Laura Reagan

How Trauma Imapcts the Mind and the Body

Traumatic Memories

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

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

Storing Traumatic Experiences

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

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

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

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

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

Trauma, Difficult Feelings And Therapy

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

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

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

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

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

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


Elizabeth Cush, LCPC is a therapist, blogger,  creator and host of the Woman Worriers podcast, and the owner of Progression Counseling in Annapolis, Md. She helps busy, overwhelmed men and women manage their anxiety and stress so they can live their lives with more ease, contentment and purpose. If you'd like to know more about how individual and group therapy can help ease anxiety and stress call me 410-339-1979. 

Photos by whoislimos and Anita Jankovic and Michael Browning on Unsplash

5 Expert Tips On How To Add Self-Care Into Your Life

Part 3 in a Series: Over-stressed and Overwhelmed — We’re Not Taking Care Of Ourselves

Making self-care a priority isn’t easy — but it’s critical to our well-being. My last two posts offered insights from experts on why self-care is so important and why women seem to struggle with self-care. Several of my colleagues talked about the negative consequences that we can experience if we don’t take care of ourselves. So the question remains: How can we make self-care a part of daily life, without adding stress to our life, or our to-do list? Here’s some suggestions:

Take a moment each day to simply pause and feel peace. In that moment, be aware of the breath, maybe close the eyes, find a smile on the face and feel it in the heart. Just simply pause... and feel peace. — Julie Blamphin, Stretch Your Spirit, Annapolis, Md.

Hugs are good self-care

Hug someone you love — more than once a day, if possible. (Pets count!!) Hugs. They heal. They connect. They remind you what it feels like to receive support. They remind you that you're not alone. They release oxytocin and serotonin: aka The Cuddle Drugs. They make you want to get closer and they make you feel a part of something cozy, and warm, and LOVE. Hugs are the physical manifestation of love. And as a Self Proclaimed LoveGeek, I advocate for more love, always. — Robyn D’Angelo, LMFT, The Happy Couple Expert, Laguna, Calif.

Mindfully check in with yourself, intentionally, at multiple points throughout each day. Use your breath to connect with your inner self and ask, what do I need? Then wait and listen. The first dozen times I did this, I would receive an answer and immediately discount it, thinking, “That can't be it.” But it was! It might be as simple as '” need water” or “I need to go to the bathroom.” It can be surprising to realize how often we simply ignore those basic needs that our body tries to tell us to attend to. — Laura Reagan, LCSW-C, Therapy Chat Podcast, Severna Park, Md.

Listen to music you love for self-care

Pay attention to things you are already doing that could be transformed into self-care. If you are already feeling overwhelmed, do not feel like you have to add more things onto your plate. Rather than wolfing down your lunch at your desk, actually enjoy and savor your food. If you’re in the car, put on music that you love listening to rather than surfing the radio stations getting frustrated. Look for opportunities to connect and enjoy your experiences that are already present. — Agnes Wainman, Ph.D., C. Psych., London Psychological Services, London, Ontario

Incorporate micro self-care into your day. Taking care of yourself doesn’t necessarily mean you have to go on a weekend spa retreat (although that sounds amazing). Micro self-care means adding small, regular habits into your daily routine that allow you to feel re-energized, more balanced and better able to cope with your day. In an article on micro self-care in Psychotherapy Networker, Ashley Davis Bush, points out that a one-minute grounding exercise, such as listening awareness or breath awareness, at the beginning or in the middle of your day can help keep your focus on the here and now, and you’ll worry less about what’s next. — Elizabeth Cush, MA, LGPC, Progression Counseling, Annapolis, Md.


You can also listen to the Therapy Chat Podcast Episode #50 where more therapists share their personal favorite self-care tips.

I hope you’ve found this series on self-care to be helpful. If you’d like some support as you make self-care a greater priority in your life, call me for a free 15-minute phone consultation at 410-340-8469.

Photo by Freestock and Daniela Cuevas, for Unsplash.com


Elizabeth Cush, MA, LGPC is an Annapolis counselor who works to help people manage their stress and anxiety. She owns and operates Progression Counseling in Annapolis, MD.

Why Do Women Struggle With Self-Care?

 Part 2 in a Series: Over-Stressed and Overwhelmed —We're Not Taking Care Of Ourselves

Women don't take time for self-care

Recently, two different female clients told me that they couldn’t fit self-care into their schedule. I think everyone struggles with making self-care a priority, but I also believe that many women make caring for others a priority.  Doing so makes them prime targets for burn-out, added stress, anxiety and feeling overwhelmed. Perhaps it’s because I am a woman, or because I talk to female friends about this more frequently than I do with male friends, but it seems to me that women in particular struggle more than men when making self-care a priority.  For me, when life is crazy, self-care is the first thing that drops from my to-do list.

Is it genetics? Societal factors? Where did we learn that we should care for others before we care for ourselves? In my last post, several colleagues offered their thoughts on the importance of self-care. I asked some of them, and some others, about why women seem to struggle more with self-care.

Experts Offer Perspectives

Julie Blamphin, a registered yoga teacher, and owner of Stretch Your Spirit in Annapolis, MD, says, “We live in a culture that sometimes tells us that if we put Self before all others, it means that we’re narcissistic, egocentric, or downright selfish. So many of us women shy away from shining our light fully bright. We instead focus that light upon caring for others.”

When we put the focus on others instead of ourselves we can lose track of who we are, what our priorities are, and can lead us to feel unfulfilled, or living our life for others. Blamphin says that when we neglect our needs, our energy becomes imbalanced. This imbalance shows up in our life as:

  • Insomnia
  • Anger
  • Illness
  • Addiction
  • Pain
  • Resentment
  • A general sense of grumpiness

Agnes Wainman, Ph.D., C. Psych., of London Psychological Services in London, ON, agrees that our culture’s expectations and perceptions can play a role in women’s priorities. She says, “Women are often expected to take care of others and to put their own needs below others. Self-care is often seen as being selfish or indulgent. We often think of self-care as extravagant — like weekends at the spa. We may feel guilty for taking time for ourselves.”

Neglect of emotional needs can lead to anxiety

Laura Reagan, LCSW-C , a Severna Park, MD therapist, and creator/host of the Therapy Chat podcast, agrees that our culture plays a big role in our quest to put others’ needs before our own, but believes that other factors also impact how we care for ourselves. “If we grew up receiving praise for being quiet, nice, responsible and helping around the house, we associate those behaviors with being ‘a good girl.’ If no one attended to our emotional needs we learned to ignore them as well,” she says. “The problem is, if our own emotional needs were neglected by our caregivers in childhood and we continue to ignore our own emotional and physical needs in adulthood by neglecting our own self care, we are re-enacting the neglect we experienced in childhood. This eventually catches up with us, either with our bodies shutting down or having an emotional breakdown — what many people call a ‘midlife crisis’. 

We certainly want to avoid the dissatisfaction, the physical symptoms and the behaviors that accompany self-neglect.  

So how can we make self-care a part of our daily life, without adding to our stress, or our to-do list?

My next post will offer five tips for making self-care easier. In the meantime, if you’d like help reducing stress and making self-care a greater priority in your life, call me for a free 15-minute consultation at 410-340-8469!


Elizabeth Cush, MA, LGPC is an Annapolis counselor who works to help people manage their stress and anxiety. She owns and operates Progression Counseling in Annapolis, MD.

Photos by Benjamin Child and Alex Hockett for Unsplash.com

Over-Stressed and Overwhelmed — We're Not Taking Care Of Ourselves

Why Is Self Care So Hard?

Part 1 in a Series: Over-Stressed and Overwhelmed: We’re Not Taking Care of Ourselves

Recently, my husband and I were both ill — fortunately, not at the same time. When he became ill, I took time off from work, without thinking twice. I rescheduled my clients. I kept him company while he was in the hospital, and I brought him take-out food so he didn’t have to eat the gross food from the cafeteria.

Stress and overwhelm when we don't use self-care

After he was discharged from the hospital, I got sick. I had stomach pains that kept me up all night and lasted for three days. It was hard to eat, my body ached, I was exhausted, and I felt terrible.

If someone had asked me what I’d do if I got sick, I’m sure I would say, “I’d take time off to care for myself.” But that’s not what I did. I went to work! I suffered through the first two days, feeling miserable. I’m sure I wasn’t doing anyone any favors by being there and feeling terrible.

Only after I’d struggled through the week, and gone to see my doctor, did I ask myself why I didn’t take better care of myself. How is it I that can tell my clients how important self-care is, yet I can’t stay home when I’m sick?

I talked to a friend who offered her own example. She noted that her intentions were always good, and at times she made self-care a priority. For her, that meant doing yoga every day. But as life her got busier, more stressful and overwhelming, her daily yoga became weekly yoga, and now she said she struggles to fit that in. 

Why do we find it so hard to care for ourselves? Why, when we need it the most — when we’re stressed, burdened and overwhelmed — does self-care go to the bottom of the list, particularly for so many women? I struggled to answer these questions, so I asked a few therapists and healers for their thoughts. This is the first in a series of posts with their insights into the importance of self-care, why women struggle with self-care and how to take better care of ourselves.

Why Is Self-Care Important?

Take time for yourself

When asked about the benefits of self-care, more than person has said to me, ‘They tell you to put on your oxygen own mask before helping the person next to you for a reason.”  If we aren’t caring for ourselves then what good are we to the people in our lives whom we care about?

Read what my colleagues have to say about why self-care matters so much:

“Self Care is important to me because I don't do it enough and I really hate the consequence of that. As a helper, healer, and hopeful - I am wired to support, give to and guide others. Which means, all that giving does two things:

  1. Leaves little or no room for receiving
  2. Reminds me of my purpose

These two things don't sound astronomically horrible, but as a woman, I struggle to hold space for both. I try and remind myself that setting myself on fire just to provide light to others is not the best way to live.”

Robyn D’Angelo, LMFTThe Happy Couple ExpertLaguna, CA,

“I used to think self-care was important because I can't be a good wife and mother if I am not taking care of myself. Now I realize that I deserve to have my own needs met just so I can be a healthy and happy human being, aside from my roles of caretaking for others as a mother, wife and therapist. I am worthy of love and attention just simply because I'm alive, and I have needs that must be met so I can function.”

Laura Reagan, LCSW-C, Therapy Chat Severna Park, MD

“Self-care is an activity or practice that gives to us rather than takes from us. It may give us a time to rest, a time to connect with ourselves, a time to invest in our own physical and emotional well-being. Self-care is the fuel for our coping tank.”

Agnes Wainman, Ph.D., C. Psych., London Psychological Services, London, Ontario

My next post will examine why women seem to have a hard time making self-care a priority. If you’d like help managing your stress and making self-care a greater priority in your life, call me for a free 15-minute consultation at 410-340-8469.


Elizabeth Cush, MA, LGPC is an Annapolis Counselor who works to help people manage their stress and anxiety. She owns and operates Progression Counseling in Annapolis.

Photos by: Elizabeth Lies & Drew Coffman- unsplash.com