depression

Nine Helpful Tips For Stressful Holidays

Handling The Holidays When You Don’t Feel Like Celebrating  

Holidays can overwhelm

Holidays can overwhelm

The holidays are here in full force with all the associated decorations, music, advertisements and crowds. For some, the season is a joyful, happy time; for others it can be difficult, stressful, even painful. Lots of articles focus on how to manage holiday stress — how to fit it all in without feeling overwhelmed. This  isn’t one of them. This post is for anyone who is struggling this holiday season.

Maybe your memories of holidays aren’t happy ones. Maybe you’ve lost someone, and celebrating seems impossible. Maybe you feel disconnected and lonely, or you’re living far from family and can’t get back to be with them. Maybe just the thought of spending time with family makes you anxious, depressed or stressed. Regardless of what you’re struggling with, if the holidays don’t seem like a time to celebrate, the constant seasonal reminders can make you feel pretty terrible. Below are nine tips to help you manage your anxiety or depression through the holiday season.

 9 Tips For Holiday Stress

  1. Take care of yourself. When we feel down or anxious, self-care is usually the first thing we drop. Taking care of yourself can be as easy as taking a bath, a walk or a drink of water. Whatever you do, it’s important to be kind to yourself when you’re struggling. If you need tips for practicing self-compassion, you can find some here.

  2. Manage expectations. Whether you’re spending time with family or friends, or you’re alone for the holidays, it can be helpful to manage your expectations. If your family or your friends are dysfunctional, combative, unsupportive or hard to be around, don’t expect them to be different or the holidays to be amazing. If you have friends who don’t connect unless you reach out first, don’t expect them to reach out just because you’re feeling down. Knowing that the holidays won’t provide a happy elixir to make all your troubles disappear can help you let go of the media’s portrayal of what the holidays “should” be.

  3. Create things to do. Whether you’re with family and friends or alone, having things to do can give you a sense of purpose and offer a distraction from holiday “stuff.” Planning a long walk, going to the movies, volunteering or traveling can provide some relief from holiday overload.

  4. Limit your exposure. Take your own car or have a separate mode of transportation, so you escape from a holiday celebration early if needed. Knowing you’re in control of when you leave can be very liberating.

  5. Find support. Reach out to those in your life who provide positive support if you’re feeling depressed and anxious. Connecting with others can be hard to do if you’re struggling, but it can provide a sense of belonging and meaning.

  6. Take time to be mindful. When we’re anxious, it’s often because we’re thinking about past or future events that make us uncomfortable. If you find that you’re rehashing the argument you had during last year’s holidays or worrying about what might happen this year, take a moment to pay attention to where you are. What do you see, smell or hear? What can you touch or taste? Being present in the moment can help get you out of your head and can ground and calm you.

  7. Feel what you feel. Allow yourself to feel your emotions. If you’re mourning a loss, feeling lonely, sad, angry, whatever… try not to push those uncomfortable feelings away. Instead, sit quietly for a moment and try to get in touch with them. Acknowledge and allow the pain, sorrow, loss or anger, and offer yourself, as you would a good friend, some compassion and kindness in this difficult time.

  8. Pause.  Things can get very busy around the holidays. Taking time to slow down, pause and reflect on your environment and your needs can be very nourishing. A great place to do this is in the bathroom. Take a moment to breathe deeply, look at yourself in the mirror, smile and take another deep breath.

  9. Get a good night’s sleep. Your body and mind need sleep to reset. If you’re burning the candle at both ends you probably go to bed stressed and wake up stressed. Make your bedtime routine a priority and try to get seven to eight hours of sleep every night. Your body and brain will thank you! You can find out more about sleep and stress here.

 

If you feel that managing the holidays seems too hard to do alone, counseling can help. Therapy can give you support, connection and a non-judgmental space to talk about what’s happening for you.

If you’d like help this holiday and aren’t sure if counseling is right for you, email or call (410) 339-1979 to set up a 15-minute free consultation.


Elizabeth Cush, LCPC is a therapist, blogger,  creator and host of the Woman Worriers podcast, and the owner of Progression Counseling in Annapolis, Md and she’s been featured in these major publications. Elizabeth 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, online and group therapy can help ease anxiety and stress call me 410-339-1979. 

Photo by Johannes Hofmann on Unsplash

 

Listening To All The Anxious Parts of You

Your Anxious Parts

We all have parts of us that can get triggered when we’re in distress, especially if we’re feeling vulnerable. Lots of my clients tell me that the voices in their head make them anxious, stressed, depressed and feeling as if their brain never quiets. They report that the constant barrage of input leaves them exhausted at the end of the day.

connect to yourself

connect to yourself

These clients come to therapy to help them quiet the noise, to reduce their stress and to feel more connected with themselves. They also say that sometimes the things they tell themselves contradict each other. The confusing, conflicting self-talk leaves them feeling unsure about what they want or need and makes it really hard to connect with and show up as their true selves.

Your Inner Critic Isn’t Easing Your Anxiety

Most of my clients can easily identify the part that I call “the inner critic.” It’s the little (but sometimes quite loud) voice that points out when you make mistakes. Maybe it even calls you names when things don’t go well. For instance, my inner critic is quick to pile on the guilt when I’m worrying about not being a good enough mother, partner, friend, business owner… you name it. It tells me all the things I should have done differently.

My clients will often defend that voice, saying that it keeps them in line and makes them more conscientious about not making mistakes in the future. But they also say that the inner critic can make them feel “less than.” It leaves them constantly worrying and rethinking how things might have gone better, “if only they were… (you fill in the blank).”

The inner-critic part might sound a lot like a caregiver, parent or someone in your life who was critical of you when you were growing up. It’s often the loudest and easiest part to identify. However, it’s only one of many parts of you that can fuel your anxiety.

I Felt Like An Anxious 16-year-old

teenage girl.jpg

Some clients are so aware of these other parts that they can tell me how old they felt at a particular moment when they were triggered. I know that’s happened to me. My go-to response when I sense a potential conflict is to withdraw, and I feel like the hopeless, angry teenager part of me licking her wounds. The problem with responding from your wounded parts is that you repeat patterns of behavior that probably aren’t very useful, and which might even be harmful in your present life.

Family or friends who’ve known you for a long time can often trigger some of your parts, but they can also just pop up when situations make you feel like that younger self. You might find that your voice changes, or you respond with the old coping skills you used way back then, but which aren’t very productive today.

Some of my clients say that younger parts are often angry, easily offended and very defensive. Some say they’re withdrawn, anxious or depressed. So when stuff happens that makes them feel vulnerable, the parts that feel threatened want to jump in and react the way they did in the past. If this happens to you, it can lead to arguments, wanting to avoid situations, or feeling very anxious and depressed, because you’re caught up in one of your parts that wants to protect you or hide from the perceived threat.

What Is This Noise In My Head?

The different parts can make you feel overwhelmed and maybe a little worried that  something might be wrong with you. “Do I have multiple personalities? Why are all these voices in my head?”

There’s nothing wrong with you. We all have different parts. Some people have an easy time recognizing them; for others, the parts are less defined. Our parts developed over our lifetime to help us cope with stressful life events. So, if you had a difficult childhood — if you were emotionally, physically or sexually abused; if your parents emotionally neglected you; or if your life experiences were difficult or traumatic, it’s likely that your various parts are pretty active.

In my next post, I’ll share how you can learn from your parts and build up your true, everyday showing-up part to help you quiet the noise in your head. When you learn to work with your parts and identify their worries, you can truly connect with yourself and live your life with more ease and purpose.


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 by Cynthia Magana  andElena Ferrer on Unsplash

 

Symptoms Of Anxiety You Might Not Recognize

Some Not So Obvious Symptoms of Anxiety

Part 1 in a two-part series.

woman at window.jpg

Anxiety causes many physical and emotional symptoms. Some are more obvious and you can read more about them here. Others are subtle, so you might not recognize them. Maybe anxiety leaves you feeling disconnected from the people you care most about and wondering if there’s something “different” about you that keeps you from making deeper connections. Or maybe you believe that other people have some “thing” that enables them to pursue and maintain relationships with ease, and that you lack whatever that “thing” is.

That deep-down sense of difference can keep you stuck in the same patterns and justifying your isolating behaviors. You might tell yourself:

·      “I’m too busy to hang out.”

·      “I don’t want to be a burden.”

·      “I’m just not feeling social.”

·      “I prefer to stay home.”

·      “I’m not a ‘people person.’”

These statements keep you from reaching out and asking for help, or getting involved in things that might make you feel closer or connected to others in a deeper way. These thoughts reinforce your belief that you don’t have whatever that “thing” that others seem to have and can lead to feelings of difference and unease, loneliness, sadness or desperation.

What Makes It So Hard To Connect?

We all were born with the need to feel connected to others but, for some people, making or keeping close relationships can feel threatening or unsafe. You might read that last sentence and think it’s ridiculous. “I don’t feel unsafe! No one is going to hurt me!” But if you were emotionally neglected or abused in childhood, opening up and showing your true self can be a frightening experience. A deeply held sense that you can’t trust the people in your life, even those closest to you, to support and be there for you can keep your true self from showing up. When we hold back, other people sense our reserve; they feel our reluctance to bring them in close. This keeps them at a distance, leaving you feeling unsatisfied with your relationships, and reinforces your belief that there’s something wrong or different about you.

kids in a field.jpg

When we are children, our needs are met when we're taken care of emotionally, physically and spiritually. If some of those needs are neglected, punishment is severe, or nurturing is intentionally withheld, you wind up feeling disconnected from yourself. If your parents didn't model how to manage difficult feelings, if they ignored your feelings or punished you for expressing them, you learned that feelings are bad and should be disguised or hidden. When you don’t learn how to manage emotions, you wind up as an adult without the ability to recognize what you’re feeling and you don't know how to regulate your emotions or soothe yourself.

We Blame Ourselves

As children, we often blame ourselves and feel shame when the caregivers who are supposed to love us aren’t able to meet our needs. Those feelings shame and the inability to understand what we’re feeling in the moment can lead to an underlying notion that you’re flawed or damaged, believing that there is a “thing” about you that’s different from everyone else. Dr. Jonice Webb calls this “The Fatal Flaw,” and describes it this way:

“A deep-seated feeling that something is wrong with you. You are missing something that other people have. You are living life on the outside, looking in. You don’t quite fit in anywhere.”

You can read more about this in her book, Running On Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect.

Feeling inherently different from others can make it incredibly difficult to feel connected. If you think you’re flawed, then you might think that you’ll never change, that you’ll never have what others do. This can lead to feeling isolated, unsatisfied and anxious or depressed.

But there’s hope! Feeling disconnected or flawed isn’t a life sentence. In my next blog post, I’ll discuss ways to help you begin to recognize your feelings in the moment, and how to self-soothe when you’re feeling difficult emotions.


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 Daria Nepriakhina and Kevin Gent for Unsplash

 

 

 

 

Cultivate And Grow Self-Compassion This Spring

Crocus in spring

I love seeing the spring flowers break through the ground at this time of year. That first crocus blooming on a chilly day always makes me smile. When I hear the sound of robins chirping in the trees, I think that they, too, are excited for warmer weather and sunnier days.

But, for some people, springtime isn’t always a happy, hopeful time of year. You might feel disconnected from the people in your life and wonder what you’re doing wrong. Maybe you’re feeling that it’s time to make some changes in your life, but you don’t know where to start.

Depression and anxiety make it hard to grow and change

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

Maybe you feel stuck because:

  • You lack motivation.
  • Your inner-critic is harsh or demanding
  • The idea of making changes leaves you anxious or scared.
  • You don’t believe that you have much to offer.
  • You get overwhelmed easily.
  • You feel disconnected or numb.
  • You yearn to connect with others but fear rejection.

Often, feelings of inadequacy or inferiority generate fears that keep you stuck. Then you feel bad about yourself because you worry that you won’t ever move forward or make changes. The more you avoid making changes, the worse you feel, and you get caught in a cycle that spirals downward and leaves you feeling anxious and depressed.

Practicing self-compassion can help ease depression and anxiety

Instead of beating ourselves up for not making changes, or telling ourselves we’re lacking in some way, let’s make spring a time to change how we think about ourselves!

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

When we allow ourselves to be human, to make mistakes and respond with compassion, we begin to understand that we’re not alone in our struggle. Our sense of isolation recedes, the self-judgment softens, and that can ease the anxiety and depression.

What is self-compassion?

Self-compassion sounds like a great idea, but what exactly does it mean? Through extensive research, Dr. Kristin Neff found that self-compassion has three components—self-kindness, common humanity and mindfulness. You can read more about her findings here.

5 steps to help you cultivate self-compassion

What does practicing self-compassion look like in day-to-day life? Here are some things that have worked for me and for my clients:

Woman hugging herself
  1. If you’re always beating yourself up about mistakes or things you wish you’d done differently, remind yourself that we all struggle from time to time. Everyone has challenges. In fact, you probably know someone who’s having hard time right now, and there are probably people in your community you see every day who are struggling, and there are definitely people all over the world who are experiencing their own challenges. So in these difficult moments remind yourself, “This is really hard right now. I’m struggling, and we all struggle at times because we’re human.”
  2. Practice self-compassion and loving kindness meditations.
  3. When you feel anxious or stressed, place your hand on your heart, close your eyes and tell yourself, “I’m here. I will always be here, and I will always love you.” Sometimes making a loving statement to yourself is difficult. If this statement is too hard, instead you can say, “I am here and my intention is to love you.”
  4. Practice mindfulness. This helps you understand that although the present circumstance might be hard, life is full of ups and downs, and things won’t always be as hard as they are right now.
  5. Imagine what someone close to you might say to you if he or she knew you were having a hard time and repeat those words to your self.

If you would like help cultivating and growing your self-compassion and need some guidance for your journey, please email or call me at 410-340-8469.


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

Photos courtesy of Elizabeth Cush and Brooke Cagle for Unsplash.

How To Start Connecting When You’re Anxious

In my last post, I told the story of a friend who’s been struggling with anxiety and depression, and who found that connecting with others had a meaningful positive impact on her mood. Humans are social beings, so connecting with others is vital to positive mental health. The problem is, when you feel down or anxious, it’s hard to get motivated or to make yourself reach out.

Some Reasons Anxiety Keeps Us Disconnected

When we feel anxious or depressed, negative thoughts can get in the way of making connections. We might tell ourselves:

Anxiety can disconnect us from others
  • “I don’t want to be a burden to others.”
  • “I should be able to handle my problems on my own.”
  • “Asking for help is a sign of weakness.”
  • “I might get rejected.”
  • “I’ll do it tomorrow.”

The problem is that the longer we stay disconnected, the longer we feel isolated, lonely and sad. It becomes a negative cycle: “I’m not reaching out because I’m sad and anxious, and I’m sad and anxious because I’m not reaching out.” Like the chicken and the egg, it’s hard to say which comes first. Either way, it becomes a negative loop.

When Anxious, Start Small: 3 Tips for Making Connections

My clients will often say that they’re introverts, so connecting with others doesn’t come easily. I usually suggest that they start small and in ways that feel most comfortable and natural for them.

Here are a few tips to help you get started:

Ease anxiety through connection
  • Connect with friends you’ve lost touch with, such as college roommates, old work buddies or family members you haven’t seen in a while. Give yourself a modest goal to call or meet up with a friend or family member once a week. Re-connecting with someone can be easier and more comfortable than trying to start up a conversation with someone you barely know.
  • Volunteer or get more involved in an activity that you enjoy. It’s easier to connect with people who have similar interests. If you love hiking, taking photos, playing soccer, running, supporting the homeless, working with the infirm or elderly, dogs, cats or all animals, you can get involved in a wide variety of related activities. You can go online to find Meet-up groups of people in your area who share your hobbies and interests. Pet shelters, hospitals, homeless shelters and elder care facilities are always looking for volunteers. The nice thing about all of these activities is that you only commit to what you have time to do.
  • When going to a large social event, remember that you only need to connect with one person at a time. You don’t have to talk to everyone. Connecting with an individual is a lot less stressful than thinking about all the people you don’t know. Practicing conversations and your responses before you go can help ease your anxious feelings. In an article called “The Introverts Guide to Connecting,” author Maribeth Kuzmeski suggests, “Anticipate how people might react to what you say. Rehearse conversations in advance. Develop a vision for yourself and how you’d like to change.”

Connect One-on-One With a Counselor

Sometimes even the steps above can be difficult when you’re struggling with anxiety and depression. This is where counseling can help. Working one-on one with a counselor can be a less threatening step toward connecting with others, understanding that you’re not alone and being heard with openness and empathy. If you’d like more information on how counseling can help you reconnect with your life, please call me at 410-340-8469.


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

Loss Of A Loved One

Loss

Anxiety can intensify after loss

We recently lost our family dog from illness. He was old but his death was unexpected and sudden. I was not ready. It seemed as though he was OK one day, and then it was time for him to go. We had him for almost 14 years, and he was truly a part of the family. His sudden death got me thinking about illness and loss on a bigger level. When a loved one gets sick or dies, the mix of emotions can be overwhelming and scary—especially when things happen unexpectedly. We no longer feel in control of our environment, which can cause anxiety and stress.

How You Might Feel When Illness or Loss Occurs

  • Anxious because of the uncertainty
  • Frustrated about loss of control
  • Anger because the loss or illness takes precedence over your life/schedule
  • Selfish for wanting things the way they were
  • Guilt or shame because of your feelings
  • Scared about the future
  • Pain and sorrow for the life lost
  • Alone in your grief

Avoiding The Pain

When my dog first showed signs of illness and things were not looking hopeful I had trouble sitting with that pain. I found things to do that took me out of my head. I went to the store; I cleaned and straightened—anything to distract myself from the overwhelming, uncomfortable mix of feelings. Although I knew my dog was not getting better, it was hard to accept that he would die.

Lean In To Your Emotions

As I was working so hard to avoid the uncomfortable, I realized that the feelings were not going anywhere and that maybe I would feel better if I paid mindful attention to them. As crazy as that sounds, research has shown that leaning in to our emotions or feelings can actually relieve some of the anxiety and stress that they generate.

Let Go And Be In The Moment

You can find many ways to get in touch with how you are feeling. I like to sit in a quiet place and meditate on the feelings that arise. With meditation, you can acknowledge the difficult emotions without holding on to them or allowing them to define you. Meditation allowed me to acknowledge my mix of emotions and process the fact that our dog’s time was over. 

Some Other Ways To Be With Your Feelings

Mindfulness helps when overwhelmed by anxiety

Mindfulness helps when overwhelmed by anxiety

  • Ground yourself with mindfulness. If your thoughts are going a mile a minute, you can practice grounding techniques to bring you back to the here and now.
  • Connect with others about your experience. Talk about what you’re going through with family, friends, support groups, counseling
  • Practice self-compassion. Grief and loss can bring up a lot of stuff, and there is no right or wrong way to grieve. Read more about self-compassion HERE.
  • Acknowledge the Struggle. Reminding yourself that, “We all struggle, I am struggling right now, and illness and loss are really hard,” can help you feel less isolated.

Remember, feelings aren’t good or bad, and they don’t define who we are. They're just feelings.


What If You Can’t Get In Touch With Your Feelings?

For some people, identifying or getting in touch with your feelings is very hard to do. Being numb, or being disconnected from your feelings is not uncommon, especially if you have experienced trauma or childhood emotional neglect (CEN). If you have a lot of trouble naming your feelings you might need assistance to access, name and experience them. If you would like help with this process please contact me.


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

 

 

Turning Tigers Into Kittens: Mindfulness and the Release of the Anxious Mind

Robert Cox, MA, PLPC, NCC is my guest blogger this week. His blog focuses on the body's response to trauma and how trauma affects anxiety and depression. He also discusses the benefits of a mindfulness practice for symptom relief. He has counseling offices in Liberty, MO, where he specializes in the treatment of trauma, addictions and autism.  He writes, "I am trying to change the face of both addictions and autism treatment. "

If you would like to know more about Robert and his practice you can find it HERE. You can also follow him on Twitter-  HERE. Or Check out his amazing Mindful Recovery Podcast HERE.

By

Robert Cox, MA, PLPC, NCC

Trauma can often result in increased anxiety levels and depression.  This is because our brain, already primed to sense danger in advance, becomes overloaded with the trauma and begins to associate all kinds of everyday sensations with that event.  So we can be triggered by loud noises or by certain smells or the feeling of material on our skin.  Something simple and mundane to everyone else can set us into a tail spin of increased heart rate, rapid breathing, sweating and racing, panicked thought patterns.  All because the limbic region of our brain (the little part at the base of the skull just above your neck that is responsible for emotional regulation) is triggered and tells our body that there is danger and we better prepare to fight or to run away.  I call it our tiger response, because it’s a great response to have if you’re being chased by a tiger, but not so helpful in the middle of Wal Mart.  

mindfulness eases anxiety

If you have suffered through trauma and anxiety, then you know this feeling.  Dealing with this feeling constantly over a period of weeks, months, even years can lead to serious depression.  It simply wears on us physically and mentally.  The good news is there is hope, and often hope outside of medication.  It’s called mindfulness.  Mindfulness is a very simple practice of regulating the body by watching the breath and allowing that focus on the here and now of basic body functions to bring us out of the anxiety and panic, back in to this moment in front of us.  By slowing the body down, we tell the brain that there is no reason to be afraid or anxious and the limbic region begins to loose its grip on the rest of the brain allowing us the emotional space to begin making rational decisions with the forebrain again. 

In addition to the immediate effect of telling the brain it’s OK when we are in mindful moments, our body and brain react by reducing stress chemicals like Cortisol which increases all those fight or flight responses and increasing good chemicals in the brain like serotonin (a depression fighting drug) and Oxytocin, which psychologists often call the “hug drug” because it’s that feel good, relaxing drug that gets released when we hug each other for 20 seconds or more.  In fact, if you have a friend, or significant other that you trust in very intimate spaces…a good thing to do might be to ask for a hug and simply stand in that moment, completely focused on the sensation of safety you are getting and watching the breath move in and out of your body.  This mindful moment would serve as a double dose of oxytocin to release the anxiety of the brain.

anxiety feels like a tiger

Often, however, when we are in those triggered spaces the last thing we want is to be touched.  In that case it comes down to using some basic exercises to bring ourselves back to the here and now and just focusing on the breath while counting to three slowly as we breathe in, and holding for a second then counting the same three as we breathe out.  When we feel like we are being chased by the Tigers of the past this simple breathing exercise can bring us right back to the present.  If we practice when we are not being chased by Tigers then we can make this response second nature and when they do come, we respond by returning to the breath in the here and now. 

Before we know it we have calmed and we can clearly see that our tigers have become kittens.

For more about this body brain link and a map of the emotional brain you can go to the Mindful Recovery Podcast page and scroll down to Episode 1: The Emotional Brain in Recovery.  The map is just below the podcast artwork and you can follow along during the episode for a fuller discussion of how the brain reacts to trauma along with a brief exercise provided to help you learn how to release the grip of the limbic region and begin your mindfulness practice.  For more about beginning your own practice you can go to my Resource Page to find tools, music and learning programs designed for your needs.


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

Spring: A Time To Cultivate And Grow Self-Compassion

Spring is A Season For New Beginnings

Self-compassion can ease anxiety

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

Depression And Anxiety Make It Hard To Grow And Change

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

Maybe you feel stuck because:

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

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

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

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


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


What is Self-Compassion?

Dr. Kristin Neff has done a lot of research and writing about self-compassion. She identified that self compassion has three components—self-kindness, common humanity and mindfulness. You can read more about her findings by CLICKING HERE.

Self-compassion can ease anxiety and stress

5 Steps To Help You Cultivate Self-Compassion

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

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

 

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

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


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

The Impact of Shame And Blame After Trauma

Anxiety is common after trauma

Doubting The Victim

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

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

****SPOILER ALERT****

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

Doubting Your Memories

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


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


Trauma and PTSD

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

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

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

You Deserve To Be Heard

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

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

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

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

Trauma, PTSD and Resilience

Counseling builds resilience after trauma

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

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

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

How Counseling Can Help

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

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

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

Other Ways Counseling Can Help

Counseling can provide other tools to support healing, through:

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

Please share your thoughts below.

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


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

shhhh, Quiet Down Negative Nelly

Getting Stuck

Our inner critic creates anxious feelings

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

What Keeps Us Stuck?

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

What Is The Discomfort Telling Us?

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

The Critical Inner Voice

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

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

I could go on and on.

It’s Time To Quiet Your Critic

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

4 Steps to Recognize Your Inner Critic

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

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

3. Pause and take a few slow deep breaths.

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

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

Respond With Care

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

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

How Do We Get Unstuck?

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

It’s Time To Grow

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

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

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