How To Put Mindfulness Into Practice

woman on the beach.jpg

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

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

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

About Mindfulness

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

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

Mindfulness Exercise

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

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

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

Coming Back To Presence

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

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

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

How Connection Can Help Ease Anxiety

In a recent blog post, I shared my own struggle with anxiety. Afterward, people gave me a lot of great feedback, and a few shared their own personal stories about their struggles with anxiety. I got permission from a friend to share her story so that others might be able to gain some insight from her experience. Although her story is uniquely hers, I have experienced similar feelings, as have many of my clients.

Anxiety Can Leave You Feeling Disconnected

Anxiety can leave you feeling disconnected.

My friend has battled anxiety and depression for some time. She’s been doing all the right things — seeing her primary care doctor, using medication and going to counseling. She said she also tries things like “getting a massage, taking time to journal, reading self help books and listening to CDs about happiness, joy, guided imagery, affirmations, mindfulness etc.”

All of these things were helpful in the moment. She said she would be left with “fleeting moments of feeling uplifted and then fall right back to feeling overwhelmed by life, anxious and depressed.”

The thing about anxiety and depression is that they can take over your life on many levels. For example, when you’re feeling down or overly stressed, it’s hard to reach out for help; in turn, this can leave you feeling isolated, as if you’re alone with your struggle. Even though you might see co-workers, chat by text, or connect on Facebook, feeling disconnected can stop you from reaching out in meaningful ways to the people in your life who matter most — your partner, your best friend, your college roommate… You fill in the blank.

As for my friend, she had slowly lost touch with the people in her life she felt the most connected to. One of her friends was busy with her own issues, so she was no longer as available as she had been, leaving my friend feeling even more disconnected. “I was hit with the fact that my support system had become WAY too small, and her ‘disappearance’ really left me floundering.”

Reconnection Can Help Ease Anxious Feelings

Many studies have shown that a sense of being disconnected can lead to feelings of loneliness, alienation and a lack of purpose. The authors of a study published in the January 2015 issue of Psychology in the Schools found that that students with anxiety are at significant risk of loneliness, which can then lead to depression. The good news is that connectedness has been found to help protect against depression.

My friend sought counseling. When she continued to fall back into her anxious and depressive feelings, she and her counselor realized that she was missing the kind of human connection that allowed her to feel heard and supported.  Together, they came up with a plan and homework for her to reach out to people she’d lost touch with.

Reaching out to friends can lessen relieve anxious feelings

My friend said, “the reconnection has been a real lift” for her and the friends she reached out to. She decided to make more of an effort to talk to her friends more regularly. She plans to continue to reach out to old friends and work toward building new meaningful relationships. For the moment she is feeling optimistic. “I have been impressed with how much better I feel after a meaningful 15-minute conversation.”

Do you have a story to share about your journey with anxiety? Please share your comments below.

If you are feeling disconnected, anxious and in need of support, please call me at 410-340-8469 for a free 15-minute consultation.

Photos by Abi Lewis and Priscilla Westra for

Elizabeth Cush, MA, LGPC is a counselor in Annapolis, Md. She owns and operates Progression Counseling.

Spring: A Time To Cultivate And Grow Self-Compassion

Spring is A Season For New Beginnings

Self-compassion can ease anxiety

Budding trees, baby birds and blooming flowers come to mind when I think of spring. Commercials and the media tell us that spring is a time for weddings, new love, new growth and change.

Depression And Anxiety Make It Hard To Grow And Change

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

Maybe you feel stuck because:

  • You have no motivation.
  • The idea of change or growth makes you anxious or scared.
  • You feel you don’t have much to offer.
  • Making the first step feels overwhelming.
  • You feel disconnected or numb.
  • You yearn to connect with others but fear rejection.

Often, the apprehension or fears that keep us stuck stem from feelings of inadequacy or inferiority. Then we feel bad about ourselves because we worry that we will never be able to move forward. The cycle spirals downward.

Let’s Make Spring A Time To Practice Self-Compassion

Instead of beating ourselves up for not making external changes, or not being the person we want to be, let’s make spring a time to change how we think about ourselves!

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

What is Self-Compassion?

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 by CLICKING HERE.

Self-compassion can ease anxiety and stress

5 Steps To Help You Cultivate Self-Compassion

  1. If you make a mistake, remind yourself that none of us are perfect and say, “We all struggle from time-to-time.”
  2. Practice self-compassion and loving kindness meditations. You can access some of Dr. Neff’s has guided meditations HERE.
  3. When you feel anxious, place your hand on your heart and tell yourself, “I am here and I love you.”*
  4. Practice mindfulness. This helps you understand that although right now might be hard, life has ups and downs, and things will change.
  5. Imagine what someone close to you might say to you if he or she knew you were having a hard time.

*Sometimes saying loving statements to ourselves is difficult. If you find it too hard to do this, you can say, “I am here and my intention is to love you.”


If you would like help cultivating and growing your self-compassion, you can call me or email Progression Counseling, offices in Annapolis and Arnold.

If you want to know more about me you can CLICK HERE, or HERE .

Elizabeth Cush, MA, LCPC, is an Annapolis therapist helping people manage their stress and anxiety. Progression Counseling, offices in Arnold and Annapolis. 410-340-8469

The Impact of Shame And Blame After Trauma

Anxiety is common after trauma

Doubting The Victim

I recently listened to The Anatomy of Doubt, episode #581 of This American Life. The first half of the episode was about Shannon, who was sexually assaulted by a stranger who entered her home through an unlocked door.

Growing up she lived in multiple foster homes and became quite close to two of her foster mothers. After the sexual assault she called these two women and some friends to share what happened. Both mothers chose not to believe her. They told the interviewers that, at the time, they thought she was only trying to get attention. They communicated their doubts to the police too. I don’t want to rehash the entire episode (you can listen to it HERE) but not only did the police close the case without an investigation, they also charged Shannon with filing a false police report.


Years later, when the perpetrator was caught for another sexual assault, investigators found Shannon’s ID and photos taken that night in his apartment. He confessed to stalking and sexually assaulting many women, including her.

Doubting Your Memories

This story has stayed with me. It got me thinking, What is the impact on a trauma survivor when the people you trust don’t trust you? Shannon told the TAL interviewers that she began to doubt her memories. Her two primary supports and the police all implied she was lying. Although she was violated in her own home, she began to question what happened.

So, how do you overcome a traumatic experience when no one believes you, and this leads you to lose faith in yourself?

Trauma and PTSD

Traumatic experiences can lead some people to developing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).  Symptoms of PTSD include:

  • Nightmares or flashbacks
  • Avoiding things that remind you of the experience
  • Avoiding social situations
  • Distrust of the world and others
  • Numbing
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Trouble focusing
  • Easily startled
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Substance use

Other people might look for ways to avoid thinking or talking about what happened. Unfortunately, avoiding difficult emotions is usually a temporary fix, and can result in anxiety and depression.

You Deserve To Be Heard

You might say, this was one woman’s story—not a common occurrence.

Unfortunately, I can state from professional experience that it happens more often than you think. For years I worked as a crisis counselor for abuse victims at a local hospital. I had the privilege to counsel men, women and children who had experienced sexual assault, domestic violence, vulnerable adult abuse or child abuse during their lifetime.

Many survivors told me that when they disclosed the traumatic experiences to family, friends and/or police, it was suggested that they were lying or were partially to blame for what happened.

Many of those who came away from their traumatic experience feeling they were not supported or believed, later in life struggled with significant mental health and/or substance use issues.

Trauma, PTSD and Resilience

Counseling builds resilience after trauma

Research suggests that one of the key factors in resilience, or the ability to bounce back from trauma, is having a good support network and strong social connections such as family and friends. Psychiatrist Kathryn M. Connor, MD, wrote about measuring resilience after trauma in an article in The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry. Another protective factor is the ability to call on your past experiences for a reference when facing potential challenges in the future.

According to Dr. Connor, “Resilience has been shown to protect against posttrauma breakdown and may help alleviate an individual’s feelings of helplessness…” and potentially keep them from acquiring chronic PTSD.

It’s difficult enough for survivors to share what happened to them, because they often feel they are somehow to blame, or are shamed by the experience. If you were then questioned about the validity of your disclosure, it makes sense that such doubt would have an impact your ability to move on and heal. It would also affect how you handled any future trauma, making it difficult to trust others in a crisis.

How Counseling Can Help

Survivors of abuse have a lot of obstacles to overcome to move on from the trauma. The survivors I worked with who said their stories were doubted, or were told they were responsible for the traumatic experience often didn’t want to talk about the trauma, and avoided therapy, although they were struggling. Well, no wonder! Who would want to face the prospect of not being believed once again?

That being said, counseling can offer the opportunity to be heard, without judgment. Counseling moves at your pace, and you should never feel forced to talk about something until you’re ready to discuss it.

Counseling can also provide a safe space to explore the trauma while providing strategies for coping and moving forward.

Other Ways Counseling Can Help

Counseling can provide other tools to support healing, through:

  • Relaxations skills to stop your mind from racing, and calm your anxiety
  • Mindfulness techniques to keep you present in the here and now, instead of worrying about   past and future events
  • Body work to help understand the bodymind experience after trauma and improve self-regulation
  • Challenging the negative beliefs that undermine your self confidence, and make you feel “less than”
  • Art therapy to explore trauma through creativity
  • Play Therapy most often for children, to explore trauma through play
  • Group Therapy to share common experiences and get support  

Please share your thoughts below.

If you would like more information on how counseling can help you overcome a difficult life experience you can CLICK HERE to learn more about my Annapolis counseling practice. Or CONTACT ME to set up an appointment.

Elizabeth Cush, MA, LCPC, is an Annapolis therapist helping people manage their stress and anxiety. Progression Counseling, offices in Arnold and Annapolis. 410-340-8469