compassion

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

 

Knowing Me, Knowing You

Mid-Life Can Be A Time Of Uncertainty And Anxiousness

I thought that once I got past my 40s I’d have it all figured out. I’d feel centered, grounded; I’d be living my life with purpose and intent. For some women that might be true. For others, myself included, not so much. Instead of being a period when you feel like you have it all figured out, mid-life can be a time of uncertainty and anxiousness. 

Not Knowing Yourself Can Make You Anxious

Not knowing  you  can leave you feeling anxious.

I found that once most of my kids left the nest, I was thinking more about me — where I was, who I was and where I wanted to be. The realization that I wasn’t sure of the answers to those questions left me feeling shaken, anxious and without a clear picture of my true self.  I’d played so many roles (daughter, partner, mother, friend, student, coworker, colleague) throughout my life that when the time came to just be me I wasn’t sure who I was. 

When you no longer identify with the various roles that you play, or you feel as though they no longer hold true for where you are in your life, it can be unsettling. You’ve got to figure out what you want and need and you’re not sure what that is. You might be asking yourself, “How did I get to this point in my life and not know what I need?”

Not Knowing How You Feel Can Drive Anxiety

When I was growing up, my family didn’t talk a lot about feelings. If your caregivers didn’t demonstrate how to express and process emotions, it makes it really hard to know how you’re feeling when you’re an adult. The same is true if your family didn’t support your having feelings, or if you were punished for expressing strong, difficult emotions, When I felt vulnerable, or when there was a lot of unpredictability in my life, I got really anxious because I didn’t know how to identify and share those feelings. So when it was time to figure out what I wanted, my anxiety peaked and I was left and wondering why I didn’t have a clearer picture of me. 

I’ve written about the impact of your childhood experiences and your attachment to your parents on how you interact with yourself and others. If you’ve experienced childhood abuse or emotional neglect, or if your emotional, spiritual and physical needs weren’t met as a child, it can leave you feeling:

  • Anxious
  • Disconnected from yourself
  • Untethered
  • Not feeling truly connected in your intimate relationships
  • Wanting more, but unsure how to make it happen

How Therapy Can Help

If this sounds familiar to you, I’d like to share how therapy can help. 

Therapy gives you the time and place to look inward, to explore and process your past in a supportive non-judgmental space. That last sentence might put some people on the defensive: “My parents loved me!” “I’m not going to therapy to tear apart my relationship with my caregivers!” “You can’t make me hate my parents.” 

But therapy isn’t about telling you how to feel about your parents, and it isn’t about painting your parents in an unflattering light. It’s not about laying blame. Therapy is about knowing your true self and how you got there, pimples and all.

When you connect with yourself it's easier to connect with others

When you connect with yourself it's easier to connect with others

Therapy gives you the space to identify your feelings, as they happen, in the moment. You can explore all the parts of you — including the critical, judgmental part; the child parts that get scared easily; the parts that want to withdraw, isolate or disconnect; and the parts that want to fight. When you learn to feel and express your own feelings with compassion, it’s a lot easier to figure out how others are feeling. And that makes you feel more connected to yourself and to those close to you.

If you’re interested in exploring YOU, I would love to talk to you.


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 Devan Freeman and Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

Coming Together When We’re Coming Apart

It feels like our society has lost its sense of unity. All we do is take sides: Are you on the right or the left, Democrat or Republican, white or are you black, Christian or Muslim, male or female…? You get the point.

In order to take sides, or to figure out who isn’t on your side, you make a judgment about them. We can form opinions based on analysis or careful consideration, but when we make judgments, they are usually quick, in the moment decisions. Judgments are based upon visual clues, emotional cues, and the way we process, categorize and make sense of things. We can then fit whatever we’re judging into our mental picture of how we see world.

Judging Others

Judging others can cause us stress and anxiety.

Judging others can cause us stress and anxiety.

For instance, I was in a bookstore recently. The man ahead of me in the checkout line was white, and had a long ponytail, lots of tattoos, a leather jacket and boots, and a chain wallet. I hate to admit that my immediate thoughts were, He seems tough. He’s a biker. His motorcycle is parked out front. What is a guy like him doing in a bookstore? As soon as I started this process I chastised myself, for I had no way of knowing who he was, or why he was there. After we struck up a conversation, I found out that he had a lifelong meditation practice, and was buying a Jon Kabat-Zinn book for his girlfriend. When I made the effort to see him outside my narrow vision of him, and talked to him, I found out we weren’t so different.

Stressing Out

Constantly judging others who seem different from us takes mental energy and can cause stress and anxiety. When we feel threatened by people who are different from us, our nervous system gets activated, because our bodies think we are in real danger. If we see the world as a threatening or unsafe place because it includes people whose skin is a different color than ours, who are from a different culture or who practice a different religion, then we are living with added stress.

Each time we hear messages that reinforce our fears, our stress response activates, making us feel uncomfortable, and increasing our feelings of fear and distrust. All of that stress can overwhelm us.

An article in PsychologyBenefits.org noted that when we don’t take the time to learn about each other, and we respond from fear or anxiety, instead of empathy and compassion, we are more likely to:

  • Smile less
  • Maintain less eye contact
  • Use a less friendly verbal tone
  • Keep greater physical distance
  • Avoid interactions with people of other races altogether

Being Empathetic

Approach others with empathy and compassion.

The good news is that we can change, and all it takes is getting to know the people who might seem different from us. Studies have shown that when we approach others with empathy, curiosity and compassion, the racial and cultural anxieties lessen and positive interracial relations increase.

How To Stop Judging Others

Here are five steps to help you reframe your thoughts if you find you are quick to judge others:

  1. Be mindful or pay attention to your thoughts when you see someone who looks different from you.
  2. If you find you are making a judgment about the person ask yourself, “How do I know this is true? Have I met him or spoken to her?”
  3. Create a different story about him that doesn’t feel threatening.
  4. Be curious. If it feels right, talk to her and ask questions.
  5. Be empathetic. Try seeing the world from his eyes, and work to understand her experiences.

How To Stop Judging Yourself

Empathy and compassion not only affects how we see others, but also how we see ourselves. If we can see suffering and struggle as a common human experience, instead of being hard on ourselves when times are tough, or when we make mistakes, we can learn to be compassionate towards ourselves. You can find more about self-compassion here and here.

If you're feeling overly anxious or stressed and think that counseling might help you please reach out.


Elizabeth Cush, MA, LGPC is an Annapolis therapist who helps people manage their stress and anxiety. She owns and operates Progression Counseling in Annapolis. For a free 15-minute consultation call me 410-340-8469.