Loss Of A Loved One


Anxiety can intensify after loss

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

How You Might Feel When Illness or Loss Occurs

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

Avoiding The Pain

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

Lean In To Your Emotions

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

Let Go And Be In The Moment

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

Some Other Ways To Be With Your Feelings

Mindfulness helps when overwhelmed by anxiety

Mindfulness helps when overwhelmed by anxiety

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

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

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

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

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



The Anxious Traveler

Anxious traveler

Vacation Anxiety

My family recently took an overseas vacation and it got me thinking about the effects of travel on anxiety. Travel is stressful. Many things are beyond our control, and this can trigger anxiety and stress.

Humans And Life Are Messy

The reality is that we can’t control much of anything in our lives except ourselves. We have even less control over situations when traveling with others to an unfamiliar place. Here are a few things that can take control of our vacations in a hurry:

  • Each person has a unique travel agenda
  • Hunger
  • Being tired and cranky
  • Getting lost
  • Stuff is closed
  • Getting caught in the rain and no rain gear because the Weather Channel said there was only a 10 percent chance of precipitation (this happened to us)

During our trip, when it seemed like all of the above messy issues were in play, I began to feel a looming anxiety. My anxiety usually starts in my chest. I feel tightness and then an increased sense of danger or fear. It is uncomfortable, and my first response is to try to figure out how to make it go away. I started thinking of things I could say to make everyone laugh, and to ease the tension. I wanted to try to accommodate everyone’s needs, in order to make them all happy.

How Our Body Reacts to Anxiety

When we’re in a situation that makes us anxious, our brain then goes into protection mode and gets us ready to fight, flee or freeze. The bodily functions that work to keep us safe, and have been around since forever, start cranking. Our heart races, skin gets flushed, breath quickens and muscles tense. Once the process starts it’s harder to get back to an emotional and physical balance.

If you want to know more about the physical affects of anxiety you can read more about it here

And here is an infographic on the body’s response to anxiety.

Using Mindfulness When Life Gets Uncomfortable

Practicing mindfulness can help us to take a step back and check in with ourselves when the anxiety begins. Mindfulness allows us to notice those physical symptoms and gives us a chance to interrupt the cycle.

If we can learn to calm ourselves before the anxiety kicks into high gear, we can maintain emotional balance even in stressful situations.

Allowing your thoughts to come and go like waves on the ocean, mindfulness calms the anxious mind

Allowing your thoughts to come and go like waves on the ocean, mindfulness calms the anxious mind

7 Steps to Help Recognize Anxiety Before It Takes Over

  1. Take note of situations that make you anxious
  2. Ask yourself, “What is the first sign of my anxiety being triggered?” Often it is a physical response.
  3. Pay attention to your physical symptoms, especially if you know the situation would trigger anxiety.
  4. When the physical symptoms appear, STOP whatever you are doing.
  5. Take a slow deep breath. Take another… and another.
  6. Ask yourself in a kind, non-judgmental way, “What’s going on for me, right now?”
  7. Acknowledge the situations that are beyond your control.

So, while we were walking down a beautiful street, filled with shops, people and sights I had never seen before—which I was totally missing because I was so caught up in how to make everyone happy—I noticed I was anxious and took a slow, deep breath and asked myself what was going on for me.

In that moment, I realized that although my family was cranky, hungry, and everyone’s needs were not being met, it was not up to me to make each person happy. Not only was it not up to me, but also it was an impossible task!

Learning to Accept the Things We Can’t Control

As I said, our anxiety is triggered by situations where we feel powerless. In reality, we don’t have the power to control most of the stuff in our lives, and that means we have the potential be anxious a lot. The key to managing the anxiety is to be able to acknowledge that we have no control, and that this is OK.

If we can acknowledge that life and humans are messy and imperfect, and understand that we can’t control a lot of what happens, then we can allow events to unfold naturally and this can reduce our anxiety. By letting go of the need to “fix-it” or control it we can be there fully and appreciate what is happening in the moment.

For the rest of the journey I worked to let go of the need to take charge of everyone else’s experiences. To recognize the value of being together as a family, in a beautiful country, and to take note of the good and the stressful times together allowed me to enjoy each moment as it came along, and made for an incredibly memorable experience.

I will be leading mindfulness groups for women beginning in October. If you're interested in signing up, or learning more please drop me a line.

This blog post was featured in the Health & Fitness section of the Severna Park Voice.

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