counseling

Exploring Women and Anxious Parents

It feels like Spring has been a long time in coming this year. We have a few nice days and then we return to rain and cooler temps. The weather seems to affect my mood so here’s hoping Spring is right around the corner! I’m ready to get outside and do some gardening.

Anxious Parents

Parents modeling how to manage anxiety helps kids manage their anxious feelings

Parents modeling how to manage anxiety helps kids manage their anxious feelings

This month my Good Therapy article, Does My Anxiety Affect My Kids? discusses how anxious parents’ behaviors might affect might their kids. As a young mom I knew that my anxiety was impacting my kids. I didn't know how to do things differently and I often felt guilty and blamed myself for any of their anxious behaviors.  In my article I share that there’s good news for anxious parents! Just as children can be influenced by a parent’s anxious behavior, modeling how to manage anxiety can help kids learn to cope with their own anxious feelings.

Anxious Women

I continue to explore women and anxiety in my Woman Worriers podcast. Last week I shared my thoughts on mindfulness and how it helps me manage my anxiety today.

This week on the podcast I talk with chronic illness and pain specialist Daniela Paolone, LMFT .  She shares her personal journey with me and explores how chronic illness and pain has impacted her client’s lives. I hope you’ll tune in and if you enjoy the episode please consider leaving an honest review!

You can find the Good Therapy article here and the podcast here. I hope you have a wonderful week!


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 Meghan Holmes 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

 

 

 

Top 10 Questions About Therapy And My Counseling Practice

Progression Counseling Office

Progression Counseling Office

If you’ve thought about getting counseling but haven’t taken the first step, you probably have questions. Everybody does. In this post, I’ll share the questions I hear most often — and the answers. If I haven’t addressed your specific question here, please feel free to ask.

1. Do you take insurance?

New clients who call or email often ask this question first. Research shows that the most important component of effective therapy is the therapeutic relationship, which means that if you feel connected and aligned with your therapist, you’re more likely to feel better sooner. Regardless of whether you need to use insurance, my advice is to interview a few therapists to find the one you like who seems to truly understand what you need from therapy. Word of mouth, Google searches, your insurance company, Good Therapy and Psychology Today are good places to start looking for therapists in your area.

I am an Out-of Network provider, which means that you pay me my full fee and I give you paperwork to file with the insurance company for your partial reimbursement (if they provide out-of-network coverage).  But I understand that health costs are crazy, and being able to use insurance is a real consideration for many people.

2. Are you accepting new clients?

I am! I have openings for individual and group therapy.

3. How does counseling help?

The therapist should be someone you feel comfortable with, someone you trust, and someone you feel understands you and your perspective. When you find that, therapy provides a safe, supportive space for you to share your stuff. The therapist should also be qualified to do the kind of work you need. For instance, if you’ve experienced trauma in your life, you want a trauma-focused therapist. I you’re looking for therapy for your child, you want someone qualified to work with kids. 

Many clients either don’t know how they’re feeling at any given moment, or their emotional state feels like it’s in charge. For them, it feels as though their emotions are invisible or uncontrollable. Counseling can help through exploration and development of relaxation strategies, mindfulness and grounding techniques that help regulate emotional states — an important step in therapy. 

Therapists work at your pace to explore and bring to light life the events or feelings you want to understand better. They help you practice skills for coping when life circumstances trigger you. Counseling also gives you the opportunity to examine new and different perspectives about yourself and your life, creating greater self-awareness. When we feel connected to ourselves, it’s easier to feel more connected to others.

Working with women who struggle with anxiety is my specialty

Working with women who struggle with anxiety is my specialty

4. What’s your specialty?

I work best with women who struggle with anxiety. I experience anxiety myself and I know how hard it can be to feel like you’re always reacting instead of responding! I know how difficult it can be when anxiety affects your sleep, your peace of mind and your relationships. I’ve worked hard to manage my anxiety, and I want to help others on their journey.

5. Can you help me get rid of my anxiety?

I can’t. Being anxious is a natural state when we’re afraid and feel threatened, so it doesn’t go away. But therapy can help you learn to manage the anxiety better through a greater awareness of what triggers the anxiety, and by practicing self-compassion and self-care, practicing relaxation skills, and using mindfulness to help you get out of your head (where we get stuck when we’re anxious) and more focused on the present moment.

I often tell new clients that managing anxiety means that you learn to be more comfortable with the discomfort that anxiety brings. 

6. How often do we meet?

Therapy works best when it’s consistent, so I recommend meeting weekly to start.

7. Are my issues more severe than most of your clients?

I get this question a lot and my answer is always pretty much the same. Everyone enters therapy from a different place. And each person’s journey through the counseling process is different. You are where you are. As we work together, you’ll gain a greater understanding of who you are and how you got to be the person you are today.

I don't prescribe medication

I don't prescribe medication

8. Do you prescribe medication?

No. In Maryland, therapists are not allowed to prescribe medication. If needed, you would see your primary care provider or a psychiatrist for medication management, and we would all work together to help you find the medication that works best for you.

9. Is group therapy for me?

Group therapy is a unique experience. Unlike individual therapy, where it’s just you and the therapist, group therapy gives you the unique perspectives of all the people who share the group with you. Their insight and experience often brings a greater awareness to what you’re experiencing. It’s also incredibly supportive and connecting.

10. How much?

The first session is $150 for one hour, and subsequent sessions are $100 for 45 minutes. Group therapy sessions are usually $45 for one hour, but often there are cost incentives to sign up early.


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 Jon Ly on Unsplash & pina messina on Unsplash

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mindfulness In Times Of Uncertainty

This week Daniela Paolone guest blogs about using mindfulness when things in the world are feeling unsettled and uncertain. She is the owner of Westlake Village Counseling and she helps those with anxiety, chronic pain, chronic illness, and medical trauma find new ways of coping so that they can live their best lives. Daniela uses an integrative and holistic approach that helps clients feel both empowered and informed.  The approaches used are influenced by her experience as a person living with chronic pain and illness. You can read more about her practice, and how to follow her on social media at the end of the blog.


There has been so much going on in our world lately that it can leave us feeling worried and uncertain.  We may find it hard right now to stay focused on our day-to-day tasks because we keep getting flooded with new information regarding world events.

So what are we to do when we are feeling this way?

Perhaps in these moments we need to allow ourselves to feel what we feel.  Giving ourselves permission to express our emotions can help us to better cope and move onto a path of healing and recovery.

1. Active Meditation

This approach also happens to be a mindfulness practice. 

Bring attention to one activity

Bring attention to one activity

During hard times, thoughts and concerns can show up in a person’s mind that can be overwhelming.  However, when bringing attention to only one concern, the mind and body redirect their attention to that single thought.  When this happens, the mind and body begin to slow down and become more calm.

The advantages of mindfulness practices is that they can allow us to gain greater self-awareness and focus on what matters most. Putting these thoughts into perspective helps to quiet down all the noise and distractions. This then can lead to experiencing life with less overwhelm and distress.

2.  Dial Back On The News And Social Media

Feeling the need to stay up-to-date on world events can oftentimes leave us feeling stressed.  The constant information overload tends to turn on our stress response which then can be difficult to turn off.

Thinking back to the last time you watched the news, how did it make you feel? Did you feel drained and unwell afterwards?

If that has been your experience, please know you are not alone.  The truth is, is that the brain is designed to only handle so much information at a time.  When that time goes on indefinitely, the mind becomes overstimulated.  It can also be difficult for the mind to get back into a relaxed state even after you have stopped watching the news.

Take time away from the news and social media

Take time away from the news and social media

So if you reduce the amount spent with these activities, you may notice a shift in how you feel.  Do you observe a change in your breathing?  Do your thoughts become more clear? Are you feeling more grounded and present in your current surroundings?  Is it easier now to stay on task?

3.  Breathwork

Breathwork is another way to cope when feeling overwhelmed by current events.  When there is significant loss and devastation happening in the world, it is easy to feel powerless.  However a breathing practice is another way where we can work towards feeling more calm and in control.  

With a regular breathwork practice, the mind and body are learning how to slow down and both mentally and physically.  This is because you are directing your attention to the breath.  Moving from a state of trying to multitask, to instead focusing on one action, is what mindfulness is all about.

meditate.jpg

Breathwork serves as a great mindfulness practice because it reminds us about what we can control.  This can be such a welcome experience when we are going through difficult times.  Sometimes we need the reminder that there are aspects within us that we do have a say in.  Aspects such as how we are breathing, where we are sitting, and what activity we are taking part in.

There are a variety of breathing exercises, but the one I am sharing here is one that really seems to resonate with others. This exercise combines breathing techniques with visualizations.  So below, I put together a sample of a mindfulness script that I use both personally and with clients.

Sample Breathing Mindfulness Exercise

When in a seated position, I want you to have your feet planted firmly on the ground and your hands resting comfortably on your lap.  As you get comfortable in this seated position, you make small adjustments in your body to make sure you feel comfortable and well supported.  Once you find that comfortable position, you gently close your eyes and start practicing deep belly breathing.

As you inhale, you breathe in through your nose, and on the exhale, you open your mouth into a relaxed position and let the air go freely.  When on the inhale, you visualize your belly expanding out like a balloon, and on the exhale, that balloon becomes smaller.  As you continue to breathe in and out, you find a comfortable pace for each inhale in and exhale out.  With each breath, you start to feel your muscles relax because more and more oxygen is getting into you muscles.  You feel your body settle in more deeply and you continue to relax.

When you feel ready, you add in a thought on the inhale that you are breathing in calm, healing energy.  On the exhale, you visualize that you are breathing out your worries and concerns.  The more and more you breathe in and out, you continue to feel those worries leave your body. You begin to notice how you feel within, and observe it with curiosity. Your mind and body are also taking in all the healing and calming energy with every inhale, leaving you with the sensation of inner calm and peace.

You continue this breathing for a few more minutes in silence, and when you feel ready, begin to wiggle your toes and fingers.  Slowly open your eyes and look around the room, taking in what you see, hear, feel, smell and taste.   You are getting your mind and body back to where you are now.  You may feel like getting up and walking around to take note of what you see and hear.  Stretching and moving your body help you to orient yourself to where you are now.  Once you feel connected and present with the here and now, you notice how you feel physically.  You may feel more relaxed while also feeling energized and refreshed to continue on with your day.

Final Thoughts

While what is happening in the world may bring up feelings of instability and concern, there will always be aspects of life that remind us that we do know how to manage these worries so that they do not get the best of us. In the end, we get to have a say in many aspects of life.  How we set that up each day and implement it can make a big impact in how we feel each and every day.  We have the ability to reign in the distress by using mindfulness practices so that we can live our life on our own terms.  Small changes can lead to bigger shifts for the better to keep you grounded when upsetting world events takes place.


Daniela utilizes mindfulness based techniques, such as Emotional Freedom Technique, guided imagery and more. She helps them develop a new relationship with themselves.  As the body changes over time due to illness, which can be a difficult transition, Daniela honors where the client is in this process and helps them to become more in-tune with their body. She explores their emotions as different thoughts come to the surface.  

Daniela provides in-person and online counseling for California residents looking for more support.  You can find her offering free presentations in Southern California where she talks about pain management, the stress and pain connection, alternative techniques for improved sleep and more.  To find out where she is presenting next, or to learn more about her work and offerings, you can sign up for her monthly email newsletter here.

Daniela can be found on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn and Instagram

 


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. 

New Mindfulness Groups beginning in January, 2018. Email me if you'd like to know more!

Photos by Cassie Boca and Annie Spratt and  Aubin A Sadiki on Unsplash

 

Accepting All Your Parts

Connect with your true self and all your parts

Connect with your true self and all your parts

In my Good Therapy topic expert blog this month, How To Keep Your Anxiety From Ruining A Good Time,” I discuss why, for women, our anxious parts often lead us to minimize our successes and magnify our failures. The resulting disconnect implores us to own and accept all that we are.

For me, being a business owner, I don’t often share my successes or my stumbling blocks. I worry that I’ll seem overly confident, or I’ll disappoint the people in my life that I care the most about.  But, as I share in my blog, by embracing all of our parts and “… accepting ourselves for who we are—owning both our assets and our imperfections—it becomes easier and more comfortable to share our true selves.” And by sharing our true selves we feel more connected to ourselves and more connected to the people around us.

You can find the blog here- https://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/how-to-keep-your-anxiety-from-ruining-good-time-1017175

Please let me know your thoughts in the comments below or by commenting in Good Therapy.


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. 

Photo by Alicia Steels on Unsplash

What Is A Mindfulness Practice? Part Two: Mindful Awareness

In my last post, What Is A Mindfulness Practice, I shared that meditation and mindful awareness are two parts of a mindfulness practice. And I shared some tips to help you get started with daily meditations.

In today’s post we’ll explore mindful awareness. Like meditation, mindful awareness takes practice — but instead of picking one time during the day, as you would to meditate, you can be more mindfully aware of the present moment throughout the many moments of your day. So how do we go about being more mindful in our daily lives and why would we want to do that?

Mindfulness can deepen your focus

Mindfulness can deepen your focus

Practicing daily meditation and mindful awareness will help you focus your attention with greater ease and it will deepen your connection with yourself and others.

When you’re more present in your daily life, you get out of your head and away from all the stories, worries, planning and judging that happen mindlessly. You intentionally place your focus on the sensory stimuli in the moment. Here are some examples:

  • Listening with your full attention when someone speaks to you.
  • Tuning into the feel of the water and soap on your hands as you wash them.
  • Looking intentionally at the leaves, or flowers or cars as you take a walk or drive.

Here are a few ways to get you started with your own mindful awareness practice:

Pay mindful attention to one activity a day.  

You can choose to focus on any one activity, but I’ll use washing your hands as an example. As the water runs from the faucet into the sink, listen to the sound it makes and watch how it flows. As you slowly put your hand under the water, notice how the patterns change and feel the warmth on your skin. Curiously move your hand in and out of the water, noticing the temperature change and the feel of the water. As you add soap, notice the feeling as you lather it; breathe deeply, pulling the scent of the soap into your nose. Feel the lather between your fingers and watch it flow down the drain as your rinse your hands. Feel the coldness of the taps as you turn off the water.  Pay attention to the roughness of the towel and the sound it makes as you dry your hands.

You can do this with any activity you choose and, although it took me a paragraph to write it out, the exercise will take you only a few minutes to complete.

Walk mindfully.

Below, I've included a mindful awareness walk in the recording below. It's downloadable so you can listen while you walk!

 

When conversing, listen with your full attention to whomever you’re talking with.

Be present with whomever you're talking to

Be present with whomever you're talking to

Put down your phone or iPad. Mute the TV or computer. Put work aside and give your full attention to the person who is talking to you. If your mind begins to drift, bring it back to the conversation. Notice your reaction in the moment. Are you anxious that you’ll miss something on your phone? Do your eyes wander back to the TV or computer? Or do you feel more connected to the person who’s talking to you? If you’re face-to-face, notice the person’s expression or movements while he or she is talking. If you’re on the phone, pay attention to the rise and fall of her voice and his speech patterns.

These are just a few example of mindful awareness. You can bring your attention to any activity that you do automatically each day. As you continue to practice, you might notice that you automatically take moments to be fully aware in your day.

Do you bring mindful awareness to activities during your day? I’d love to know your practices. Please leave your comments below on how you’re bringing more mindfulness 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. 

Photos by Khosit Sakul-Kaew and by Bryan Apen on Unsplash

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

I'm A Featured Guest On Selling The Couch!

This week I was the featured guest on Melvin Varghese’s Selling The Couch podcast (STC). The podcast is rated one of the Top 100 Business and Top 30 Career podcasts in iTunes and featured in Psychology Today, Psych Central, and Good Therapy.

STC has been influential in helping me build my business because Melvin interviews people who’ve experienced a lot of the same issues and obstacles that I’ve encountered while building my business, Progression Counseling. We dive deep into how I developed my business and what drives me to continue to grow in new ways.

In the podcast I discuss:

  • Starting a new career in “mid-life”
  • Why I chose to work with clients who are experiencing anxiety
  • Why I’ve moved into group work
  • How managing my own website has allowed me to speak to my clients in a genuine way that comes from my heart. 

I hope you’ll take a moment to listen, and if you feel inclined, please leave a review for the podcast on iTunes. Feel free to leave me a comment on my blog too!


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.

The Journey Toward Mindfulness

midnful woman.jpg

I’ve written about mindfulness a lot since I began blogging a couple of years ago. As I entered private practice, I became aware of mindfulness as a concept, but I didn’t really appreciate how powerful it could be until I started my own mindful meditation practice and began incorporating mindfulness into my therapy practice.

I’ve Seen Mindfulness At Work

I’ve seen clients take up daily meditation and report that when they’re stressed they can recover a sense of calm much more quickly. I have clients who’ve experienced trauma begin to tune into their bodies so that they can more easily identify what they’re feeling and where, in the moment. I’ve been witness for clients who were voicing their needs for the first time. And I’ve seen the transformation when clients begin to truly see themselves and embrace all of their parts, not just the parts they like, but even their inner critical part that judges and demeans, and all the other imperfect, messy, human parts.

But I never would have encouraged clients to take up mindfulness if I hadn’t experienced myself just how powerful it can be. Being more in tune with who I am, how I feel, how my body reacts and what triggers me makes me a better partner, mother, friend and therapist. And mindfulness helped get me there.

Mindfulness and Managing Anxiety

Do I still have days when being mindful escapes me? Of course! If things are really difficult or stressful, if I get triggered and revert back to my old ways of reacting, or if I’m tired or anxious, it’s easy for me to lose sight of how to be mindful in the moment.

Self-compassion eases anxiety

Self-compassion eases anxiety

But one of the best parts of being mindful is that it helps foster a sense of understanding and compassion for yourself and for others! So on the days when mindfulness has escaped my attention, I’ve learned to be compassionate with myself. I understand that I will have hard days — everyone does. If I didn’t struggle, I wouldn’t be human. It’s just a part of who I am, and I’ve learned that that’s OK.

So, instead of beating myself up and listening attentively to my inner critic, who always wants to point out just how deficient I am, which leaves me feeling anxious and stressed, I can offer myself compassion and love. I can recognize that maybe I had a bad day and I can just be with that, in the moment. I can allow that there will be good and bad days and that one bad day doesn’t make me a bad person. It makes me human.

Mindfulness Group Practice

I know the benefits of making mindfulness a part of my daily routine and I’d like to share them with you. I have mindfulness groups beginning in October 2017 and I am accepting new group members now.

If you would like to:

  • Understand the components and practices of mindfulness
  • Feel more present in your daily life
  • Use breath, body and emotional awareness to calm your mind and connect with yourself in new ways
  • Be more compassionate with yourself and others
  • ·Use grounding techniques when your stress and anxiety show up

Then fill out this form so we can set up a time to see if this is the right group for you.  Discounts are available for early enrollment. Let’s get things started!


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 Lua Valentia and by Jakob Owens on Unsplash

 

 

 

 

Anxiety and Fear Complicate Our Communication and Relationships

This week I have Dalila Jusic-LaBerge, LMFT from Westlake Village, CA, guest posting on relationship communication. She tells us that our needs might go unmet if we’re not able to identify and communicate them effectively. Incorporating a daily mindfulness practice into our routine can help us become more aware of how we’re feeling, allowing us to better understand what we need in the moment. Check out her post!


We Were Raised To Be Anxious Beings

We often hear, “Relationships are complicated." But, why are they so complicated? The answer may be simple. Relationships are complicated because we are complicated, due to an upbringing that fostered anxiety. For most people in our society, this anxiety has become intertwined with our being.

This prevents us from being authentic and being in touch with our true emotions, which is essential for successful communication and good relationships. Furthermore, we may be so entrenched with anxiety we may not even realize when anxiety takes over and makes our life a real struggle. When you put two people with this kind of mindset together, communication becomes difficult because the anxiety each of them brings amplifies this struggle.

Anxiety Complicates Communication

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Our anxiety doesn't allow us to communicate openly and authentically. When you feel anxious, or simply when you are less relaxed, you come across in ways you don't intend. Other people may have a difficult time getting your true message, due to the different defense layers that you create due to anxiety and fear.

These defenses protect you from feeling exposed, but they also act as filters that don't allow your true personality to get through to the other person. Don't worry you are not the only one who goes through this. This is quite normal for all of us. In some ways, we were raised to be like this.

Your body language reflects your anxiety and signals caution to your partner

As you try to make sure your vulnerabilities don't become revealed, your body posture is assisting you in maintaining “safety." When you are anxious or have fear, your body is not relaxed. Instead, your body becomes tense, which signals to your partner that you are ready to fight.  This further triggers your partner’s defense mechanisms, and they become tense and ready to fight or perhaps flee.

Have you ever seen your partner in a wide-open leg stance with their arms crossed and their chest puffed? This is one version of how your partner may look when they’re tense. This may also be their natural posture because of your partner’s need to assert themselves due to issues stemming from their childhood.

Thus, don't despair. You are not the only one who struggles with communication. Your partner in the conversation most likely has his or her own fears and anxiety, which prevents them from communicating authentically and understanding where you come from.

Your partner's fears and anxiety put them on defensive and then you get a negative, emotional reaction. Then the situation becomes tenser between the two of you.  The downward spiral continues and the gap between partners may increase. Your anxiety and their anxiety paired with tense body language often lead to difficult communication and potential struggles in the relationship.

This leads to neither party feeling understood or cared for. This is why many therapists and relationship counselors tell you to work on your communication and listening skills.

Clear Communication Requires Authenticity and Empathy

Body and language and empathy impact communication with your partner

Body and language and empathy impact communication with your partner

Another important point we may forget is that the clarity and authenticity of communication are everyone's burden. Clear, authentic communication doesn't only involve you spilling your guts with all your opinions but also making sure that your partner understands you well.

This means being empathetic with your partner. You can understand how they feel when you say or do something. Basically, if you want to make sure your message is heard, you must adjust your communication so your partner gets it the way you meant it.

But, how can you be empathetic towards your partner, when you have a difficult time accessing your own emotions? Listening to your anxiety will help you be compassionate towards yourself first. It will also help you ease up and be able to empathize with your partner too.  Start by practicing mindful communication. This means, you are aware of your feelings, what your needs are, and how you can communicate this so your partner gets it without feeling threatened.

From unaware to mindful communication

You probably never mean to say that they’re is worthless and that you don't like anything that they do for you, but sometimes our partners feel like this when we complain.

Let's analyze a simple example of communication with your partner.

What comes out of your mouth due to your anxiety filters:

You casually mention, "You never take me out on Saturdays anymore."

Here, you probably hope that they will get the hint and show how they care about you by arranging an outing on Saturday.

The unspoken part of your communication:

You may have a difficult time expressing your needs openly due to some neglect in your childhood and you may carry some anger related to this. Although you don't express your anger openly towards your partner, your body language and short complaint tells them more than you know.  You are in some ways projecting this old anger towards your partner.

Because your parents were unable to see what you needed as a child you hope your partner will. But remember, they are not a mind reader. Your partner probably tells you this. In addition, they may have their own anxiety and defensiveness. Due to this they might feel attacked by you even though you’re just hoping they will meet the needs from childhood you felt were ignored or unrecognized.

What your partner may hear, due to your body language, as well as their upbringing and the anxiety that comes with it:

"You are worthless. You don't do anything right. You can never make me happy"

By seeing your body language and hearing your words, your partner will feel criticized. Maybe they were criticized in childhood and never felt good enough either.

So instead, you can meet your needs and help your partner feel empowered by saying something like:

"I really enjoy when we go out on Saturdays like we used to when we were dating."

Or, if you want to be more direct and take the initiative:

"Let's go out on Saturday. We had so much fun when we did it before."

Mindful Communication Starts With Self-Awareness

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Do you see the difference in the communication style? You truly want to feel cherished and desired by your partner, but they feels attacked when you try to communicate this to them. You may not be aware of your anger due to the neglect in childhood, and thus you may take it out on your partner without ever intending it.

Similarly, their own anxiety and difficult past may not allow them to understand your needs. If you were able to authentically communicate your needs, your partner would feel empowered and honored because you express this to them. We all need to be needed in relationships.

When you become more aware of your feelings, needs, and your value, genuine communication becomes easier. Once you start working on this, your anxiety symptoms will also decrease.

Mindful communication and self-awareness can help you heal

It's important to note that being in a relationship can help you both heal. What matters is you are able to build enough trust where you two can be open and authentic with each other. It takes a lot of personal growth to be in a relationship. Learning how to communicate with your partner will help you both grow and feel empowered.


Dalila Jusic-LaBerge is the owner of Be Here & Now Counseling, and she helps women and teen girls heal trauma and emotional wounding, so they can enjoy life and love in healthy relationships. Dalila specializes in working with accomplished women who yearn for love but feel lost in romantic relationships.

Utilizing mindfulness based body-mind oriented therapy modality, she helps them heal, connect to their own emotions, develop intuition, and be ready to connect on a deeper emotional level. This empowers women to be authentic and in touch with who they truly are. Dalila focuses on helping her clients manage difficult feelings and emotions that come with stress, anxiety irritability, and anger issues, that are preventing them from enjoying life and happy relationships.

Dalila can be found on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.


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 Crew, jens johnsson & JD Mason on Unsplash

Overcoming Feelings of Guilt

Guilty feelings are so much a part of our lives that we take little notice. They show up when we’re feeling like an issue or problem is our fault, or when we’re neglecting things we “should” be doing or “should” have done. Sometimes guilty feelings can prompt us to do things we might not feel like doing. They push us to be pro-social, reaching out to grandparents, parents, partners or friends because we feel we “should,” and we know we’ll feel guilty if we don’t. In these instances, guilty feelings can have a positive effect on our relationships.

Feeling Guilty and Anxious For Things You Can’t Control

But, much of the time the guilty feelings aren’t based on facts or the reality of the situation. They’re often formulated around things we have little control over. They arise when we worry about the way things might be different if only we’d done X, Y or Z. Worrying about the “what-ifs” or “if-onlys” creates guilty, anxious feelings because a part of us believes that maybe we’re the reason things went wrong.

feeling guilty can increase anxiety

feeling guilty can increase anxiety

When guilt creeps in, it can stop you from moving forward and from really connecting with what’s happening inside you. Guilt can leave you feeling incompetent, not good enough or even worse — that you’re worthless; reinforcing what your internal critic tells you all the time. Then your anxiety and depression increase, throwing you for a loop.

The question is, do we really have that much control over the randomness of life? Is it really our fault when bad things happen? Maybe we can start paying closer attention to those times when we’re feeling guilty and be curious about how much control we really have.

Why Mindfulness Is Helpful

Being more mindful can help slow things down. It can make you more aware of how your body reacts to your stress and guilty feelings. It can help you to be curious about what you’re telling yourself when you’re feeling guilty. Being mindful of our emotions can help us identify what we’re feeling and what triggered those feelings. Then you can work toward offering yourself some compassion. Here’s an example from my own life:

My son was leaving our home to go back to his. About an hour after he left, he called to say his car was acting strangely. My husband and I both spoke to him, offering advice, and he continued on his way. Not long after, he called again to say the car had broken down in the middle of a huge freeway, and he was stuck inside it in the middle of traffic. We were panicked, to put it mildly! My husband and I helped him through the crisis. He and the car survived, but it was a harrowing experience.

Afterward I experienced a few moments of worry over how we could have done things differently. I felt a little guilty about things I didn’t say but wished I had. The feelings weren’t strongly present, and I went to bed feeling relieved that my son was safe. I awoke in the middle of the night with my heart pounding. I couldn’t fall back to sleep, because the thoughts of what I “should” have done were circling my brain, leaving me feeling stressed, anxious and guilty as hell. I was telling myself that if only I’d only done X, Y and Z, everything would’ve been different. The car wouldn’t have broken down and all the stress would’ve been avoided.

Now that I see my feelings put down in writing, my thoughts seem pretty ridiculous and grandiose. As if I have that much power over the universe! But in the moment, my responsibility in the crisis felt very real.

Mindful Attention

Mindful journaling can clarify your thoughts.

Mindful journaling can clarify your thoughts.

I was able to go back to sleep after using some mindful deep breathing to calm myself, but the next day the feelings returned. So I slowed things down, I sat with my uncomfortable feelings and, using mindful journaling, I curiously explored what was happening for me in that moment. Here are a few things I discovered:

  • I felt like I had a tight ball of cold energy in my stomach.
  • My mind kept rehearsing the things I wished I’d said.
  • The thoughts weren’t only about the car and his safety. I’d moved into “this proves I’m not a good mom.” And that touched my core.

Paying mindful attention to my physical and emotional reactions allowed me recognize what was going on as I sat with those difficult feelings. I placed a hand on my stomach where I stored the tension. I took some slow deep breaths and then offered myself some compassion. And I felt better! I was no longer obsessing about the “what-ifs” and “if-onlys.” I was able to recognize that, although the situation made me have thoughts about being a bad mom, I could be compassionate about how hard I was being on myself and I could reinforce my self-worth. The tension released, and I slept like a baby the next night.

Practicing Mindfulness

Would you like to learn how to:

  • Slow things down?
  • Be more curious about your experience?
  • Practice more self-compassion?
  • Identify and understand your feelings?
  • Be more present in the moment?

Mindfulness groups will be starting this Fall. If you’re interested in learning more, please reach out so we can get started!


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 Nik Shuliahin and Green Chameleon on Unsplash

When Discomfort From Anxiety Creates Resistance

Stepping Away Routines Can Make You Feel Anxious

Recently, I’ve been considering making some changes in my personal and professional lives. The changes aren’t huge, and some of them only require me to switch things to another day or time. However, the amount of anxiety and stress I’ve felt when all I’ve done so far is to think about making these changes is making me reconsider how much I need routine to manage my stress.

Using routine to manage stress isn’t all bad. It's helpful if your anxiety often hijacks your day. The problems enter when you choose not to do things differently because the thought of change creates anxiety and the uncomfortable feelings hold you back from something you’re excited about.

Keeping Things The Same Might Reduce Anxiety But It Also Keeps You Stagnant

Anxiety can creep, or jump, in when things don’t go as planned, but it can also arise when we intentionally shake things up. The discomfort we feel isn’t really about the changes themselves. It’s about our perception or interpretation of what the changes mean. I’ll give you an example.

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Let’s say that each Sunday morning you dedicate a certain amount of time to getting ready for the week ahead. Maybe you straighten up your house, go to the grocery store and go through your work schedule so you feel prepared for the week to come. This gives you the sense that all is right with the world.

Now, you and your partner have been talking about getting new bikes. You both love to ride but your bikes are old and in need of repair, so you haven’t been riding them much lately. You decide to bite the bullet and buy new ones. Now you have these beautiful new bikes! Your partner suggests creating time to ride on Sunday mornings, before it gets too hot.

You really want to ride your new bike, but now the thought of it makes you anxious and irritable. You might attribute the anxiety to the act of riding the bike or to fear that your to-do list won’t get done. The reality is, your anxiety peaked because your sense of “all is right with the world,” has disappeared.

How We Perceive Change Can Make Us Anxious

When your sense of stability is rocked, your brain thinks that there’s a threat it needs to manage, and your body responds:

Your body reacts to perceived threats

Your body reacts to perceived threats

  • Your heart might race.
  • You might feel tightness in your chest or throat.
  • Your stomach might begin feeling upset.
  • You might become hyper-aware of things touching your skin. 
  • You might get an overwhelming feeling of discomfort.

Our body’s reaction to the perceived threat cranks up the anxiety. It happens unconsciously and within milliseconds of the stimulus. Because it happens so quickly, we often attribute our discomfort to the event or situation where the change occurred, or we might attribute it to the person who suggested the changes. And, without thinking it through, we react.

Using the example above, you might yell at your partner for suggesting Sunday mornings as a time to ride bikes. You might decide you no longer want your new bike or question whether you even like bike riding anymore. You might go along for the ride but resent your partner the whole time, and wind up feeling upset, anxious and unhappy.

So, how do you do things differently? How can you learn to respond in the moment with intention, instead of reacting without thinking? In my next post I’ll discuss how you can slow things down, identify your feelings and begin to recognize the perceived threat for what it is: just your perception and interpretation of the events — not your reality.


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 byAlexander Mils and by Alexander Mils on Unsplash

Exploring Women’s Anxiety — And My Own

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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.

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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

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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 

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

3 Grounding Techniques To Help you Manage Anxiety

Have you ever felt like your anxious feelings came out of nowhere? It’s possible your anxiety was triggered by an unconscious, implicit memory. In the video above I explain more about implicit memories, the affect they have on our mental and physical well-being, and 3 grounding techniques to bring you back from the memory and into the present moment.

If you would like to learn more grounding strategies like those in the video,  and would like to be a part of a mindfulness group please reach out! New groups are forming for 2018!


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. Elizabeth provides individual and group counseling.

Be Kind To Yourself

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?

Why is self-compassion so hard?

Why is self-compassion 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 am 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. If we can’t accept and love ourselves, faults and all, how can we offer that compassion to others?

Self-Kindness

Believe and be kind to yourself

Believe and be kind to yourself

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. Here’s a guided meditation to help you.

 

Mindfulness

Dr. Neff writes that “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.”

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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. We learn that the anxious inner critical voice is just one part of us, and with compassionit can be quieted.

Trying anything new takes practice. At first, it might be hard to offer yourself kind, compassionate understanding but keep at it. The more often you can see yourself with love and kindness the easier it becomes.

If you want to bring more self-compassion into your daily life, check out my blog Spring: A Time To Cultivate And Grow Self-Compassion, or contact me, 410-340-8469.


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 Yoann Boyer and Seth Doyle for Unsplash

 

 

 

 

 

Reconnecting With Yourself

Feeling Different or Flawed: Part 2 in a two-part series

I recently posted about the impact that childhood emotional neglect and abuse can have when you’re an adult: Intentional and unintentional trauma and abuse can leave you feeling that some part of you will never feel truly connected to others  — that maybe you’re just different in some way. Dr. Jonice Webb calls it the fatal flaw.  I also posted my own story, A Story of Survival and Healing: A Therapists Story into Seeing and Being Seen, sharing how trauma impacted me as a person and as a therapist.

Reconnecting with yourself can ease anxiety

Reconnecting with yourself can ease anxiety

Feeling different or apart can make it hard to feel connected from the people in your life you care most about. Or it can make it hard to form new connections. It can leave you feeling anxious because you don’t feel like you’re showing up as your “true self.” But what keeps that distance between you and others isn’t a fatal flaw that can never be healed.

If you’ve felt disconnected from others, there’s a good chance you were never taught how to manage or regulate your feelings when you were growing up. Maybe difficult feelings like anger, fear or sorrow weren’t validated, or you were punished or shunned for expressing them.

Anxiety Shows Up

When you’re taught that feeling and expressing our emotions isn’t safe, and you didn’t have people in your life who modeled how to manage emotions, it’s really hard to figure out these skills by yourself. You become uncomfortable when strong emotions surface, so you push them down, avoid and ignore them. Avoiding the difficult emotions creates a disconnection from yourself because you don’t know how you’re feeling in the moment. Anxiety creeps or jumps in, because your body understands that you’re feeling discomfort and it wants to alert you to any potential danger.

You might feel numb, unable to describe how you feel, or you might find it hard to identify the more subtle emotions. As a result, you use very basic language when describing your feelings:

  • I’m angry.
  • I’m sad.
  • I’m happy.

Those few phrases barely scratch the surface. There are so many ways to describe our different emotional states. Here’s a list of words you can use to better illustrate how you feel. Just to give you an idea of the diverse language of emotion, here are 10 words to express sadness to help you get to the core of what you’re experiencing:

  • depressed
  • dejected
  • in despair
  • despondent
  • disheartened
  • forlorn
  • gloomy
  • hopeless
  • melancholy
  • wretched

Reconnecting With Yourself

In order to feel connected to others, you have to be able to connect with yourself first, because when you don’t know how you’re feeling it can be hard to understand how others are feeling. So the first step is to get back in touch with those feelings that you have avoided, pushed down and ignored.

6 Suggestions For Getting In Touch With Your Feelings

Meditate. Meditation allows you to calm your mind and understand your body’s reaction to stress.

Practice mindfulness. Being more present in the moment gives you a greater understanding of your body, your thoughts and your feelings. Pausing and being mindful when you’re stressed and anxious can help you understand your feelings as they’re happening. And when you know what’s bubbling up, you can better soothe yourself.

Journal your emotions. Use the list of emotions try to identify exactly what you’re feeling. When you can name an emotion with authenticity, you might feel your body relax, because you’re allowing yourself to see it and feel it.

Get in touch with the “felt sense.” Try the exercise below to help you better understand what your body is telling you about how you feel. It helps you get in touch with the felt sense and honor what your body has to tell you.

This is an exercise to help you get in touch with your body when feeling difficult emotions.

Offer yourself some compassion. When you’re struggling or you feel like you’re “less than” or flawed, you might blame yourself or feel ashamed. Maybe you’re very critical of the mistakes you make or maybe you get caught up in the things you should have done or said. Offering yourself compassion can calm and soothe you in times of stress.

Share your story with a counselor. Finding a therapist who specializes in trauma and attachment, and childhood emotional abuse can help you feel understood and seen. Therapy can help you learn how to reconnect with yourself in meaningful ways.


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 courtesy of Samuel Dixon for Unsplash.

Seeing And Being Seen: My Story Of Survival And Healing

Me as a young girl

Me as a young girl

Earlier this year I decided to write what I thought would be a “how therapy helped me become a better therapist” story. Over the years, I’ve been in and out of therapy to help me manage my anxiety and depression. I created what I thought was a vulnerable, open piece that shared how my own therapy helped me learn to cope with trauma and how each of the therapists I’d worked with led me to insights that help me be a better therapist today.

I submitted the piece to colleagues who have a contributor’s blog on their website, The Practice of Being Seen. Although I felt I’d been open, honest and vulnerable, I was told that the piece didn’t go deep enough into my story. I think one of the comments they had was, “We want to know about you, not your therapists.”

I went back to the computer and started again. After multiple edits and rewrites, it turns out that the story I needed to tell was a much different, much more personal story — the story of being the survivor of childhood sexual abuse. You might wonder, “Why anyone would want to share that story? Isn’t that too much to share with the world?” That’s precisely why I needed to tell it.

I recently had the honor and pleasure of attending a talk by author, speaker, researcher, social worker extraordinaire Brené Brown who said, “When we deny our stories, they define us. When we write our own stories, we write the ending.” I knew then it was time for me to write my own ending.

When we hold our stories so close that they rarely see the light of day, the story remains the same. For me, avoiding the story created a negative feedback loop. For years I felt damaged by the abuse, because all I could feel was the shame of what happened. Avoiding what happened, and the feelings associated with it left me feeling disconnected from me and those around me. I needed to retell my story from a place of strength.

Writing my story, A Story of Survival and Healing: A Therapists Journey Into Seeing and Being Seen, has been a difficult, raw and extremely empowering experience. As Anne Lamott writes, “It's good to do uncomfortable things. It's weight training for life.”

Let me know your thoughts and if you’re ready, start writing your own story.

 

How To Manage Fear

Fear can make us feel isolated

Fear can make us feel isolated

Fear is one of those emotions that gets a bad rap, In our society fear is often identified as a weakness. We even have slurs for people who we deem scared or fearful: sissy (or worse), wuss, scaredy cat or wimp. However, fear often lies beneath other more acceptable emotional states like grieving, feeling anxious or being angry.

Why Do We Have Fear?

Fear is a natural, primal response to a perceived threat. According to Merriam Webster fear is:

“an unpleasant often strong emotion caused by anticipation or awareness of danger.”

Way back in the day, when we were being chased by lions or other predators, our fear kept us on our toes, ready to fight or flee. Fear kept us safe. And fear still keeps us safe. When we sense a threat, we guard ourselves both physically and emotionally. The problems come when we live with fear as a constant companion, and it creeps into how we manage our everyday life.

Fear In Modern Life

Early childhood trauma, childhood emotional neglect, sexual abuse or assault, and physically and/or emotionally abusive relationships can all manifest themselves in a deeply held sense that you’re not safe. Your mind and body want to protect you so they’re ready for danger all the time.

This constant underlying level of fear can make even mundane tasks seems scary or dangerous.

I know that fear has kept me from exploring new opportunities or opening myself up in new relationships. There were times when I even found it difficult to make phone calls because it didn’t feel safe. Because of my fears, I often felt stuck, lonely, afraid, disconnected and isolated. My own therapy has helped me to understand how my fears keep me from connecting with others and myself.

How Fear Shows Up

Because fear often lurks below the surface of our consciousness, it can show up in many different ways, and we don’t often recognize it for what it is. Here are a few ways that fear can present itself:

  • Anxiety — This is the fear of situations and things that are uncertain or that you feel you can’t control.
  •  Social Anxiety — This is the fear that others are judging you. You worry that you might embarrass yourself.
  • Grief  — This can include fear of the future, fear of death and fear of being alone.
  • Fear of rejection — This can keep you from opening yourself up to others.
  • Fear of abandonment — You might make you cling to those you love because you worry they will leave you.
  • Anger  — Anger can mask fear. For some people it’s easier to feel angry than it is to feel scared.
  • Fear of failure — This keeps you from trying new things.

No matter how fear shows up in your life, it can leave you feeling anxious, depressed, stressed and stuck.

Overcoming Fear Might Not Be The Answer

Most people manage their fear by avoiding the things they’re afraid of. If you worry about being judged by others, you avoid places where you might meet new people. If you’re afraid of rejection, you avoid opening yourself up to others. If you’re afraid you’ll be abandoned, you avoid confrontation, and you often put others’ needs before your own. If you’re grieving, you might fear you’ll never get over it, and you tell yourself it’s time to move on. If you’re scared of being emotionally hurt, you might lash out in anger to avoid feeling that pain.

The problem with using avoidance to manage your fears is that it’s only temporary relief. Ultimately, avoiding situations that make you fearful can leave you feeling anxious or depressed because you want to overcome your fears. You want to change, but you can’t do so if you constantly avoiding what you fear. Avoiding your fears makes you feel stuck where you are, disconnected from those you love and care for, and worrying that maybe there’s something wrong with you. 

Facing Fear With Compassion

Facing fear with compassion

Facing fear with compassion

 It’s not possible, or even desirable, to overcome fear completely. If we did, we would no longer sense real danger, and knowing when to protect yourself is a valuable tool for survival. What we can do is learn to how live with our fears.

Being afraid can be physically and emotionally uncomfortable. You sweat. Your heart rate increases. Breathing becomes shallow. It can be hard to swallow. Your stomach or head might ache and you might begin to shake. All of these bodily sensations alert you to possible danger ahead. And then there’s your brain. It’s probably telling you to get away from whatever it is you’re fearful of. Although your body and mind are telling you to run away from or avoid the scary things, research tells us that the best thing we can do (when there is no actual danger) is to be open and curious about our fears.

Now I get that you’re probably saying that leaning into your fear is the last thing you want to do! But if you allow your fear to exist, if acknowledge it, if you’re open it and willing to explore what your fear wants you to know with compassion, it can actually reduce the fear response. Sounds crazy, right?

An Exercise To Help You Manage Fear

Here’s an exercise you can try the next time fear is keeping you from living your life fully:

If you find you’re avoiding something because the idea of it makes you uncomfortable, find a quiet place and really tune into your body.

What physical sensations do you notice?

  • Is your chest tight?
  • Are your breaths shallow and quick?
  • Can you feel your heart racing?
  • Are sweating a little
  • Does your throat feel constricted?

Accept whatever sensations you experience. Take a few slow deep breaths. Breathe into any tension you might feel in your body, and imagine the tension melting away as you breathe out.

Now check in with what’s going on in your head.

What are you telling yourself? Are you…

  • Worried you’ll embarrass yourself?
  •  Worried that others will be judging you?
  • Afraid you’ll make a mistake, or be rejected?
  • Worried that by feeling your fear you’ll get sucked into it or that feeling your fear will make it worse?

I want you to acknowledge all those uncomfortable thoughts. You can say to yourself, “Wow, I’m really scared and struggling right now.”  Sometimes it can help to place a hand on your heart and say, “This is so hard. I’m so afraid to ______.” (You fill in the blank.) Try to hold your fear with compassion.

Take some more time to check in with your body once again. Notice if any of the physical sensations have changed. Are they more intense? Have they lessened? If you’re still feeling the strong physical presence of fear, take a few more deep breaths, breathing into tension and imagining the edges of that tension softening just a little. 

Now, imagine that your fear is there in the room with you. What does it look like? What color and shape is it? If you have the supplies on hand, draw a picture of it. If not, create a mental picture of the fear.

Get Curious About Fear

Once you have a clear sense of how the fear feels and looks, ask it if it would be willing to let you get closer. Ask it if it’s willing to let you be curious about why it’s showing up. If it feels safe, ask the fear what its worries are and what it wants you to know. Often, our fear wants to protect us, to keep us safe. Maybe it’s worried that you’ll be hurt and wants you to stay at home so you’ll never be hurt again. Maybe it’s worried that you’ll be overwhelmed by grief, and so it wants you to stop thinking about it and move on.

If you can, thank your fear for wanting to protect you. Acknowledge that it’s kept you safe, but that now it’s time for it to step back and let you move forward, so you can take some chances and feel your feelings. When you can appreciate and feel gratitude for your fear and how it’s protected you all these years, it can open up space inside you and calm your body.

It might be too hard to be curious about your fear because it still doesn’t feel safe. If you’re not ready to investigate your fear, that’s OK. Instead, I want you to ask your fear if you can just sit with it for a bit. Allow the fear to be present. Take a few deep, cleansing breaths. Notice where you feel it in your body and continue to offer yourself compassion.

Moving Forward And Facing Your Fear

If you’ve experienced childhood trauma or childhood emotional neglect and you want help managing your fears I’d love work with you on this journey. Please send me an email or call me at 410-340-8469.


Photos courtesy of Milada Vigerova andGiuila Bertelli for Unsplash.

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.