Annapolis MD

What Is A Mindfulness Practice?

Meditation is one part of a daily mindfulness practice

Meditation is one part of a daily mindfulness practice

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

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

What Is Meditation?

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

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

Mindful Meditation: Getting Started

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

Make meditation a part of your daily routine

Make meditation a part of your daily routine

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

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

My Experience

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

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

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

Elizabeth Cush, LCPC is a therapist and the owner of Progression Counseling in Annapolis, Md. She helps busy, overwhelmed men and women manage their anxiety and stress so they can live their lives with more ease, contentment and purpose. If you'd like to know more about how individual and group therapy can help ease anxiety and stress call me 410-340-8469.

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

Photo by Natalia Figueredo and by Ben Blennerhassett on Unsplash



Managing An Anxiety Attack

anxiety attacks leave us feeling alone

Anxiety attacks often come out of nowhere and cause a lot of physical and emotional distress. The attacks feel so random and beyond your control and that's scary. My recent article, How To Manage An Anxiety Attack, in the Severna Park Voice gives some pointers on things you can do when anxiety hits to help you feel more in control.  You can check out the article here.

I'd love to know your thoughts!

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

How to Manage Anxiety Through the Holidays

Having anxiety can be tough on any given day, but it can be worse this season. The holidays create the perfect storm that makes you feel buffeted by emotions, overwhelmed by the mounting waves of to-do lists, and wanting to take shelter to avoid all the stress.

I’ve put together a list of things you can do to help you manage your anxiety and stress through the holidays and into the New Year. There are 30 tips, and you don't have to implement them all at once. If the idea of 30 stress reducing tips stresses you out and makes you want to close your browser right now, take a slow, deep breath. Over the next few weeks I will break these down into more manageable chunks, so that you too can enjoy a less stressful, more enjoyable holiday.

30 Tips for Reducing Holiday Stress

stay organized to ease holiday stress

1. Create manageable to-do lists for the day or week. If your to-do list is 50 items long, it’s bound to make you feel more anxious. You want a list that you can actually get done.

2. Organize your to-do lists by location. If you have three stores to visit, try to group your errands so you’re going to places that are near each other.

3. Manage your expectations about how much you can get done each day. Remember, if you’re putting pressure on yourself to get way more done than you realistically can, you’re just adding to your anxiety. Allow yourself to let some things go.

4. Keep your regular sleep habits. Getting a good night’s sleep does wonders for your outlook on the day. It reduces stress and it’s good for your body.

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

6. Ask for help. You might think your partner, friends or family can read your mind, but it’s not likely! Ask friends and family to help take care of the kids or your dog if you have a long day of working and running errands. Expressing what you need allows others to help out.

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

take care of yourself during the holidays to reduce stress

8. Take time each day for self-care. Self-care can be as easy as taking the time to read for pleasure, just spend some time doing things that nourish your spirit.

9. Find time to relax. Calming your mind and body can help recharge you for the next task or challenge.

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

11. Budget your time. If you put off everything until the last minute, you’re only causing yourself more stress and anxiety.

12. Manage others’ expectations. Promising everyone everything they ask for will only lead to feeling more overwhelmed. Let your family and friends know your limits.

13. Allow yourself to defy tradition. Before you cave in to the pressure of “we’ve always done it that way,” ask yourself if that’s really how you want to do it or if there’s a simpler, less stressful alternative.

14. Say “no.” Saying “no” isn’t easy for many of us. We worry we’ll hurt feelings or make others mad at us, but saying “yes” to everyone usually leads to anxious, overwhelmed, resentful and irritated feelings.

15. Be okay with making some mistakes. Letting perfectionism go can be liberating, but 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.

16. Fit exercise into your to-do list. Burning off that excess energy and stress does wonders for anxiety.

17. Take time to enjoy the holiday. If we’re caught up in all that needs to be done, we forget why we’re celebrating.

Pay attention to your surroundings during holidays

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

19. Try to de-stress while traveling. If you’re driving, instead of getting angry about the traffic, take the time have a conversation with your traveling companion, or listen to your favorite podcast, audio book or playlist.

20. When you’re stressed, take a moment to breath deeply a few times. Imagine a soothing presence as you breath in, and a letting go of the stress as you breath out.

21. Acknowledge that holidays can be SUPER stressful. Just allowing yourself to feel the frustration, or anger, or whatever it is you’re feeling can be liberating.

22. Manage your negative self-talk. If you find you’re constantly reminding yourself of all the mistakes you’ve made, try a little self-compassion. It goes like this, “Yup, I could have done that better, but it’s OK. I made a mistake but we all do and it’s OK.”

23. Be mindful that every family has issues. And your family’s stuff, whatever it might be, will not disappear just because it’s a holiday.

24. Each day, think of one thing you are grateful for and share it with a friend. Feeling gratitude can improve your mood if you’re feeling down.

25. Get a hug(s) each day. Hugs make us feel more connected with ourselves and others. If you live alone, you can hug yourself!

Hugs can help you feel connected and reduce anxiety

26. Allow feelings, even the icky ones. Let yourself feel your feelings, and know they, too, will pass.

27. Focus on the task in front of you. Worrying about your entire to-do list at once can be paralyzing. As they say, “Eat the elephant one bite at a time.”

28. Communicate with those you love and care for. Telling someone you love them and feeling the love from them can be very nourishing.

29. Before you blow a gasket when stressed or anxious, pause before reacting. Slow down your breathing and think about what you want to say before you say it.

30. Check in with yourself. Ask yourself, “What do I need in this moment?” and pay attention to those needs.

If you feel like you might need some additional support to help you manage your anxiety so you can enjoy the holiday season, please call me at 410-340-8469 or email me.

Photo credits go to Luis Llerna, Toa Heftiba, Cecil Vedemil and Nathan Anderson for

Elizabeth Cush, MA, LGPC is an Annapolis, Md counselor who helps high-functioning men and women manage their anxiety and stress. She owns and operates Progression Counseling.

How To Use Your Environment To Calm Your Anxiety

I usually spend Sunday as an “off” day. I try not to work on my business or think too much about work. It’s the one day I try to disconnect from work, because on Monday the work week begins and I want to enter it feeling refreshed and ready.

When Your Racing Thoughts Get In The Way

Last Sunday I had trouble letting things go; I was feeling anxious about the week ahead. Thoughts kept popping up that led to other thoughts and, sure enough, soon I was completely distracted and mentally chewing over what I needed to do in the coming week.

Mindful walking can ease anxious thoughts

I decided to take a walk to clear my head and get some exercise. It was sunny and windy in Annapolis, where I live. Leaves blew and swirled down the street, and the wind whipped my hair around. I like walking because it helps to ground me, and it physically relaxes me. I try to pay attention to what I see, hear, smell and feel while walking.

This Sunday, I was still caught up in thought about half way into my 40-minute walk. I live near the water, so during my walks I always try to pause at a scenic spot to take in the river, the boats the birds — whatever might be present. Just a few minutes of reflecting can really soothe and nourish me.

Being Mindful Of Nature Can Ease Anxious Thoughts

I decided that because my mind was so reactive, I would take some extra time to appreciate where I live and what nature provides. I stood for a minute and a half, allowing the wind to blow against my skin, feeling the sun on my face, listening to the sounds the wind made blowing the rigging of the sailboats, the water lapping at the shore and the leaves as they rustled in the wind. That minute and a half calmed my mind and allowed me to continue on my walk without my head full of work. I decided to capture some of it on video because I wanted to share how alive and nourishing the environment can be. You can watch the 30-second video below.

I hope you enjoyed the short video and will consider using mindful presence to help ease your stress, to help you feel grounded and to help you become more aware of the world around you.

If your stress or anxiety makes it too hard to get out of your head and into the present moment, maybe counseling can help. Counseling provides an opportunity to talk about your stressors in an accepting compassionate space; it helps you to recognize your triggers and allows you to see a future where stress and anxiety no longer rule your life.

Mindfulness groups start in October with early bird pricing happening now. If you’d like to talk about how therapy or mindfulness might help you, please call me at 410-340-8469 or email me.

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.

Practice Self-Compassion To Ease Anxiety

Self-Compassion Helps You Feel less Anxious

Self-compassion helps reduce stress and anxiety.

Self-compassion helps reduce stress and anxiety.

I recently wrote and article for the Severna Park Voice on self-compassion, and how it can help you feel more connected to yourself and others. And it does, but self-compassion can also help you feel less anxious.

By replacing the negative self-talk from our inner critic with more supportive positive messages, we begin to feel more at ease, and at peace with ourselves. When we feel more at ease, our anxiety levels drop, because we no longer perceive potential danger. And our body is able to return to a more balanced emotional state.

More About Self- Compassion And Anxiety

You can read the article in the Severna Park Voice, and more about self-compassion in my blog.

Please leave a comment below to let me know how you practice self-compassion in your life.

If practicing self-compassion does not come easily to you, please call or email me for a free 15-minute phone consultation. 410-340-8469.

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

shhhh, Quiet Down Negative Nelly

Getting Stuck

Our inner critic creates anxious feelings

Often, when I consider doing something outside my comfort zone I start to get anxious, feel a tightness in my chest and I instantly think, “Nope I’m not doing that.” This critical inner voice stops me in my tracks and keeps me from growing personally and professionally. I named this inner voice Negative Nelly.

What Keeps Us Stuck?

  • Anxiety?
  • Social anxiety?
  • Worry?
  • Fear of failure
  • Fear of rejection?
  • Lack of self-confidence?

What Is The Discomfort Telling Us?

Where do these uncomfortable feelings come from? It could be our inner critic—that voice that judges, criticizes, ridicules, tells us how scary life is, focuses on our mistakes, tells us we are "less than." These negative messages alert our instinctual fight, flight, freeze responses. This tells our body there is a potential danger, and we stop, avoid or flee the situation. (Some people push forward but we are not those people.)

The Critical Inner Voice

Our critical inner voice comes from life experiences. Maybe our parents were hypercritical, or our best friend pointed out all the times we lost a game, or we had a verbally abusive partner who found fault in everything we did.  We take those messages from loved ones to heart. But we don’t often recognize that Negative Nelly continues whispering them to us, even when they no longer apply, leading us to feel:

Our inner critic can make us feel anxious and overwhelmed
  • Sad
  • Lonely
  • Disconnected
  • Afraid
  • Unlovable
  • Depressed
  • Anxious
  • Overwhelmed

I could go on and on.

It’s Time To Quiet Your Critic

The wonderful thing is that we don’t have to sit idly by and listen! We can challenge and quiet the inner critic who keeps us stuck. With counseling, we can learn to be mindful and begin to recognize the negative messages, and why we hear them. When we begin to pay attention we can then challenge our unhelpful, negative commentator. We can learn self-compassion and to embrace our imperfections.

4 Steps to Recognize Your Inner Critic

1. Take note of your physical sensations when a new situation or opportunity presents itself.

2.  Sense whether you're feeling uncomfortable, anxious, or stressed out.

3. Pause and take a few slow deep breaths.

4. Ask yourself with curiosity and without judgment, "What is the message my body is telling me?"

  • I’m scared.
  • I can’t do this because________.
  • Others will judge me if I don’t succeed.
  • Why try, I will fail.
  • I am not worthy.
  • I will be rejected.

Respond With Care

As you recognize these negative internal messages you can start to question their validity. Is the threat real? A creepy guy or girl? A physical or emotional harm? If it's your inner critic that’s keeping you from moving forward, respond with care and self-compassion. Then you can begin to challenge your Negative Nelly. It’s not always easy to understand what the inner critic wants us to hear, but meditation and mindfulness can help.

Tara Brach’s R.A.I.N. meditation can help you recognize the negative message and respond with care.

How Do We Get Unstuck?

Feeling uncomfortable is necessary if we want to move decisively towards our goals. Those tasks that make us feel unsettled create new opportunities to push beyond our everyday experiences. You might still feel anxious, scared, or worried in new situations. The key is to be able to put those uncomfortable feelings into perspective and to respond from a positive place. 

It’s Time To Grow

Counseling can help you understand how your inner critic holds you back, how to acknowledge the negative thoughts and find the path towards growth.

Are you ready to move ahead, to makes some changes, to challenge your Negative Nelly, to get unstuck?

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