journaling

Sleepless On Sunday Nights

Sunday Scaries

Sunday Scaries

Occasionally I struggle with falling or staying asleep. I hate those nights! I can often tell early in the day when I’m going to have a night like that, but I usually ignore the feeling until it’s too late. That’s how I wind up lying in bed on Sunday night, a full week of work ahead, and I’m bug eyed. I’m tired, but my body can’t relax enough to drift off.

If you’re sleepless on Sunday night —or any other night of the week — you’re not alone. According to the National Sleep Foundation, women are more likely to report insomnia than men. The Foundation also notes that, “Surprisingly, 24 percent of women say they have woken up feeling well-rested zero of the past seven days, compared to 16 percent of men, despite reporting similar sleep times.” Well-rested ZERO of the past seven days!

Sunday nights, in particular, seem to be a big problem for sleeplessness for many people. I Googled “Sleepless on Sundays” and got a full page of results on the topic. So let’s look at why it’s so hard for us to fall asleep on Sunday nights.

Why Does Anxiety Make It Hard To Sleep?

We’ve gotten very good as busying ourselves to manage anxiety. If we’re always “doing,” we don’t have time to feel the anxiety, the difficult emotions and the stress that build up over the week. Many people work Monday through Friday jobs, so maybe they’re slowing down on Sundays. Slowing down opens the door to feel feelings, to notice anxiety and stress.

Anxiety can make it hard to sleep

Anxiety can make it hard to sleep

If your workweek is stressful or you’ve put off doing things at work that are now looming, the idea of going back to work on Monday might leave you full of stress.

Or maybe you’re stressed because time is moving forward and you don’t feel as if you’ve done enough over the last week, or you hate your job and it’s already time to go back. Then you to lie awake dreading the week ahead.

Another possibility is that you sleep so little during the week that on weekends you sleep more than usual and come Sunday night your body might not be ready to rest.

Get Curious About Your Stress

If you’re not sleeping on Sundays, it’s time to get curious. Set aside some time to sit with the worry about sleep. It’s best if you can do this sometime before bed, during the day. You might ask some questions to prompt your curiousness, like:

 

Journaling can help

Journaling can help

  • Where do I hold the stress in my body? Is it a tightness in your chest? Increased heart rate? An empty or painful feeling in your belly? Tension in your neck? Once you’ve identified the body’s sensations, just notice them without trying to change them.

  • What am I telling myself about the insomnia? Do you tell yourself not to think about it and to push the anxious feelings down? Do you tell yourself that your sleeplessness is your own fault? Maybe you’re telling yourself to ignore the feelings, because they will only make the insomnia inevitable.

  • What am I worried about? Draw or journal about your worries. Getting the words or pictures on paper can help ease the distress. It gets them out of your head and onto the paper.

  • Am I being too hard on myself? Try offering yourself some compassion about how hard it is to be sleepless. If you were talking to a friend or a child who struggled with insomnia, what might you say to them? Maybe you’d say, “I’m sorry this is so hard for you. I know how hard it is to lie awake on Sundays not sleeping.” If what you’d say to others is kind and compassionate, try offering the same phrases to yourself.

 

If it feels like you’re never sleeping, or that the idea of trying to sleep causes you distress, therapy could be a resource for you. Talking about the stressors, learning relaxation skills and understanding that you’re not alone in the struggle can help. 

It’s also important to keep regular sleep routines. If you’d like to improve your sleep habits, check out my Good Therapy article, Can Better Sleep Help You Manage Anxiety for tips on things you can do to sleep better.


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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Five Journaling Tips For When Anxiety Takes Control

When Your Anxiety Feels Like A Runaway Train

Anxiety can feel like we're on a runaway train

Anxiety can feel like we're on a runaway train

As I’ve shared before, I struggle with anxiety. I’ve learned to manage it most of the time, but once in a while it jumps into overdrive, like a runaway train, with no intention of slowing down. It can be a humbling experience. My job is to help other people mange their anxiety, so when mine takes over, it leaves me feeling a little like a fraud, which only increases the anxiety!

But I believe that because I know what anxiety feels like and what it’s like to experience some relief from anxious feelings, I’m in a unique position to truly help others who struggle.

Anxiety Is Often Your Body Telling You That You’re Not Listening

My anxiety feels out of my control (which is super scary), when parts of me believe that I’m not listening to or hearing them. Maybe I ignored my own needs and went along with something I didn’t want to do, or maybe I overdid it by staying up late too many nights in a row, when I know I need a good eight hours of sleep to feel like myself. Or maybe I ate too much or drank more than I intended because I was stressed. Whatever the situation, a part of me is fearful that I will revert back to my old bad habits — the habits that kept me anxious a lot of the time.

The deep-seated fear that I’ll undo or mess up everything I’ve worked hard to turn around puts my anxiety into overdrive. But sometimes we do revert back to old ways, because we’re human. I wrote in my last post, and I often tell my clients, that personal growth isn’t always a linear process. One step forward, two steps back.

Creating New Habits Through Mindful Journaling

As I said above, my steps backward usually have something to do with ignoring or not recognizing my own needs, which is a habit years in the making.  And old habits die hard because they’re habits. We have to learn or re-learn how to make changes.

Journaling can help you idendtify what's making you anxious

Journaling can help you idendtify what's making you anxious

So, when my anxiety goes speeding down the track, my habitual, go-to response has always been to avoid diving deep into my fears. After all, they’re fears! But what I am learning to do, and what works best, is make a deeper, mindful exploration of the worry or fear. What is it? Why is it showing up now? A great way to be more mindful of what’s happening, non-judgmentally, is through journaling.

Journaling externalizes the issues and gives you a chance to see them with a little more perspective. It also allows you to better understand some of the unconscious thoughts and feelings that might be brewing. Journaling also uses the right side of your brain, and that’s helpful when you’re reacting and not thinking. It allows you slow it down through writing and that can calm down your whole neurobiological system.

Here are some journaling prompts to get you started:

  1. What am I feelings right now? Describe the physical and emotional components of your anxiety.
  2. Draw a picture of the anxious sensations in your body. Don’t worry if you’re not artistic — just draw what you think it looks and feels like.
  3. What part of me is feeling afraid? What are the fears? Fear of failure, fear of rejection?
  4. Imagine soothing that scared part. What can you say to help calm the fears? If you can’t think of something, journal what a friend might say to comfort you.
  5. Draw how the anxious feelings have changed or stayed the same.

If you’d like to practice mindful journaling, and practice with a group on daily mindfulness activities, there are groups starting this fall. Early sign-up discounts end soon. You can find out more by reaching out to me or clicking here.


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 Amine Rock Hoovr and Milos Tonchevski 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

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.

woman fragmented in mirror.jpg

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

woman journaling.jpg

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 

New Ideas For A New Year

I’m not a big fan of New Year’s resolutions. They always feel like a “should” list: I should exercise more; I should eat healthier; I should be a better friend, partner, parent or daughter. Later, I usually wind up feeling guilty about my resolutions, because I don’t follow-through with them. The guilty feelings can then easily turn into anxiety and stress.

This year, instead of making resolutions, I’d like to focus on the things I’d like to grow and sustain in my life. Here are my thoughts on ways to make my New Year more fulfilling:

Spend time with people I care about.

connecting with others eases anxiety

I recently had lunch with a colleague and friend. She had encouraged me when I went back to school, told me to apply for a job I didn’t think I was qualified for (but which I got), and gave me support and guidance when I decided to create my own therapy business. We hadn’t seen each other since the summer and it felt so great to connect again with her. In that moment I made myself a promise, and I shared that promise with her: “I will make an effort to spend time with the people in my life whom I care about but don’t see often enough.”

Take more time away from work.

I love my job and my clients, but taking time away from work recharges me. It makes me appreciate the work I do that much more. Taking time off also gives me the opportunity to travel, and I love traveling!

Connect with my kids more regularly.

I LOVE MY KIDS, and now that they’re grown and living in other states, I don’t see them enough. This year I’m going to make the effort to phone, email and see them more often.

Meditate more regularly and maybe attend a retreat.

Meditation helps manage stress

Meditation has been a real asset for me. It calms me when I’m feelings stressed and anxious, it grounds me when my worries are in overdrive, and it creates a space for me to be in touch with myself and my feelings. In 2017 I want to make meditation a part of each day. I also want to go to a retreat to meet people who share my interest.

Make my own therapy a priority.

Therapists need therapy too! My therapist supports, listens, guides and provides the healing space for me to process the difficult experiences that I’ve struggled with in my life. I encourage everyone to be in therapy (and not just because I’m a therapist)!

Create art and journal regularly.

Creating art and writing can be very grounding. Once upon a time I journaled regularly and I created artwork. I’ve been journaling again sporadically and feeling the pull to paint, so I’m going to try it! I’m not sure if I’ll take a class or jump right in, but just thinking about it makes me smile.

I would love to know what you’d like to focus on in 2017. Send me an email or leave a comment below!


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.