feeling—your body automatically responds as if there’s danger. We are hard-wired to ready ourselves for a fight, to flee or to freeze when we perceive that we’re in a dangerous, potentially lethal situation. This hard-wired response stems from our primal beginnings, when we had to fight off dangerous animals for survival. Today, the danger may be real, or it could just be that something triggered a memory of a previously dangerous time, but our body doesn’t know the difference!

Physical Symptoms Of Anxiety

When you perceive danger, your body jumps right in all on its own. Your brain releases chemical messengers that signal your body to be afraid and ready it to fight or flee. But that’s not all; they affect your heart, lungs, skin and internal bodily functions, too.

  • Your heart rate can increase.
  • You might breathe faster and shallower.
  • Your might skin get hot or tingle.
  • Your mouth and throat get dry.
  • You might have trouble swallowing.
  • You could get a stomachache, or feel nauseous. 

You can find out more about your body’s stress and anxiety responses in this New York Times article on Stress and Anxiety, The Body’s Response.

When Anxious Feelings Stick Around

For many people, anxiety comes and goes. But if you’ve had a lot of very stressful, very difficult experiences in your life, and you weren’t given the opportunity to process them, which can help relieve the stress, then you’re probably carrying anxiety with you all the time.

Anxiety’s Impact On Your Life

When anxiety is a constant companion, your body is living under stress most of the time. You might become used to living this way, but it takes a toll on your physical health, your mental health, your relationships and your interactions with your environment.

Some signs that anxiety might be ruling your life:

  • You’re easily startled.
  • Your startle response is out of proportion to the trigger. For example, you scream when someone touches you unexpectedly.
  • You often avoid people or situations because of uncomfortable feelings.
  • Stepping outside your comfort zone leaves you feeling overwhelmed and exhausted.
  • You experience anxiety attacks.
  • You worry all the time.
  • Your worries keep you up at night.

I know what it’s like to live with anxiety when it takes control of your life. It affected my sleep, my digestion and my relationships with friends and family. If I hadn’t gotten the help I needed, it might still be ruling my life.

How Anxiety Affects Relationships

You might isolate yourself when anxiety shows up

You might isolate yourself when anxiety shows up

As I mentioned above, anxiety can affect the quality of your relationships. It can make you irritable, and you might snap at your partner, children or friends for reasons that are not apparent to them, or even to you. You might isolate yourself because of your worries about stepping outside your comfort zone. You might be depressed with little motivation for new activities, because that little voice inside your head is whispering negative comments to you about your worth or abilities. Or you might think that there’s something wrong with you or that you’re damaged and can never be “normal.”

Whatever the impact, you can do things to move anxiety to the passenger’s seat!

5 Steps That Help You Manage Anxiety

  1. Recognize that anxiety often stems from fear. Try to go a little deeper to figure out what triggered your fear. If the fear seems unreasonable, as if it came from nowhere, or it stems from you feeling a lack of control, gently remind yourself that your body thinks this is a life-threatening situation, but you’re safe right here, right now.
  2. Learn and practice relaxation and grounding skills. Meditation, mindful awareness, deep breathing, taking a bath, hugging someone close to you, mindfully patting your dog or cat, or taking a walk in nature al all great options. Find what works for you, or try a combination of things. Sometimes just changing it up makes all of the difference.
  3. Exercise regularly. I can’t say enough about exercising regularly to help manage anxiety. Exercise releases the body’s  “make-you-feel-good” chemicals. According to the Anxiety And Depression Association (ADAA), “Scientists have found that regular participation in aerobic exercise has been shown to decrease overall levels of tension, elevate and stabilize mood, improve sleep, and improve self-esteem. About five minutes of aerobic exercise can begin to stimulate anti-anxiety effects.” Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? You can find out more about exercise and anxiety here on the ADAA website. If you can’t do vigorous exercise, then take a 20-minute walk and try to be present with the environment.
  4. Create regular sleep habits. Getting a good night’s sleep is another great way to combat anxiety. If you aren’t sleeping well, your body doesn’t have a chance to reset and relax. So, you wake up already stressed from the day or night before. The, if you add the additional stressors of the new day, you can get very anxious very quickly.
  5. Eat a healthy diet. A healthy body works better and more efficiently, and the proper nutrition can help stimulate the body’s natural stress responses.

Individual and group counseling can also help because it gives you a safe place to process and difficult life events. It’s a space where you’re heard and seen without judgment, and it can give you hope when it might feel like there’s none. If you are struggling and you think counseling might help you manage your anxiety, call or email me and we can talk about it.

Want to know more? I have a few articles about anxiety, its causes and things you can do to help yourself on my blog and on my podcast Woman Worriers.

New support groups for women with anxiety are forming now and begin at the end of March! You can learn more here.


Elizabeth Cush, LCPC is a therapist, blogger,  host of the Woman Worriers podcast, 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 Els Fattah on  Photo by Els Fattah on Unsplash

What Have You Done For You Lately?

If you’re the kind of person who is always thinking about other people’s needs, it leaves little time to think about your own. It can also leave you feeling resentful, underappreciated and maybe even taken advantage of.

When the realization finally hits that you want more for yourself, it can come as a surprise. Giving to others seemed like it was enough, or maybe it just took up so much of your time that you forgot you had needs of your own. Or maybe you understood that you had needs, too, but it felt selfish to put your needs first.

Growing Up In A Stressful Home

So, how did you get to be a person who puts your own needs last? You see other people who say, “No.” Why is it so hard for you to set boundaries?

Childhood stress impacts adulthood

Childhood stress impacts adulthood

Children who grow up with caregivers who set unreasonably high expectations, who are extremely volatile, or who need their children to take care of them are at risk of becoming adult children who put their own needs last or who suppress their needs altogether.

Children learn at a very early age how they’re expected to be in the world. So, if the message you received in childhood is that your needs don’t matter, or that it’s selfish or even dangerous to ask to have your needs met, you’re likely become an adult who has difficulty seeing yourself as a priority or in need of self-care. It’s hard to undo those patterns of behavior.

It’s All In The Past — Or Is It?

Below are some of the responses I’ve heard from friends and clients when they talk about how their past experiences are affecting their adulthood.

Past experiences can impact adulthood

Past experiences can impact adulthood

  • “I’m over it.”
  • “I’ve moved on.”
  • “I don’t even think about my childhood.”
  • “What’s the point of rehashing old wounds?”
  • “I barely remember my childhood.”

But the past does affect the present! What you experienced in childhood determines how you learned how to maneuver in the world. It’s how you learned how to survive. But sometimes the survival or coping skills you learned as a child to get by and to please your caregivers stop working for you. They might even hurt you in adulthood.

Anxiety From Childhood Stressors

If you feel a lot of anxiety but you aren’t sure what’s causing it, you might be experiencing a flashback or an unconscious past memory that was triggered by a present experience. Or maybe your anxiety stems from your ignoring or putting your own needs last. If you’re constantly giving to others with little consideration for yourself, it can bring up some difficult feelings like anger, resentment and frustration. Those difficult feelings can be hard to tolerate if you’re unfamiliar with expressing them, and that can bring on feelings of anxiety.

Tuning Into Anxiety To Help Heal

Tune into anxiety with compassion

Tune into anxiety with compassion

Anxiety is something we like to avoid, ignore or push through. I get it, I’ve been there. But by tuning into your anxiety, you can hear your body telling you that it’s afraid or feels threatened. When you’re a person who always gives to others with little consideration for what you need, your body is probably telling you that it’s feeling threatened because no one is listening. You’re invisible to yourself and others. That feels scary and maybe a little too much like childhood, where you learned that it was safer and easier to take care of others.

When we learn to listen with compassion and love to the fear that lies below the anxiety, it can lead to a deep healing of old wounds. Meditation, mindful awareness and individual therapy can all help in the healing process.

Self-Care Doesn’t Mean Selfish

Learning new behaviors takes time and patience. Self-care isn’t something many of us learned at a young age. Self-care isn’t selfish; it’s a basic need. If we don’t know what we need, then it’s really hard to take care of ourselves. It takes practice — lots of it — to create a lifelong self-care routine. So be compassionate, loving and kind to yourself in this journey!

If you’d like support on your journey of mindful self-awareness and anxiety management, Woman Worriers Groups are forming now. You can find out more about the groups here.


Elizabeth Cush, LCPC is a therapist, blogger,  host of the podcast Woman Worriers 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 Katherine Chase & Morgan Basham & Tanja Heffner on Unsplash

 

 

 

Have A Mindful Valentine's Day!

Be mindful of your feelings this Valentine's Day

Be mindful of your feelings this Valentine's Day

Today is Valentine’s Day and whether or not you celebrate, or consider a “valid” holiday it’s hard to miss all the hoopla. I went to the drugstore to buy a condolence card yesterday and I overwhelmed by all of the Valentine’s Day merchandise­ — and I like to celebrate!

If you’re like me and enjoy the holiday, Happy Valentine’s Day to you!

If today makes you sad or depressed, or angry because it’s a made up “Hallmark” holiday then be mindful of taking care of yourself today.

  • Acknowledge your feelings and allow them to be there.
  • Offer yourself some compassion and love, and remember that others are struggling too.
  • Ask what you need to take care you yourself. Maybe you buy yourself some flowers, or maybe you choose to ignore the holiday altogether.

With that I wish you a happy, mindful, wonderful Wednesday!


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. 

How You Can Manage Your Anxiety

My specialty is working with women who have anxiety. But anxiety isn’t just a woman’s issue. Men and women both experience anxiety. The good news is that most anxiety management strategies are gender neutral, meaning anyone can use them! Managing anxiety often starts with good self-care, because if you’re not taking care of your most basic needs, your anxiety isn’t going anywhere.

The First 3 Steps Toward Managing Anxiety

Regular exercise can help with anxiety

Regular exercise can help with anxiety

  • Exercise: Exercise is different for everyone. Some of my clients have physical limitations that prevent them from doing strenuous exercise, and some are able to work out intensely every day. I encourage you to do what you can, and do it regularly. That means at least three times a week. Why? Because our bodies want to be used physically. They are hardwired that way. When you exercise regularly, your body releases endorphins, the chemicals that make you feel good naturally.
  • Nutrition: Our bodies need nutrition, so it’s important to pay attention to what you eat. A balanced diet also balances your body and your mind.  
  • Sleep: Get a good night’s sleep. I can’t say enough about how important sleep is for overall good health, and mental health especially. Research suggests that seven to nine hours of sleep a night is a basic requirement for most adults. Without enough sleep, your body and mind don’t have a chance to “reset.” So if you’re extremely stressed when you fall asleep and you only sleep for a few hours, it’s likely you’re waking up stressed. A good night’s sleep gives your body a chance to recharge and relax. If you need some tips on improving your quality of sleep, check out the National Sleep Foundation.

Daily Anxiety Management Ideas

Day to day, you can do several things to help you keep your stress and anxiety at manageable levels. Here a just a few to get you started:

Constantly searching the Internet can increase anxiety

Constantly searching the Internet can increase anxiety

  • Stop Googling. If you’re a worrier, chances are you check Google (or another search engine) a lot. Maybe you check out a disease symptoms, or plane accident statistics, or mental health issues. Unfortunately, searching for and finding answers that might confirm your worst suspicions only reinforces your anxiety. It tells your anxious brain that you were right to worry. It might even give you things to worry about that you weren’t aware of before your search. So when you get the urge to Google, put the phone down, walk away from the computer, take a walk, or take some slow deep breaths and allow that maybe it’s OK not to know this time.
  • Meditate. Your breath is a cheap, easy way to help you manage stress and anxiety. You can use your breath as an anchor in meditation, or use structured deep breathing methods. Either way, your breath is helpful in easing anxiety. Some other great benefits of meditating, according to this article in Healthline, include: stress reduction, promotion of emotional health, enhanced self-awareness, pain management, blood pressure regulation, increased focus, increased positive feelings toward self and others, controlling addictive behaviors.
  • Move. Anxiety often makes you feels stuck. That’s because when anxiety shows up, you can get caught in the freeze response. You feel powerless or frozen, which adds to your anxiety. I encourage physical movement when you’re feeling stuck. Walking mindfully, moving your arms across your body or swaying can help to activate the part of your brain that helps you feel unstuck.

Calling A Truce With Anxiety

I hope these strategies were helpful for you! I've launched a podcast soon called “Woman Worriers,” where I share more strategies on managing anxiety, but I'm also diving deep into why women are twice as likely as men to experience anxiety. I explore the psychological, biological, social and cultural issues that contribute to women's anxiety. I also share many strategies for anxiety management, like mindfulness, grounding techniques, meditation and other interventions that you can use to help stop fighting against your anxiety and call a truce in the battle.


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 Justyn Warner & Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

 

 

 

 

How Is Feeling Flawed Holding You Back From Being Your True Self?

Many of my clients come to me because they experience a lot of stress and anxiety and want help learning how to manage it more effectively. As therapy progresses, it becomes evident that the deeply held feelings they have about themselves create or trigger their anxiety.

Uncovering these self-perceptions often takes time because they’re usually unconscious, only showing themselves when the anxiety starts to ramp up. As we work together, those buried beliefs begin to appear.

Some of the common themes that I hear from my clients include:

The fatal flaw is just a feeling

The fatal flaw is just a feeling

  • I am not enough.
  • I will always disappoint those who care about me.
  • I am unlovable.
  • There’s something in me that’s broken or flawed.
  • If they knew the real me, they wouldn’t like me.
  • Others will never see me for who I really am.

If You Feel Flawed, You’re Not Alone

My clients are often surprised when I tell them that their experience is not unique. Many of my clients hold similar beliefs about themselves.

In fact, at times in my life I’ve struggled with feeling deeply flawed as well. I used to tell myself that there was something wrong with me. I thought it explained why I had difficulty creating meaningful connections with the people in my life.

Feeling this way can cause a lot of pain. My clients tell me they believe that feeling broken or flawed is just who they are, and that it’s unlikely to ever change. That leaves them feeling sad, lonely and different from others. Therapy helps them better understand what occurred in their life to make them feel that way, and then we work on incorporating strategies in daily life to help them connect to more deeply with their true selves.

How To Handle The Feeling Of Being Flawed

In an article that Dr. Jonice Webb shared with me for this blog, she describes this experience as The Fatal Flaw. She describes “The Fatal Flaw: 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.”

Dr. Webb shares that “The Fatal Flaw is just a feeling.” In order to manage the feeling, we have to take charge. Here are some steps you can take that can help:

Talking about your feelings can help

Talking about your feelings can help

  • Notice when The Fatal Flaw shows up.
  • Name the feeling when it happens.
  • Talk about it with others. (This can be the hardest part but you might find that others feel the same way.)
  • Be compassionate with yourself when you feel flawed, different or damaged.
  • Seek therapy to help you begin to get more in touch with all of your feelings. Listening and understanding what you’re feeling and why helps to create a deeper connection with yourself. That connection with your self can lessen and often rid you of that fatally flawed feeling.

What I’ve learned in my own work and working with my clients is that learning to name, trust and truly feel your feelings helps you to feel more connected with your Self. If you’re constantly pushing away, ignoring or avoiding your feelings and thoughts, you’re never getting in touch with you, all of you — the good and the bad, the scared and the lonely, the excited or elated, the angry and the hurt — all of your beautifully imperfect parts.


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 Naqi Shahid and  Eye for Ebony on Unsplash

 

The Power of Making Movement Part of Your Journey

Recently, I’ve been exploring movement in my life. I don’t just mean my physical movement, but also movement through painting, movement in my psyche and movement in my environment.

Movement Helps Heal

Movement helps heal

Movement helps heal

I’ve been more mindful of movement because I’ve been incorporating movement into my own therapeutic journey. I’ve found it incredibly healing. I was traumatized as a young child, so I learned early on to disconnect from my physical experience. Because of that, it’s taken a concerted, mindful effort to get back in touch with all of my body’s sensations.

Our bodies can tell us a lot if we’re willing to be attentive and listen. The problem is that sometimes we get so caught up in our daily grind that we forget to pay attention. We ignore what we’re feeling, or we might have disconnected from our physical experience in order to cope with trauma. 

How Mindful Awareness Helps Us Stay In Touch With Our Bodies

Our bodies talk to us everyday. Actually they’re talking to us every moment of every day! Your stomach might growl because you’re hungry, or your bladder might feel full because you need to go to the bathroom. Maybe  a tightness in your chest signals that you’re feeling anxious. But often, we don’t tune into the physical sensation. We continue on with what we’re doing until the signal is hard to ignore.

The sensations that occur within our bodies aren’t always uncomfortable. You might feel a lightness in your chest or heart when you feel joy, or gratitude might make your heartspace feel warm and full,. Laughter can make your whole body vibrate.

Bringing a mindful awareness to the movement and sensations in your body can help you feel more connected internally and externally. The aliveness that’s there, at all times can help you recognize that all sensations and movements within will come and go. So you might feel good or bad for a time, but by being more aware you come to understand that you’re in a constant ebb and flow of feelings and sensations.

3 Ways To Bring Awareness To Movement

1. Move Your Body! Yoga, exercise, walking, dancing or whatever moves you! When you allow your body to move in ways that feel good to you, it can bring a whole lot connection and awareness to how your body feels and when it wants you to hear.

Art can make us aware of the power of movement

Art can make us aware of the power of movement

I’m taking an Authentic Movement Group with other healers. Without going into too much detail, the idea is that you trust your body to communicate with you about how to move in a way that feels true and authentic. (And you do it with your eyes closed!) It’s been an enlightening and freeing growth experience for me in ways I can’t even put into words.

3. Explore Through Art. Whether you draw, paint, sculpt or weave, it’s all about movement of the medium. I know you might say, “But I’m not an artist,” but guess what? It doesn’t matter! I’m not an artist. Without any formal training, I’ve begun painting with watercolors, and it’s fun! I try to approach it with no judgment. Some of my creations I love. Some, not so much — but expressing myself through the movement of color on paper has been another surprisingly powerful experience.

3. Notice Movement In Your Environment. As you walk, drive, run and move throughout your day, notice the sounds that move in and out of your awareness. Notice others moving around you. Notice how your own movements change as you walk, go up steps or sit down. Pay attention to the wind as it blows branches or trash or stoplights. Or notice how the wind passes by your cheek or blows your hair. Here’s a video I took of waves and the motion of water on a beach.

Movement is ongoing. What can we learn from that? The thing I’ve taken away from paying attention to all of this movement in and around me is that whatever I am experiencing at this moment, it’s likely to change. Maybe not right away, but it will change. So, I might be feeling anxious now, but it’s not going to last forever — and that’s reassuring.


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 Nadim Merrikh and Rifqi Ali Ridho on Unsplashon

 

 

 

How To Get A Handle On Holiday Stress

The holidays can be a stressful for even the most relaxed person. And even though taking care of ourselves is not always on our radar, it’s important to do so when you’re under added stress. Although I try to pay attention to my own needs at this time of year, they end up at the bottom of my to-do list when I have a lot on my mind or I’m super busy. I’ve put together a few ways to bring more self-care and into your life while managing the holiday craziness.

Practice mindfulness.

Pay mindful attention to your senses

Pay mindful attention to your senses

Paying attention to the sights, sounds, smells, tastes and sensations of the season and the holidays can be soothing. So, take a deep breath and pay full attention to your senses. Try to relax your body and find something to appreciate in all of the craziness.

Allow feelings, even the icky ones.

Let yourself feel your feelings. Try not to label your feelings as “good” or “bad.” When you take the time to notice how you feel, and name the feeling either aloud or to yourself, it can help defuse even the most intense emotions.

Take time to enjoy yourself.

No matter which holiday you celebrate, when you get caught up in all that needs to get done, you might forget to have a little fun.

Get a good night’s sleep.

A good night's sleep recharges you

A good night's sleep recharges you

If you take one thing away from this post, I would encourage you to make it this point! A good night’s sleep allows your mind and body to recharge, so instead of starting the day stuck in stressful feelings from yesterday, you can start refreshed.  Sleep reduces stress, is good for your body and does wonders for your outlook on the day.

Eat a healthy diet.

Your body will thank you. Pay attention to what food you eat and, if possible, eat less junk. Your body will appreciate it!

Find time to pause.

Setting aside one to three minutes to take a few deep breaths a couple times throughout your day will calm your mind and body, so you’re ready for the next task or challenge.

Check in with yourself.

Check in with you throughout the day.

Check in with you throughout the day.

I like to suggest to my clients to take a moment when you go to the bathroom to look at yourself in the mirror and ask, “What do I need in this moment?” Pay attention to those needs. If your body is screaming at you to take a break and relax, then do it!

 

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 those you’ve lost or help you to process the difficult life experiences that keep you from moving forward. 

If you’re thinking about counseling or you’d like to give yourself the gift of mindfulness in the New Year, please reach out.


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 Aliis SinisaluChris Benson, Kinga Cichewicz, Septian simon on Unsplash

 

 

What's Behind All That Busy-ness?

Being an anxiety therapist and having experienced anxiety myself, I understand how anxiety can run your life, even when you think you have it under control. That’s because anxiety shows up in ways that aren’t always obvious. One of the symptoms of being anxious that isn’t always recognized is busyness, or always “doing.” If you have a hard time sitting still and feel compelled to multi-task constantly, you might be using busyness as a way to manage your anxiety.

Keeping Anxiety At Bay Through Busyness

Are you keeping anxiety at bay through busyness?

Are you keeping anxiety at bay through busyness?

Many of my clients tell me that they find it hard to sit still. For some, being still creates anxiety because their inner critic jumps in and reminds them of all the things they should be doing. For others, their “always-on” mind makes it hard to sit quietly or enjoy reading and other quiet activities. Always being busy becomes a way to manage anxiety, because it doesn’t give you time to sit and think.

I remember times when my husband would say to me, “Can you just sit down?” Or, “Why are you always doing 10 things at once?” Being busy made me feel like I had things under control and helped distract me from the anxious, uncomfortable feelings that would creep in the moment I was still.

But the anxiety doesn’t go away when we’re busy. It often pops in to make a guest appearance just when you think you have it under control. Maybe it shows up when you’re trying to fall asleep or stay asleep, or when things feel beyond your control or they don’t go as planned.

So, if we’re “managing” our anxiety by being busy, why does it still come back? Well, when we constantly work to avoid feeling anxious, we’re actually making ourselves more anxious. Instead of relieving the anxiety, we’re actually creating a pattern of behaviors that keeps anxiety hanging around.

Always “Doing” Only Makes You More Anxious

Our bodies react to things that make us feel afraid. Anxiety and stress are fear responses. If we try to avoid the stress through busyness instead of learning to calm ourselves in moments of stress, our bodies still sense the stress and react accordingly. In fact, if our body doesn’t have a chance to chill, to de-stress, it will have a harder time managing when the next stressful event comes along. 

It’s like a chain reaction: You feel anxiety when you’re still, or quiet, so that prompts you to get busy. The busyness pushes the anxiety to the background, but it still exists below the surface, not being attended to. Then something small happens. Maybe you stub your toe, or drop a glass, or make a mistake at work. Now the anxiety jumps from the background into the present moment.

Now your reaction comes from a place of extreme anxiety, because you were already anxious to begin with. You might react in a way that doesn’t fit the intensity of the event.  Maybe you scream at the pain or yell at those who ask if you’re OK when you hurt yourself. Maybe you berate yourself for dropping the glass and start to cry. Maybe you have an anxiety attack because you feel so overwhelmed at work. Now you worry that the next time something happens, you’ll react in the same way . That thought keeps the anxiety bubbling below the surface.

Getting Comfortable With Being And Not Doing

Can I allow that I'm anxious in this moment?

Can I allow that I'm anxious in this moment?

I know that it’s really hard to change old patterns of behavior, but that’s what I’m asking you to do. When you find that you’re creating busyness for yourself, I want you to pause and pay mindful attention to what’s happening. Try sitting still (without your phone) and ask yourself  “Can I allow that I’m anxious in this moment and sit with it for just a minute?” 

Check out where you feel the anxiety, with a curious attention. Maybe your chest is tight or you have a stomachache. Say out loud, “The stress and anxiety feel like a hot poker in my chest, or a ball of hard clay in my stomach or  _______” (you fill in the blank). You might feel a little weird saying this out loud. It might make you smile or laugh at yourself, and that’s OK!

Next, try breathing into the stress and anxiety with slow, deep, measured breaths. You can slowly breathe in for a count of 4, hold for 4, breathe out for 4, hold for 4 and repeat. Then ask yourself how you’re feeling.

Lastly, I want you to be patient. Chances are, you’ve reacted and responded to anxiety and stress the same way for long time. It’s a well-worn path of behavior and neurological responses, and it will take time to change them. By practicing doing things differently, in a consistent way, you’ll begin to notice that you can manage your anxiety more effectively both physically and emotionally.


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. 

Photos by  Andrew Neel  & Andrew Neel on Unsplash

Staying Mindful Through The Holidays

Struggling With Holiday Stress

Struggling with holiday stress

Struggling with holiday stress

Do the holidays totally stress you out? It’s hard to get away from all the TV and radio ads, social media and the decorations and music in the retail stores. I enjoy the season, but sometimes I feel like I’m not doing enough — I’m behind in preparation, and if I could just be better organized, maybe that would ease my stress. In my home we celebrate Christmas, and the constant reminders of how many shopping days are left leave me feeling anxious and overwhelmed at times. But, even if you don’t celebrate Christmas, the hype and pomp surrounding it can make you feel stressed out!

Mindfulness Can Help

Here are a few tips that will allow you to be present in the moment, instead of being caught up in the worry, planning and thinking that seem to be an integral part of this time of year.

Practice mindful awareness.

Practice mindful awareness

Practice mindful awareness

The sights, sounds, smells, tastes and sensations of the season and the holidays can be soothing. I know that frantic shoppers or Christmas music blaring in your ear might not seem very calming, but if you take a deep breath and pay full attention to your senses, you might notice the different colors you see as you shop, or you might notice the smell of a fire burning as you walk outside, or maybe you can tune into the taste of a really good orange, or another delicious food.

When you can get out of your head and take the time to really notice what’s around you, it allows your body to relax. You might find something small to appreciate in all of the craziness.

Manage your negative self-talk and be OK with making some mistakes.

Letting perfectionism go can be liberating; we also need to be kind to ourselves. 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 allow that you’re human. It goes like this, “Wow, I’m being really hard on myself for _____. I probably could have done that better, but it’s OK. I made a mistake, but we all do, and it’s OK.”

Practice feeling gratitude.

Practice feeling gratitude

Practice feeling gratitude

Feeling gratitude can improve your mood and your outlook if you practice daily. An easy way to bring more gratitude and thankfulness into your life is to write down one thing you’re grateful for each day. You can write in a journal, in the notes of your phone, or just make a mental note to yourself when you find something to be grateful for.

If you struggle with finding something to be grateful for, you can say, “I am grateful for this moment right now.” Or, “I’m grateful for this chair I’m sitting in, or the ground I’m standing on.”

To give your gratitude practice an extra punch, you can share whatever you’re grateful for with someone else. Saying it out loud and sharing it reinforces the positive feelings within you and creates connection with others. Two amazing benefits!

If you’d like to bring more mindful awareness into your life after the holidays, groups are forming now for January 2018. You can find out more here or you can call me at 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 Heidi Sandstrom.Clem Onojeghuo and Toa Heftiba on Unsplash