mindfulness

Why Self Care Feels Selfish—And Why You Need To Do It Anyway

 On last week’s episode of the Woman Worriers podcast I talked about the practice of self-care and offered some small, simple ways to care for yourself. Even as I was writing up some notes for the recording, I was asking myself, “Am I the right person to tell others how they can better take care of themselves?”

Although today I’m much better at my own self-care, I didn’t always take great care of myself. There were times in my life that I drank too much, I wasn’t a very healthy eater and I was more concerned about taking care of others than paying attention to what I needed.

Our Past Can Shape Our Present Behaviors

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When we’re stressed or anxious, we tend to fall back into old patterns of behaviors. Chances are, the old patterns are things we did for a very long time. Sometimes that means we forget or choose not to care for ourselves, even when we know it’s good for us.

We now know that when we practice new behaviors we can create new pathways in the brain. It’s called neuroplasticity. However, we can easily revert back to our old ways of doing things when we feel overwhelmed or triggered. Those old neural pathways are well established, like deep ruts in a road. When life makes us stressed or anxious, we can get stuck back in those old ways of doing —or not doing— things.

This past weekend I took some time away from work to spend with family. I noticed that I was really tired when I got home. I had planned to take a day off to do the usual weekend things that help me prepare for the week ahead, but, I filled that first day back home with business instead of using it to rest.  I was exhausted from travel but felt guilty when I thought about lying down, so I pushed myself until it was time for bed. Then —no surprise—it was hard for me to fall asleep! 

Why Self-Care Can Be So Hard

Does that scenario sound familiar to you? We have lots of reasons to put off taking care of ourselves. What I see so often in my psychotherapy practice is that the clients who have a hard time prioritizing self-care had caregivers who didn’t take care of themselves, or parents who were too strict or who didn’t enforce rules, boundaries and expectations for their kids.

We learn how to take care of our needs, create boundaries, and do things we don’t want to do from our parents. In her very informative blog on childhood emotional neglect, Dr. Jonice Webb writes :

“Most people don’t realize that we humans are not born with the ability to structure ourselves. Nor are we born with a natural ability to make ourselves do what we don’t want to do. In fact, quite the opposite.  We learn this skill from our parents. As a child, each time your parents called you in to dinner, interrupting your play with the neighbor kids, made you take a bath, clear the table, clean your room, brush your teeth, hang up your clothes, weed the garden or empty the dishwasher, they were teaching you the two most vital aspects of self-discipline:  how to make yourself do what you don’t want to do; and how to stop yourself from doing what you do want to do.”

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So, if your parents didn’t teach you when to stop playing and get a drink of water, to have a snack or a meal, or to go to bed, it’s very hard to reinforce those self-care activities now that you’re an adult. Making those behaviors a habit takes conscious effort and reinforcement. Even then, when we’re stressed, we might fall back into old patterns.

Having a parent who is always spending their energy and time on others’ needs can also make it hard for us to prioritize our own needs as adults. If you had overly strict parents or parents with narcissistic tendencies, you might have been taught that having your own needs was selfish or self-centered. You might have been shamed or made to feel guilty when you tried to get your needs met, so you learned that caring for yourself shouldn’t be a priority. The shame and guilt you carry with you from childhood can also make you feel very anxious when you do try to meet your own needs in adulthood.

We Can Learn To Care For Ourselves

But we can make changes. We can choose to do things differently. It might feel really hard at first, because those old patterns of behavior get triggered and are very ingrained in us. But through mindful awareness, continued practice and reinforcement, we can learn to take good care of ourselves.

Mindful awareness in daily life helps bring a focused attention to the present moment and gives you some insight into how your thoughts, feelings and behaviors impact your body and your mind. For instance, if you take a moment a few times throughout the day to ask yourself what you need in that moment, you might find that your body is telling you it’s hungry or thirsty. You might find that you’re extremely stressed and you need to take a few slow deep breaths to calm yourself.

You might find that you know what you need but have come up with reasons for not taking care of yourself. Reflect on these moments with compassion. When you can listen to the part of you that believes that taking care of yourself isn’t important, and you recognize that self-care sometimes makes you feel uncomfortable, you can often recognize that those feelings and beliefs are rooted in your past. That’s a moment of mindful awareness. That’s the moment you can choose to do things differently.

If you live in the greater Annapolis, Maryland, area, consider joining one of my mindfulness groups for women. I’d love to have you be a part of our group!  You can find out more about the groups here.

You can also find more episodes of the Woman Worriers podcast here.


 If you enjoyed this blog post and would like more insights into living with anxiety, tune into the Woman Worriers podcast. In each weekly 30-minute episode, host Elizabeth Cush, LCPC, and her guests explore living with anxiety, relationships, parenting, surviving trauma and other topics and offer insights into mindfulness, meditation and other helpful resources.

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 .

 

How To Declutter Your Mind

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Decluttering is all the rage. If you have Netflix, I’m sure you’re aware of the show Tidying Up With Marie Kondo. They’re promoting it like crazy! Ms. Kondo also has a book about decluttering called Spark Joy. In both she encourages you to get rid of the things in your life and your home that no longer—or maybe never did—bring you joy. 

This week on the Woman Worriers podcast I spoke with Vidyamala Burch about her book, Mindfulness For Women: Declutter Your Mind, Simplify Your Life. We talked about how by choosing to place our attention in our bodies through mindful activities, we’re choosing not to get caught up in the worry, planning and negative thoughts that clutter our minds.

Ms. Burch also shares her experience with mindfulness and why she believes it’s so important for women to bring more mindfulness in to their daily lives.

Last week on the podcast I shared three nature-based strategies to help you be more mindful in daily life.  And next week I talk with, Mari Lee, from Growth Counseling Services and The Mindfulness Academy For Addiction and Trauma Training, about why finding a therapist who’s been trained in mindfulness and trauma therapy is so important.

Mindfulness Helps Keep the Clutter in its Place

Imagine what it would be like to declutter your mind. What might you discard? Maybe you’d get rid of racing thoughts, constant worrying, ruminating, judging others, judging self, memories of all the things you might have done differently…. The list could go on and on.

What would remain? If you pay attention and focus on the present moment, what  brings you joy or a sense of awe? Sunlight shining through a window? A child’s laughter?  A favorite song or piece of music?

What helps you feel more grounded, calm or settled? Being with or petting your dog, cat or horse? A warm blanket? Your feet on the floor? When our thoughts and worries take over, we might miss all of these experiences.

Being caught up in worries and fears makes our brain think we’re under attack. It jumps into fight/flight mode. We feel anxious, and our fears and worries intensify. It’s a vicious cycle. And it’s hard to come back down.

When we practice mindfulness, we begin to notice how often we’re caught up in the clutter of our minds. Rehashing, retelling, re-worrying. Each time we find that we’re caught up in thought and worry, we can choose to shift our attention to the things that are happening right now.

Here’s a quick example:

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The worry:  “Oh no. We leave for our trip tomorrow. The Weather Channel says it might rain while we’re there. Should I bring my raincoat? What if I bring it and it doesn’t rain? Then I took up all that space in my suitcase for nothing. What if it rains the whole time? That would be terrible. The trip would be such a waste of time away. Just stuck in the rain everywhere we go. I wouldn’t have any fun and I’d come home from the trip more stressed than I am now.”

Mindfulness in action: “As I notice where my thoughts have taken me, I can pause and say to myself, ‘Wow! I just recognized that I’m caught up in my worries again and it’s making me really stressed out!’ I can take a slow, deep breath right now to help me tune into my body. 

“Instead of getting caught up in the worry, I can choose to pay attention to what’s happening right now, where I am. So instead of being in my head, I can pay attention to folding this sweater for the trip. I can feel the softness of the fabric and I can see its beautiful texture. As I hold it closer to my face I can smell its clean scent.  As I move about the room gathering my stuff, I can choose to notice how tense my shoulders and back are. I can breathe into that tension and notice if it changes.

“I can remind myself that I can’t predict the future, but I’d like to be prepared, so I gather my raincoat from the closet. I notice the sounds the fabric makes as I zip the zipper and fold it to fit into my suitcase.”

A mindfulness practice can help you declutter your mind. Focusing your attention on your body and breath will help you come back from runaway thoughts and worries. Mindfulness actually helps to build new neural pathways that allow you to break the cycle of the worry—>fight/flight—>more worry. You might still worry about things you can’t control, but mindfulness helps you to recognize that you have a choice in how you respond to the worry.

Woman Worriers Mindfulness Groups

Here in Annapolis the Woman Worriers mindfulness groups will begin again this Fall.  If you live locally, or in Maryland I’ll be offering in-person and online groups. The groups are designed to support you in your new or ongoing mindfulness practice using meditation and other mindful activities. If you’d like to know more call or email me!


 If you enjoyed this blog post and would like more insights into living with anxiety, tune into the Woman Worriers podcast. In each weekly 30-minute episode, host Elizabeth Cush, LCPC, and her guests explore living with anxiety, relationships, parenting, surviving trauma and other topics and offer insights into mindfulness, meditation and other helpful resources.

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 .

 

 

 

Keeping It All Together When You Feel Like You’re Falling Apart

Anxiety often intensifies when your life feels out of control. That’s why a lot of people, myself included, work hard to maintain control. We schedule, we plan, we make lists, we think, we worry…. We imagine all the bad things that might happen and all the potential solutions for when they do.

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We might turn toward things that help us forget or ignore the anxiety and stress we’re feeling. For example, we turn to our phone, laptop or iPad for distraction, or stream Netflix shows we’ve already seen. Or we use substances, food or exercise to try to calm down and move the anxiety to a back burner.

All of these behaviors make us feel as though we’re managing our anxiety when we’re probably making it worse. Those behaviors are aimed at ignoring, avoiding or distancing ourselves from the stressed anxious feelings. And the energy we put into not feeling the anxiety can leave us feeling exhausted, unfocused and unmotivated.

Focusing attention on the physical sensations of stress—a racing heart, shortness of breath, chest tightness, a stomachache or headache—is another unconscious strategy for avoiding anxious feelings. We put our physical health foremost in our minds instead of the difficult feelings. Again, we are probably making our anxiety worse!

Often the source of the stress and anxiety lie beneath the surface. Even though we’re not aware of what lies in our unconscious, we know we feel uncomfortable—and we don’t like discomfort. We want it to go away!

Planning every perfect moment, until…

I’ve struggled a lot through the years when I felt like things were out of control and in this week’s episode of the Woman Worriers podcast I share my experience with managing my anxiety in the moment when things didn’t go as planned.

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When I was a young mom, my anxiety centered on knowing what was next. I made lists. I’d plan lunch, dinner and the kids’ activities. I’d need to know what time we were leaving to go wherever it was we were going. I’d want to know who would be there. I think I drove my husband a little crazy! The problems came when the “plans” didn’t go as planned. Maybe a child got sick, or the car wouldn’t start or my husband got stuck at work. Suddenly I would be filled with anxiety because we couldn’t stick to the plan. My anxiety would come out as irritability or anger. I’d snap at those closest to me.

The anger and irritability were easier than the emotional pain I was feeling. I focused so much of my energy on taking care of everyone else’s needs that I often felt unseen, resentful and under-appreciated. But those feelings were buried below the surface, and I rarely expressed them to myself or anyone else.

Unfortunately all of the ways we try to put off or avoid feeling the discomfort only work in the short term, and sometimes they don’t work at all. The anxiety is usually our body’s way of telling us that it’s distressed. We continue to tell it that we don’t care, that we don’t want to hear it or see it or feel it. And so the anxiety and stress don’t go away. They keep coming back.

Facing the feelings is the way to go

What I’ve learned over the years through therapy, meditation and a mindfulness practice is that the more I avoid the anxiety, the worse I feel. That turning toward the anxiety, feeling the discomfort and identifying what’s below the surface can actually make you feel better!

I’m not saying that it’s easy, or that change happens overnight. But with effort, practice and mindful attention, we can learn to tune into our feelings and feel them when they surface. We might still have some anxiety, but as we learn to soothe ourselves in difficult moments, we can make feeling our feelings our superpower and keep anxiety in the passenger seat where it belongs.

If you struggle with starting or maintaining a mindfulness practice, and you live in the Annapolis, Md., area individual and group therapy is available to help get you started and keep you going.


If you enjoyed this blog post and would like more insights into living with anxiety, tune into the Woman Worriers podcast. In each weekly 30-minute episode, host Elizabeth Cush, LCPC, and her guests explore living with anxiety, relationships, parenting, surviving trauma and other topics and offer insights into mindfulness, meditation and other helpful resources.

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  

5 Paths To Discovering Your Body's Wisdom

Connect with your body’s wisdom

Connect with your body’s wisdom

Our bodies hold so much wisdom, intuition and awareness of how we’re feeling—yet we’ve become unaccustomed to listening or paying attention to what it’s telling us. Round-the-clock access to social media, news and entertainment can keep our attention and energy focused outward, increasing our lack of connection with our body and our desire to tune out instead of tune in.

Building a connection with the internal world of your body can help you heal from trauma, childhood emotional neglect and difficult life experiences. It also helps you feel more at peace and builds compassionate acceptance of self. 

Practicing mindfulness can help ground you.  As you start paying attention and become more aware of your body’s sensations, you grow more used to them—and more comfortable with the feelings that bubble up.

You might begin to recognize that some of those feelings are from long ago—that you’re not actually experiencing the pain right now, you’re just remembering. The growing awareness reinforces your understanding that the sensations and feelings in your body come and go all the time. Knowing that helps us feels less stuck.

Here are five ways to help you tune in to your body:

yoga and meditation can help you connect with your body

yoga and meditation can help you connect with your body

1. Yoga: Yoga is a mindful body-based exercise. Throughout the practice you’re checking in with your body, feeling the movement, paying attention to your breath and tuning into where your body is at that moment. Yoga helps you bring attention to the different parts of your body with compassion as you move. There are lots of different types of yoga—Hatha, Iyengar, Bikram, Kundalini, Ashtanga, just to name a few—so if you try one style and don’t like it, try a different one!

2. Body scan: The body scan is a meditation that gradually brings your attention from your head to your toes. This particular mediation has been shown to help people who struggle with chronic pain, but you don’t have to be suffering to enjoy the benefits of allowing your body to be where it is at any given moment, whether it’s relaxed, numb, tense or in pain. You can find a guided body scan here.

3. Meditation: Mindful meditations bring your awareness to your breath or another anchor. Each time your mind wanders, you bring it back to the anchor. As you meditate regularly, you begin to notice that your body reacts when you get caught up in thoughts, worries or plans. Practicing meditation helps you bring your awareness back again and again to a place of non-judgment, of non-reactivity and a place of calm.

4. Mindful walking: When you walk mindfully, you tune in to your body’s movements as you travel. You can do it indoors or out. Your body becomes your focus. You might sense how the earth feels under your feet, how the breeze feels on your skin or the sun on your face. You might notice the temperature of the air, or how your arms move and your hips sway as you walk. Maybe you can even feel some gratitude for the body that carries you throughout your day without you paying much attention to it. Here’s a guided mindful walking exercise to try.

5. Somatic interventions in therapy: If you’ve experienced trauma, you might not feel safe bringing more awareness to your body. Certain forms of therapy can help you get in touch with your body in the safe space of the therapist’s office. The therapist works with you to help you feel more grounded and present in your body. You work at your own pace and explore strategies to help you soothe yourself when you feel overwhelmed.

As with all new things, take your time, explore the different options and be compassionate for where you are on this journey. You’ll begin to open a path to a better understanding of what you’re feeling at any given moment.

In this week’s episode of the Woman Worriers podcast I talk about why body awareness is so vital to creating a better connection with yourself, and I share a guided exercise to help you tune in to your body.

Next week, we dive deeper into finding connection with the body on the podcast with my guest Lynn Fraser.

For readers who live in the Baltimore/Annapolis area, mindfulness groups are now forming for March. If you’re interested, you can find out more about the groups here.


If you enjoyed this blog post and would like more insights into living with anxiety, tune into the Woman Worriers podcast. In each weekly 30-minute episode, host Elizabeth Cush, LCPC, and her guests explore living with anxiety, relationships, parenting, surviving trauma and other topics and offer insights into mindfulness, meditation and other helpful resources.

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

 

Addressing Perfectionism With Compassion

When I think about a perfectionist, I see the woman who not only looks great — the right clothes, hair, car — she also has the perfect life. Nice house, lovely partner, well-behaved kids. She’s together and she does it with ease. She might work 80 hours a week but she’s happy doing it and gets it all done.

Perfectionism can be messy

Perfectionism can be messy

But perfectionism doesn’t always show up in obvious ways. In fact, perfectionism can even look a little messy! On this week’s Woman Worriers podcast, I spoke with Sharon Martin about her book, The CBT Workbook for Perfectionism: Evidence-Based Skills to Help You Let Go of Self-Criticism, Build Self-Esteem, and Find Balance, and she shared that sometimes perfectionism looks more like avoidance or procrastination.

Perfectionism could be stopping you from truly engaging in your life. You might struggle to send emails because you feel the need to check and re-check the wording to be sure you don’t offend or make a mistake. You put off doing work because you feel like you can’t — but should be able to — do it flawlessly. Or maybe you decide not to go to an event because you’re sure you don’t have the right outfit, the right job, or live in the right place. 

Perfectionism Can Make Us Feel Less Than Perfect

Believing that our mistakes reflect poorly on us, or feeling that other people are constantly judging us, can create a lot of anxiety. We think that need to be perfect all the time and if that’s not possible it’s not worth trying.

Being a perfectionist can make you pretty hard on yourself. You might make matters worse by allowing your inner critic to comment on how you’re failing. You might call yourself lazy, stupid or worthless. You might even tell yourself that you’re going to get fired or won’t get hired because you don’t have what it takes.

If you find that you’re holding yourself back or withdrawing most of the time, you might be stuck in a perfectionism loop. That’s when you don’t feel you can do the “thing” perfectly so you put it off. Putting off the task increases your anxiety, so you continue to avoid the task. Then you start to criticize yourself and make assumptions about your abilities. That makes you feel even worse, so you avoid or distract yourself some more.

You might believe that self-criticism will keep you on your toes and stop you from making mistakes, but more often it’s just encouraging you to stop putting yourself out there. Sadly, instead of making you feel better, fixing what went wrong or helping you learn from your mistakes, negative self-talk leaves you feeling worthless, less-than and sometimes hopeless.

Soothing Our Critical Parts

Self-compassion can ease distress

Self-compassion can ease distress

Self-compassion — treating yourself as you would treat others who are struggling — can help ease the burden of trying to be perfect and reframe your perfectionist thoughts into more compassionate ones. Martin’s book has some great exercises to help you cultivate more self-compassion and help ease the discomfort around being an imperfect human. You can find the book here.

Here are four tips I encourage my clients to use to help bring more self-compassion and mindfulness into their lives when the perfectionist parts want to take charge:

  1. Be mindful and start paying attention to your negative self-talk. When that negative voice pipes up, ask yourself, with curiosity, “What prompted that?” Try to identify what that part of you is afraid of or what you are worried about. Sometimes journaling when you’re most critical of yourself can help you identify the things in life that make you feel less-than. We call those things your triggers.

  2. Make a note of the negative things you tell yourself and ask, “Would I say these things to a close friend?” If not, then say out loud or write down what you might tell a friend who was struggling with the same thing. Try saying those things to yourself.

  3. Notice your triggers. As you begin to recognize when you get triggered and become more aware of your negative self-talk, pay attention to those moments. When they arise, I want you to try to say to yourself with compassion, “Wow! I just said some really mean things to myself. I would never say that to a friend. I was ready to put myself down for not being perfect, and my critical parts jumped in without my noticing! I’ll try not to be so hard on myself.”

  4. When times are tough, remember that everyone struggles from time to time. It’s a part of the human experience. When you’re feeling overwhelmed or when that critical voice wants to berate and minimize your difficulties, try saying to yourself, “I’m struggling right now. We all struggle once in a while.” You can also place your hand on your heart and repeat these phrases: “May I be peaceful. May I be safe. May I be healthy and may I live my life with ease.”


I hope these techniques help you quiet your inner critic, ease your perfectionist urges and bring more self-compassion into your life.

For those who live in the Annapolis area, I’ll be leading mindfulness groups for women that help cultivate self-compassion. You can find out more here.


If you enjoyed this blog post and would like more insights into living with anxiety, tune into the Woman Worriers podcast. In each weekly 30-minute episode, host Elizabeth Cush, LCPC, and her guests explore living with anxiety, relationships, parenting, surviving trauma and other topics and offer insights into mindfulness, meditation and other helpful resources.

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

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

 

A Minute of Mindfulness

It Only Takes a Minute

Take time to pause

Take time to pause

I created this quick video below to demonstrate how easy it is to be mindful. Wherever you are, take a moment to slow down and tune into the sights, sounds, tastes, smells and touch the things that are there with you in the present moment.

No matter where you are — on the street, in the city or country, forest or ocean side, at home or at work — you can take a minute and pause.

If you’d like to do more meditating and don’t know where to begin I have a FREE guide to get you started! Fill out this form and I’ll send it along to you with a free meditation too!

If you’d like a longer meditation that also incorporates your senses this week on the Woman Worriers podcast I offer a guided imagery meditation using your sensory information to create a calm, safe space.


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. 

Photo and video by Elizabeth Cush



Maybe It's Time For A Little Self-Compassion

*This blog was originally published in the Severna Park Voice.

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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?

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’m 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.

When we're overly critical of ourselves it can also increase our anxiety. Imagine a friend that always pointed out your faults, and told you you weren't enough, or worse that you were a failure. Imagine that friend was with you 24/7, constantly reminding you of things you could have done better, and that this was for your own good.

It might stress you out, or you might try to ignore them, or push them away but the bad feelings about yourself remain, because maybe a small part of you begins to believe what the constant criticism and that can make you feel very anxious.

Self-Kindness

hugging self.jpg

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.

Mindfulness

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
— Kristin Neff, PhD.

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.

If you want to bring more self-compassion into your daily life I host mindfulness each Spring and Fall. You can find out about the groups here.


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. 

Photo by gabrielle cole & Philipe Cavalcante on Unsplash

 

 

 

Manage Anxiety With Mindfulness & Meditation

Meditation and mindfulness can ease anxiety

Meditation and mindfulness can ease anxiety

If you’ve read my blogs or listened to my podcast, you know that I’ve struggled with anxiety throughout my life. I also share that my mindfulness practice, including meditation, has made a huge difference in how I feel and how I view my anxiety. I went from hating my anxiety and avoiding it to learning to appreciate it as my body’s signal that something doesn’t feel right.

Turning toward, instead of away from, the anxiety opens up space to allow the feelings to come and go. Feeling the feelings without judgment allows your body to understand that the situation you’re worrying over isn’t life or death — that it’s not going to last forever. It’s just a worry you’re struggling with right now. That non-judgmental awareness gives you the space to be more present in the moment for whatever is happening right here, right now.

In the end, just three things matter:
How well we have lived
How well we have loved
How well we have learned to let go
— Jack Kornfield

Mindfulness can help you learn to live with and allow difficult uncomfortable feelings. It brings a greater awareness of self, and that helps you feel connected to yourself and to others.

3 Mindful Activities For Managing Anxiety

So how do we bring more mindfulness into our daily lives? Here are three tips to get you started:

1. Practice mindful meditation every day.

If you’ve never meditated before, this can be a challenge so start small — five minutes a day. If you’d like help getting started, you can request FREE Get Started Meditating Guide and find some guided meditations here .

The goal of mindful meditation isn’t to clear your mind of all thoughts. The goal is to notice each time your mind wanders and bring your attention back to an anchor of your choosing — your breath, a sound, a sensation or something else.

“If you want to conquer the anxiety of life, live in the moment, live in the breath.”
— Amit Ray, Om Chanting and Meditation

2. Pick one activity a day and single-task.

What is single-tasking? It’s the opposite of multi-tasking! Pay attention to your five senses while performing a single task. You can choose any daily activity you usually do without thinking — like brushing your teeth, washing dishes, driving your car, walking your dog…. You get the idea.

Instead of tuning out or being inside your head or on your phone, bring a mindful attention to the activity. What do you see? What colors, shapes, objects? What can you feel? Do you feel water running on your hands, the ground under your feet, the toothbrush on your gums? What are the smells? Does the soap have a scent, or do you smell flowers blooming? What noises and sounds do you hear? What do you taste? Each time your mind wanders, gently bring your attention back to your senses and the task you chose.

People usually consider walking on water or in thin air a miracle. But I think the real miracle is not to walk either on water or in thin air, but to walk on earth. Every day we are engaged in a miracle which we don’t even recognize: a blue sky, white clouds, green leaves, the black, curious eyes of a child—our own two eyes. All is a miracle.
— Thich Nhat Hanh

3. Tune into and name your feelings.

As you begin meditating and being more mindful, you might begin to notice that feelings arise, sometimes without warning. When we’re more in tune with our bodies and ourselves, our feelings become more present. As you notice discomfort or joy, take some time to pause. Feel what you’re feeling. See if you can name what the feeling is, without judgment. Say the name of feeling aloud or to yourself, and see if the word resonates with you. If not, try to pick a different word that might describe what you’re feeling. If you find yourself judging yourself about how you feel, remind yourself, “All feelings are welcome.”

One is a great deal less anxious if one feels perfectly free to be anxious, and the same may be said of guilt.
— Alan W. Watts

If you’ve been meaning to start a mindfulness practice but keep putting it off, consider participating in a mindfulness group. Groups forming now will start in the fall. I will be holding Facebook Live events in August with weekly mindfulness tips to help you get you started. You can follow me on Facebook for more information on the live events.


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. 

Photo by Antonika Chanel on Unsplash

What's Your Body Telling You About Anxiety?

When you struggle with anxiety, sometimes you might wonder why you even get anxious in the first place. What purpose does it serve? And why does it make you feel so bad?

Over the years, while struggling to manage my own anxiety, I’ve learned that signs that I’m uncomfortable often show up before the anxiety is running full tilt. It might be a feeling of pressure in my chest. Sometimes my throat feels like it’s full of sand, or my belly feels hollow (like I have a pit in my stomach), depending on what’s making me uncomfortable and anxious.

My mindfulness practice has allowed me to be more aware of my body’s sensations in the moment when stressful things are happening (or I’m interpreting that the events are stressful). My body signals me long before I’m fully aware that the situation is overwhelming or triggering.

Where Do You Feel Anxiety?

worried woman.jpg

I ask clients to tune into their physical reactions when they’re talking about something stressful or difficult. When I ask, “Where do you feel that in your body?” they can often point or place their hand right where they feel it. Or is I ask, “What physical feelings do you have when your anxiety shows up?” Some clients can identify exactly where anxiety lives in them. For others, it’s a little harder to figure out, but usually clients at least have a general sense of some internal sensations.

Many times the body signals come before the anxiety is fully recognizable. Basically your body is telling you that you’re feeling something, usually something uncomfortable. It’s alerting you, wanting your attention and letting you know it’s time to tune in, it’s time to listen, it’s time to take care of yourself.

Tune Into Your Anxiety Through Your Body

So how do we learn to tune into our body so we can hear what it wants us to know?

Start a mindfulness practice. Mindfulness helps you become more aware of yourself — your reactions, your thoughts, your feelings and what’s happening inside your body. If you haven’t already recognized the patterns, you might begin to notice that when certain thoughts or feelings enter your consciousness, your body reacts to those thoughts and feelings in particular ways.

Practice yoga, tai chi or another form of movement. They help you learn to focus on the different parts of your body.

pausing woman.jpg

Start a meditation practice. Body scan meditations guide you from head to toe (or toe to head), gradually moving your non-judgmental awareness from one body part to another. It helps fine-tune your focus as you practice the meditation. It also brings an awareness of how your body holds stress and how the stress might change as you bring a conscious awareness to it.

Take a moment to pause. When you’re anticipating a stressful event or encounter, take a minute to pause. Take a few slow, deep breaths. Check in with yourself and ask “Where am I feeling this in my body right now?” If tuning into your body is something new, you might need to do it a few times before you’re able to pinpoint where you feel the stress. That’s okay. Be patient and keep tuning in.

Work with a therapist. The right therapist — one who’s been trained in somatic, movement or body awareness therapies — can help you work toward a greater understanding of your body and help you learn why it reacts the way it does.

As with all new habits and skills, getting in touch with your physical reactions can take some time and practice. Be gentle and compassionate with yourself on this journey!


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. 

Photo by Tanja Heffner and by Caique Silva on  Unsplash

 

Anxiety and Anger: Manage Them Mindfully

When you don't express your anger it can turn inwards

When you don't express your anger it can turn inwards

When you’re very anxious and you’ve spent a lifetime pleasing others in order to manage your anxiety, it can be very hard to express anger in ways that feel safe or comfortable. Telling someone you’re angry with him or her can feel too much like an all-out conflict. But if you don’t tell the people you care about when you’re unhappy or angry, your anger can turn inward. Then, that at critical part of yourself might be mad because you always let others have their way. You might say things to yourself like:

  • “I’m a pushover.”
  • “I’m a wimp.”
  • “I have no spine.”

The inner critic will remind you each time you choose to stay quiet. Your critical voice will tell you over and over how you might have done things differently. Or it might wonder, in not so nice terms, why you can’t stand up for yourself.

Anger’s Impact On Relationships

Anger can build inside you if you don't say what you need

Anger can build inside you if you don't say what you need

Sometimes you might hold onto your anger and resentment because you believe that the people in your life should know how you feel, even if you don’t tell them. The anger builds inside you with each event where you don’t say what you need. People you care about might hurt your feelings,; when you don’t speak up for yourself, the resentment grows. You store away each wound, and occasionally you take it out to re-examine it and refresh the hurt feelings.

As the anger builds up inside, it leaves you feeling on edge until maybe something small happens and you explode! You wind up reeling off the list of all of the hurts that led up to this moment. This can be difficult for the person you’re angry with. Chances are that he or she wasn’t aware of how their behavior was impacting you. Now they’re wondering why you didn’t bring it up when it happened.

If blowing up isn’t comfortable for you, you might swallow your anger once again, withdrawing from the people you care about most. This can be overwhelming for you. It’s also difficult for the person you’re angry with because he or she had no idea that you were upset.

5 Mindful Ways Top Manage Your Anger

So how can you do things differently? How can you begin to say what you need, or express your anger in more healthy ways, so that you feel heard and not hurt?

Pause and pay attention when angry feelings show up

Pause and pay attention when angry feelings show up

Here are a few tips to help you get started:

  1. When your irritation starts to grow, begin to notice how you’re feeling. Where do you feel the irritation in your body? If you could describe it, what color and shape would it be? What are the thoughts that go with the feeling?
  2. Pay attention when you start to go over all the times this person has irritated you before. If you’re scrolling through a list of all the times you’ve been angry or hurt by this person, notice how those thoughts change how you’re feeling in the moment. Does the irritation grow into full-blown anger or does it lessen?
  3. Take a few slow, deep breaths, breathing deeply into your belly. Belly breathing can calm and relax you in the moment, but it’s also good to practice it when you’re feeling calm. It can stimulate your parasympathetic nervous system, and that helps you feel more at ease.
  4. Try writing down what’s bothering you, or try drawing a picture of the irritation that you’ve come up with from #1, or both!
  5. Ask yourself how old the angry, irritated part feels. Does this part feel like an adult or like a child? Are the angry thoughts and feelings familiar? Do they feel similar to a time in your past when you felt the same way? Is there something your angry part wants you to know? Journaling can help here, too.

Anger and irritation can also be a symptom of anxiety. If you think that you need help managing your anger in healthier ways, seek out a therapist who can help you work through and better understand the root of your anger. Counseling can help you find strategies for expressing your anger and irritation in healthier, more meaningful ways when it surfaces.


In his week's episode of the Woman Worriers podcast we're talking about trauma, attachment trauma and anxiety with Laura Reagan. You can check it out here.

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. 

Photos by Gabriel Matula & Stanley Dai & Nik MacMillan on Unsplash

 

Have A Mindful Valentine's Day!

Be mindful of your feelings this Valentine's Day

Be mindful of your feelings this Valentine's Day

Today is Valentine’s Day and whether or not you celebrate, or consider a “valid” holiday it’s hard to miss all the hoopla. I went to the drugstore to buy a condolence card yesterday and I overwhelmed by all of the Valentine’s Day merchandise­ — and I like to celebrate!

If you’re like me and enjoy the holiday, Happy Valentine’s Day to you!

If today makes you sad or depressed, or angry because it’s a made up “Hallmark” holiday then be mindful of taking care of yourself today.

  • Acknowledge your feelings and allow them to be there.
  • Offer yourself some compassion and love, and remember that others are struggling too.
  • Ask what you need to take care you yourself. Maybe you buy yourself some flowers, or maybe you choose to ignore the holiday altogether.

With that I wish you a happy, mindful, wonderful Wednesday!


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. 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Using Mindfulness This Holiday Season

Be mindful of your needs this holiday!

Be mindful of your needs this holiday!

In my recent post for Good Therapy, ’Tis the Season to Be Mindful: Manage the Holidays with Less Stress, I share some mindfulness tips to help you if you're struggling with holiday stress.

"If we listen to and tend to what we need, if we take care of our gardens first, we’re better able to help others with theirs because we’re healthy enough and strong enough to do it."

On another note...

This will be my last post for 2017. I’ve been consistently blogging for over two years and I’ve decided to take a break from posting between now and January. I often urge my clients to take care of themselves and taking a break from blogging is a good way for me to care of myself over the next few weeks. I will continue to write and I will post some of my older blogs on my Facebook page. You can also find them  all here!

I hope you have a wonderful, safe holiday season. Please take care of yourself, be mindful of what you need and take a moment to pause when you’re feeling stressed.  I’ll see you in the New Year!


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. 

Photo by Kira auf der Heide on Unsplash

 

How To Get A Handle On Holiday Stress

The holidays can be a stressful for even the most relaxed person. And even though taking care of ourselves is not always on our radar, it’s important to do so when you’re under added stress. Although I try to pay attention to my own needs at this time of year, they end up at the bottom of my to-do list when I have a lot on my mind or I’m super busy. I’ve put together a few ways to bring more self-care and into your life while managing the holiday craziness.

Practice mindfulness.

Pay mindful attention to your senses

Pay mindful attention to your senses

Paying attention to the sights, sounds, smells, tastes and sensations of the season and the holidays can be soothing. So, take a deep breath and pay full attention to your senses. Try to relax your body and find something to appreciate in all of the craziness.

Allow feelings, even the icky ones.

Let yourself feel your feelings. Try not to label your feelings as “good” or “bad.” When you take the time to notice how you feel, and name the feeling either aloud or to yourself, it can help defuse even the most intense emotions.

Take time to enjoy yourself.

No matter which holiday you celebrate, when you get caught up in all that needs to get done, you might forget to have a little fun.

Get a good night’s sleep.

A good night's sleep recharges you

A good night's sleep recharges you

If you take one thing away from this post, I would encourage you to make it this point! A good night’s sleep allows your mind and body to recharge, so instead of starting the day stuck in stressful feelings from yesterday, you can start refreshed.  Sleep reduces stress, is good for your body and does wonders for your outlook on the day.

Eat a healthy diet.

Your body will thank you. Pay attention to what food you eat and, if possible, eat less junk. Your body will appreciate it!

Find time to pause.

Setting aside one to three minutes to take a few deep breaths a couple times throughout your day will calm your mind and body, so you’re ready for the next task or challenge.

Check in with yourself.

Check in with you throughout the day.

Check in with you throughout the day.

I like to suggest to my clients to take a moment when you go to the bathroom to look at yourself in the mirror and ask, “What do I need in this moment?” Pay attention to those needs. If your body is screaming at you to take a break and relax, then do it!

 

Sometimes, no matter how much you try to take care of yourself, you still end up feeling overwhelmed, stressed, depressed or anxious. If you’re struggling this holiday season, know that you’re not alone. The holidays can be a very difficult time and therapy can help you talk about what’s bothering you, grieve those you’ve lost or help you to process the difficult life experiences that keep you from moving forward. 

If you’re thinking about counseling or you’d like to give yourself the gift of mindfulness in the New Year, please reach out.


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. 

Photo by Aliis SinisaluChris Benson, Kinga Cichewicz, Septian simon on Unsplash

 

 

What's Behind All That Busy-ness?

Being an anxiety therapist and having experienced anxiety myself, I understand how anxiety can run your life, even when you think you have it under control. That’s because anxiety shows up in ways that aren’t always obvious. One of the symptoms of being anxious that isn’t always recognized is busyness, or always “doing.” If you have a hard time sitting still and feel compelled to multi-task constantly, you might be using busyness as a way to manage your anxiety.

Keeping Anxiety At Bay Through Busyness

Are you keeping anxiety at bay through busyness?

Are you keeping anxiety at bay through busyness?

Many of my clients tell me that they find it hard to sit still. For some, being still creates anxiety because their inner critic jumps in and reminds them of all the things they should be doing. For others, their “always-on” mind makes it hard to sit quietly or enjoy reading and other quiet activities. Always being busy becomes a way to manage anxiety, because it doesn’t give you time to sit and think.

I remember times when my husband would say to me, “Can you just sit down?” Or, “Why are you always doing 10 things at once?” Being busy made me feel like I had things under control and helped distract me from the anxious, uncomfortable feelings that would creep in the moment I was still.

But the anxiety doesn’t go away when we’re busy. It often pops in to make a guest appearance just when you think you have it under control. Maybe it shows up when you’re trying to fall asleep or stay asleep, or when things feel beyond your control or they don’t go as planned.

So, if we’re “managing” our anxiety by being busy, why does it still come back? Well, when we constantly work to avoid feeling anxious, we’re actually making ourselves more anxious. Instead of relieving the anxiety, we’re actually creating a pattern of behaviors that keeps anxiety hanging around.

Always “Doing” Only Makes You More Anxious

Our bodies react to things that make us feel afraid. Anxiety and stress are fear responses. If we try to avoid the stress through busyness instead of learning to calm ourselves in moments of stress, our bodies still sense the stress and react accordingly. In fact, if our body doesn’t have a chance to chill, to de-stress, it will have a harder time managing when the next stressful event comes along. 

It’s like a chain reaction: You feel anxiety when you’re still, or quiet, so that prompts you to get busy. The busyness pushes the anxiety to the background, but it still exists below the surface, not being attended to. Then something small happens. Maybe you stub your toe, or drop a glass, or make a mistake at work. Now the anxiety jumps from the background into the present moment.

Now your reaction comes from a place of extreme anxiety, because you were already anxious to begin with. You might react in a way that doesn’t fit the intensity of the event.  Maybe you scream at the pain or yell at those who ask if you’re OK when you hurt yourself. Maybe you berate yourself for dropping the glass and start to cry. Maybe you have an anxiety attack because you feel so overwhelmed at work. Now you worry that the next time something happens, you’ll react in the same way . That thought keeps the anxiety bubbling below the surface.

Getting Comfortable With Being And Not Doing

Can I allow that I'm anxious in this moment?

Can I allow that I'm anxious in this moment?

I know that it’s really hard to change old patterns of behavior, but that’s what I’m asking you to do. When you find that you’re creating busyness for yourself, I want you to pause and pay mindful attention to what’s happening. Try sitting still (without your phone) and ask yourself  “Can I allow that I’m anxious in this moment and sit with it for just a minute?” 

Check out where you feel the anxiety, with a curious attention. Maybe your chest is tight or you have a stomachache. Say out loud, “The stress and anxiety feel like a hot poker in my chest, or a ball of hard clay in my stomach or  _______” (you fill in the blank). You might feel a little weird saying this out loud. It might make you smile or laugh at yourself, and that’s OK!

Next, try breathing into the stress and anxiety with slow, deep, measured breaths. You can slowly breathe in for a count of 4, hold for 4, breathe out for 4, hold for 4 and repeat. Then ask yourself how you’re feeling.

Lastly, I want you to be patient. Chances are, you’ve reacted and responded to anxiety and stress the same way for long time. It’s a well-worn path of behavior and neurological responses, and it will take time to change them. By practicing doing things differently, in a consistent way, you’ll begin to notice that you can manage your anxiety more effectively both physically and emotionally.


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  Andrew Neel  & Andrew Neel on Unsplash

Staying Mindful Through The Holidays

Struggling With Holiday Stress

Struggling with holiday stress

Struggling with holiday stress

Do the holidays totally stress you out? It’s hard to get away from all the TV and radio ads, social media and the decorations and music in the retail stores. I enjoy the season, but sometimes I feel like I’m not doing enough — I’m behind in preparation, and if I could just be better organized, maybe that would ease my stress. In my home we celebrate Christmas, and the constant reminders of how many shopping days are left leave me feeling anxious and overwhelmed at times. But, even if you don’t celebrate Christmas, the hype and pomp surrounding it can make you feel stressed out!

Mindfulness Can Help

Here are a few tips that will allow you to be present in the moment, instead of being caught up in the worry, planning and thinking that seem to be an integral part of this time of year.

Practice mindful awareness.

Practice mindful awareness

Practice mindful awareness

The sights, sounds, smells, tastes and sensations of the season and the holidays can be soothing. I know that frantic shoppers or Christmas music blaring in your ear might not seem very calming, but if you take a deep breath and pay full attention to your senses, you might notice the different colors you see as you shop, or you might notice the smell of a fire burning as you walk outside, or maybe you can tune into the taste of a really good orange, or another delicious food.

When you can get out of your head and take the time to really notice what’s around you, it allows your body to relax. You might find something small to appreciate in all of the craziness.

Manage your negative self-talk and be OK with making some mistakes.

Letting perfectionism go can be liberating; we also need to be kind to ourselves. When you forget to order something or forget to be somewhere you were supposed to be, know that you are not alone. Thousands of us out there are forgetting things, too. Instead of beating yourself up, offer yourself some words of comfort and allow that you’re human. It goes like this, “Wow, I’m being really hard on myself for _____. I probably could have done that better, but it’s OK. I made a mistake, but we all do, and it’s OK.”

Practice feeling gratitude.

Practice feeling gratitude

Practice feeling gratitude

Feeling gratitude can improve your mood and your outlook if you practice daily. An easy way to bring more gratitude and thankfulness into your life is to write down one thing you’re grateful for each day. You can write in a journal, in the notes of your phone, or just make a mental note to yourself when you find something to be grateful for.

If you struggle with finding something to be grateful for, you can say, “I am grateful for this moment right now.” Or, “I’m grateful for this chair I’m sitting in, or the ground I’m standing on.”

To give your gratitude practice an extra punch, you can share whatever you’re grateful for with someone else. Saying it out loud and sharing it reinforces the positive feelings within you and creates connection with others. Two amazing benefits!

If you’d like to bring more mindful awareness into your life after the holidays, groups are forming now for January 2018. You can find out more here or you can call me at 410-339-1979.


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. 

Photo by Heidi Sandstrom.Clem Onojeghuo and Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

With Anxious Feelings, Knowledge Is Power

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Leaning Into Your Anxiety

In my blog,  How Leaning Into Your Anxiety Can Help You Manage It,  for Good Therapy this month I discuss how to manage your anxiety, even when you’re not sure why you got anxious in the first place.

When it comes to anxious feelings, knowledge is power. Here's how being curious and compassionate about your anxiety can help you lessen its grip on your life. You can find the article here. I hope you enjoy it and find it helpful!

I’ll be offering mindfulness groups in January 2018 to help manage anxiety. If you’re interested please reach out! 410-339-1979.


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. 

Photo by joyce huis on Unsplash

3 Simple Breathing Techniques For Stressful Times

The breath is an amazingly powerful tool that you can use to help calm you down when you’re feeling stressed. By tuning into your breath, breathing rhythmically or doing deep belly breathing, you can begin to feel differently. Practicing daily can increase the benefits.

You might be thinking, “I breathe all day long and I’m still stressed!” I hear you. The difference with these techniques is that you’re going to be breathing in ways that promote your body’s natural stress responses and your body will be soothing itself!

Ready to get started? Try the different techniques described below. Notice which one you find to be most helpful and use it any time you feel stressed.

Paying mindful attention to your breath can be calming

Paying mindful attention to your breath can be calming

1. Tune into your breath. Find a quiet place where you won’t be interrupted for about three minutes. Sit upright, comfortably, with your feet flat on the floor. Place your hands in your lap. You can have your palms facing up or down, depending on what feels good to you in that moment. Close your eyes or gaze softly in front of you. Take three slow, deep breaths, filling and emptying your lungs completely. Then let your breathing return to its natural rhythm. Tune your attention to your breath and notice where you feel it. It might be your chest rising and falling or your belly going in and out. Or, you might feel a coolness as the breath enters your nostrils and warmth as it exits. Continue to pay attention to your breath as you breathe naturally. Your attention might wander, because we’re always thinking. When it does wander, I want you to notice that it has and bring it back to the breath. Continue to do this for another minute or two. It’s that easy (or not!).  If you prefer a guided exercise you can click the recording below.

2. 4-7-8 breathing. This technique can help reduce overall stress and help you feel more calm in times of stress, especially if you’ve been practicing daily. To do this technique, you will breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth with the tip of your tongue placed on the roof of your mouth, right behind your teeth.

To begin, exhale slowly and then breathe in through your nose for a count of four. Hold your breath for a count of seven and then exhale through your mouth, with the air passing around your tongue, making a whooshing sound, for a count of 8. Repeat this 3 more times. Practice each day when you’re not stressed, so it becomes a habit. When it becomes a part of your routine, begin to use it to help manage any stress that arises.

3. Belly Breathing. Take a few deep breaths and pay attention to your chest and belly. If your belly rises and falls with each breath, you’re already belly breathing! If your chest rises and falls we’re going to do a little exercise to teach you belly breathing.

Deep belly breathing can be done wherever you are

Deep belly breathing can be done wherever you are

As you breathe in, try to imagine that your breath is traveling all the way down your spine and into your belly, filling up the space, so your belly fills up like a balloon. Then exhale fully, using your stomach muscles to push all of the air up and out, emptying that belly space. Begin by practicing this when you’re feeling pretty good. Then, as you feel more comfortable with belly breathing, pause and try it when you feel stressed. Here’s a fun video from Elmo to see how it works.

I’ve heard some clients say that intentionally allowing their belly to expand can be an uncomfortable experience. I think that because our culture values fit, tight stomachs, it feels weird to push it out. I suggest that you keep practicing, maybe when there’s no one around, until it feels more natural.

You can adopt one or all of theses techniques to help you live a less stressful life!


Photo by Ian KeefeAndre Hunter on Unsplash

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. 

 

 

 

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.

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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