Depression

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

Exploring Women’s Anxiety — And My Own

Women and Anxiety.jpg

My Anxieties

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

 

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

 

 

Women and Anxiety

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

 

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

 

Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.


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

Embracing Your Anxious Parts

Listening To Your Anxious Parts Takes Practice

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

woman fragmented in mirror.jpg

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

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

Noticing Your Parts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Quieting The Inner Critic And Other Anxious Parts

woman journaling.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

Listening To Your Self

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

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


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

Photo by Mike Wilson  and by Aidan Meyer on Unsplash 

Listening To All The Anxious Parts of You

Your Anxious Parts

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

 connect to yourself

connect to yourself

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

Your Inner Critic Isn’t Easing Your Anxiety

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

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

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

I Felt Like An Anxious 16-year-old

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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

 

Symptoms Of Anxiety You Might Not Recognize

Some Not So Obvious Symptoms of Anxiety

Part 1 in a two-part series.

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

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

·      “I’m too busy to hang out.”

·      “I don’t want to be a burden.”

·      “I’m just not feeling social.”

·      “I prefer to stay home.”

·      “I’m not a ‘people person.’”

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

What Makes It So Hard To Connect?

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

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

We Blame Ourselves

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

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

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

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

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


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

Photos courtesy of Daria Nepriakhina and Kevin Gent for Unsplash

 

 

 

 

How To Put Mindfulness Into Practice

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

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

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

About Mindfulness

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

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

Mindfulness Exercise

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

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

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

Coming Back To Presence

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

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


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