racing thoughts

How To Use Your Environment To Calm Your Anxiety

I usually spend Sunday as an “off” day. I try not to work on my business or think too much about work. It’s the one day I try to disconnect from work, because on Monday the work week begins and I want to enter it feeling refreshed and ready.

When Your Racing Thoughts Get In The Way

Last Sunday I had trouble letting things go; I was feeling anxious about the week ahead. Thoughts kept popping up that led to other thoughts and, sure enough, soon I was completely distracted and mentally chewing over what I needed to do in the coming week.

Mindful walking can ease anxious thoughts

I decided to take a walk to clear my head and get some exercise. It was sunny and windy in Annapolis, where I live. Leaves blew and swirled down the street, and the wind whipped my hair around. I like walking because it helps to ground me, and it physically relaxes me. I try to pay attention to what I see, hear, smell and feel while walking.

This Sunday, I was still caught up in thought about half way into my 40-minute walk. I live near the water, so during my walks I always try to pause at a scenic spot to take in the river, the boats the birds — whatever might be present. Just a few minutes of reflecting can really soothe and nourish me.

Being Mindful Of Nature Can Ease Anxious Thoughts

I decided that because my mind was so reactive, I would take some extra time to appreciate where I live and what nature provides. I stood for a minute and a half, allowing the wind to blow against my skin, feeling the sun on my face, listening to the sounds the wind made blowing the rigging of the sailboats, the water lapping at the shore and the leaves as they rustled in the wind. That minute and a half calmed my mind and allowed me to continue on my walk without my head full of work. I decided to capture some of it on video because I wanted to share how alive and nourishing the environment can be. You can watch the 30-second video below.

I hope you enjoyed the short video and will consider using mindful presence to help ease your stress, to help you feel grounded and to help you become more aware of the world around you.

If your stress or anxiety makes it too hard to get out of your head and into the present moment, maybe counseling can help. Counseling provides an opportunity to talk about your stressors in an accepting compassionate space; it helps you to recognize your triggers and allows you to see a future where stress and anxiety no longer rule your life.

Mindfulness groups start in October with early bird pricing happening now. If you’d like to talk about how therapy or mindfulness might help you, please call me at 410-340-8469 or email me.

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.

Signs Of And Strategies For Dealing With Worry

Worrying is normal; it’s how we assess for potentially dangerous situations. But sometimes worry can take over your life, and leave you feeling overwhelmed. When that happens, you might need some strategies to let go of the worry.

Always Worrying

You might see yourself in this story because this could be many of my clients that I’ve worked with in my Annapolis counseling practice who have struggled with worry, stress and feeling overwhelmed.

Worrying can leave you exhausted and feeling overwhelmed.

Worrying can leave you exhausted and feeling overwhelmed.

Francie was always busy. She took care of her home and her family, she worked part time, she volunteered at her kid’s school, and she was always the first one to offer to help out her friends. From the outside Francie appeared to have it all together, but what most people didn’t know was that Francie worried all the time.

She had twin girls and entering middle school, and she worried about them out in the world. She worried about her husband driving to Baltimore County on the beltway each day. She worried about her parents, who might be getting divorced. She worried about her sister, who seemed to like to have a little too much fun. She worried when her house wasn’t clean, or the laundry didn’t get done. She worried when everyone in her family wasn’t happy, and worried when she couldn’t make everything better. She worried that maybe she wasn’t a good enough mother, wife and friend. She worried about worrying too much.

We all worry. It’s part of being human, and worry can serve us well because we are ready for danger when and if it comes. But for some people, like Francie, worrying can take over their thoughts, leave them feeling overwhelmed, and they lose the joy and ease in their lives.

5 Ways To Recognize That Worrying Could Be Ruling Your Life

  1. Worrying keeps you from falling asleep or staying asleep most nights.
  2. It feels like your mind is always “on.”
  3. You rehash conversations, your actions or behaviors over and over again, wondering how you might have done things differently.
  4. When things don’t go as planned you get frustrated, angry or scared.
  5. You’re irritable a lot of the time.

All the worrying made it hard for Francie to sleep well. Some nights she fell asleep at 3 a.m., only to wake again at 6 a.m. Her friends and family didn’t know that she worried so much, that she often had trouble concentrating at work, and felt unfocused much of the time. She got frequent headaches and stomachaches. Sometimes she couldn’t swallow food because of the tightness in her throat.

Recently, Francie had an anxiety attack while working at her daughters’ school. She was light headed. Her chest felt constricted, and she could only take shallow breaths. She began to sweat, she saw stars, and she thought she was going to faint. This was the first time her friends knew she was struggling. She was mortified that they had witnessed her in such a vulnerable state. The feeling of losing control prompted Francie to seek therapy.

Counseling For Anxiety

Through counseling, Francie began to understand that her need for control stemmed from her learning at a young age that being in control kept the peace, and it also kept her safe. Over time, Francie revealed that her father had been an alcoholic. Francie had to take care of her younger siblings when her mother was at work. If Francie didn’t keep them under control, her father would yell at her and then at her mom when she got home. This made her mom really sad, and Francie felt she was to blame. When she was able to keep her siblings under control, things were less stressful, and she felt safer.

Counseling also helped Francie understand that her constant worrying was anxiety, and staying busy was her way of controlling it. If she was always doing something, she had little time to think about her worries, and so she filled her days with work, activities and chores.

We discussed the impact that all her worrying was having on her mental and physical health. We talked about why being in control was so important to her, and how hard it was to control everything in life.  Together we came up with some strategies to help her more easily accept the natural ups and downs of life, which allowed her to let go of her need to control everything.

5 Strategies To Help You Let Go

Practicing mindfulness can help ease worry

Practicing mindfulness can help ease worry

  1. Practice daily mindfulness. Mindfulness means paying closer attention to what is happening right now, with openness and compassion. It keeps you attuned to the here-and-now instead of worrying about past and future events. You can read more about practicing mindfulness and self-compassion.
  2. Exercise regularly. Exercise releases the body’s natural “happiness” chemicals and hormones. It can also help you sleep better.
  3. Practice healthy sleep habits. A good night’s sleep can take the edge off, make you less irritable and activate your body’s immune system.  The American Sleep Association has some great tips on how to promote good sleep habits here.
  4. Do yoga, get acupuncture or meditate. These alternative practices can help you relax your body and calm your mind.
  5. Get support. Talk to friends, family or a counselor. People often feel alone in their struggles. Sharing your experience can help you feel more connected and supported.

Achieving Emotional Balance

Through counseling and some lifestyle changes, Francie has been able to live a more emotionally balanced life. If you would like to live your life with more balance please call or email Progression Counseling for a free 15-minute consultation.

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.


shhhh, Quiet Down Negative Nelly

Getting Stuck

Our inner critic creates anxious feelings

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

What Keeps Us Stuck?

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

What Is The Discomfort Telling Us?

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

The Critical Inner Voice

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

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

I could go on and on.

It’s Time To Quiet Your Critic

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

4 Steps to Recognize Your Inner Critic

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

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

3. Pause and take a few slow deep breaths.

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

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

Respond With Care

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

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

How Do We Get Unstuck?

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

It’s Time To Grow

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

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

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