self-care

Mindful Self-Compassion: How To Be Your Own Best Friend

I’ve been practicing mindful self-compassion for about five years and I recently gave a presentation on the topic.  Being an introvert, I found it extremely hard to stand up in front of 500 people and share some of myself! I was nervous and a bit anxious, but I practiced a lot of self-compassion and I did it! You can see the video below.

Intensive Practice

The following week, I attended an intensive self-compassion retreat. Going into the retreat, I figured it would be a bit of a refresher for me. I’d been practicing for years. I write about self-compassion in my blog pretty often. I advocate for clients to adopt a self-compassion practice, explaining what it is and how to incorporate into their lives. In the women’s group that I facilitate, we talk about it a lot because women tend to be pretty hard on themselves. How much more could I learn?

You might wonder why I decided to spend a week away from home if the material wasn’t new to me. The presenters were Kristin Neff and Chris Germer— pretty big name in my world. They’ve pioneered the training, writing and research on self-compassion. When I learned that Kristin Neff would be stepping away from presenting for a while, I didn’t want to miss a chance to meet her, so I signed up for the retreat with two friends/colleagues.

The six-day intensive was designed for therapists and laypeople. It was filled with meditations, experiential activities, education, movement, laughter, tears, bonding with friends and lots of sharing with the other participants. I came away with a much wider perspective on self-compassion and how much more difficult it can be than I ever expected.

Self-compassion encourages us to be our own best friends with kindness and compassion when we’re suffering. And through the practice, we gain greater compassion for others’ suffering.

What Is Self-Compassion?

The practice of self-compassion has three main tenets, or principles—mindfulness, common humanity and self-kindness.

Mindfulness allows us to be aware of the present moment and how we treat ourselves at any given moment. Recognition of our common humanity helps us recognize that we don’t suffer alone. Everyone has struggles because we’re human, and being a human involves experiencing emotional and physical pain from time to time. Self-kindness encourages us to be gentle with ourselves when we’re struggling— to treat ourselves with the same kindness that we would offer a friend.

I learned a lot at the retreat. Some points were new and some reinforced my ongoing self-compassion practice. What I didn’t expect was how hard it was for me to feel truly compassionate towards myself at moments throughout the week.  I found myself up against some pretty strong resistance.

Looking back, I get it! Mindful self-compassion can make us more aware of how often we haven’t been kind to ourselves. It also brings in to our awareness the times when others didn’t show us compassion when we were struggling.  

Training Highlights

Our last day together at the intensive mindful self-compassion retreat

Our last day together at the intensive mindful self-compassion retreat

Although I don’t have space to give a full synopsis on the training, here are the highlights that stuck with me:

  • Compassion feels more deserved when I’m offering it to others than when I’m offering it to myself.

  • Finding the right compassionate phrases to offer yourself is incredibly important for self-compassion to feel true.

  • There are two types of compassion: the Yin, which offers more caretaking and comforting support, and the Yang, which is more fierce and protective support and motivated towards change. We need both comfort and protection when we’re suffering. Both together are a fierce, caring force!

  • Using tender, compassionate touch, such as a hand on your heart or cheek, and a soothing voice helps to reinforce and internalize the compassionate messages we offer ourselves.

  • Tuning in to our physical response to stress and distress helps identify where to offer ourselves soothing touch.

  • The number-one block for people around the idea of self-compassion is that it will undermine motivation. But the research shows that a self-compassion practice is a better motivator than self-criticism!

  • There can be a back-draft effect from self-compassion. As we offer ourselves love and compassion, we might become aware of the times when we weren’t received with compassion. We can meet that pain with a mindful compassion for what we didn’t get.

  • It’s really important to have grounding skills in place and to be aware of self-care routines that help us feel nourished so we can manage when back-draft, resistance or traumatic memories show up.

  • Offering ourselves loving-kindness isn’t focused on fixing the problem or trying to make us feel better but because we feel bad.

  • Our critical voice often stems from the need for protection and safety. It wants to keep us from making mistakes, to keep us safe from others’ judgment, and to protect us from emotional harm.

  • Our compassionate voice can actually create emotional safety.

  • When we can embrace who we are with all of our imperfections and our human suffering, we are creating space for a radical acceptance.

  • Difficult emotions are a part of daily life. As we practice being mindful of our emotional and physical state, we can choose how to respond to those feelings. No choice is better or worse. It just depends on where you are in that moment. We can:

    • Resist them

    • Be curious about them

    • Tolerate them

    • Allow them

    • Befriend them

  • Self-compassion takes practice. The goal is not to be perfect at compassion but to be a compassionate mess!

It’s also important to know that mindful self-compassion can trigger traumas that we might not be aware of. If you decide to practice self-compassion and it feels more distressing than helpful, take some time to ground yourself, provide self-care in ways that are meaningful to you and seek professional help with a therapist for support and to explore alternative ways to keep you grounded in your practice if needed.

You can find out more here:

Elizabeth Cush on Self-Compassion

Ignite Annapolis

Self-compassion.org

Center for Mindful Self-Compassion

Kristin Neff, Ph.D.

Christopher Germer, PhD.


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

Skip New Year's Resolutions — Set Intentions Instead

Create New Year’s Intentions That Put You In Touch With Yourself

January 1.jpg

The New Year is fun and exciting. It brings the expectation of new possibilities and the potential for new opportunities. The idea behind making New Year’s resolutions is to set goals for all the things you want to do differently or to change about yourself or your life. But if you don’t follow through with your resolutions, you can wind up feeling ashamed or hyper-critical of yourself.

It seems like many of the resolutions we make are about being “better” or correcting behaviors or habits we don’t like. Social media and advertisers push you to join a gym, a diet program, or a life-coaching program. Brick-and-mortar and online bookstores promote self-help books to guide you into a better way of life. 

But what if your resolutions only make you feel worse about yourself when they’re not fulfilled? For example, maybe you resolve to lose weight and exercise more. You start off strong but fall back into old patterns of behavior (they’re called patterns for a reason). You might feel pretty bad that you aren’t able to hold true to that resolution.

Add More Of What You Love To Your Life

This year, why not try making New Year intentions that can bring the things you love into, or back into, your life. Creating intentions means getting in touch with the things you value most, the things that give your life joy, meaning and fulfillment.

You might value family, friendships, self-care, compassion, self-compassion, nature, animals, service, quiet time, knowledge, creativity, reflection, mindfulness, adventure, trustworthiness or spirituality. Those are just a few. You can find a more extensive list here

New Year Intentions.jpg

To help you identify your core values, you can use the list provided in the link above or develop your own list. Choose three to five values that feel most important to you. Write them down and consider how you could bring those values into your life in 2019 in meaningful ways.

For instance, if creativity is one of your top values, then maybe one of your New Year intentions might be: “I will find creative outlets to express myself in the New Year.” The idea is to find intentions that feel uplifting to you. Create a list that feels positive and supportive with things that you feel good about instead of all the things about yourself that you don’t like and want to change.

Looking back at my intentions list for 2018, I recognize that I didn’t fulfill every intention. That’s OK, because my list was pretty long last year! The nice thing about using your values is that, if they’re broad enough, you can find ways to bring that intention into your life without too much effort, because it means something to you.

I’m looking forward to making my list for 2019!


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

 

What Have You Done For You Lately?

If you’re the kind of person who is always thinking about other people’s needs, it leaves little time to think about your own. It can also leave you feeling resentful, underappreciated and maybe even taken advantage of.

When the realization finally hits that you want more for yourself, it can come as a surprise. Giving to others seemed like it was enough, or maybe it just took up so much of your time that you forgot you had needs of your own. Or maybe you understood that you had needs, too, but it felt selfish to put your needs first.

Growing Up In A Stressful Home

So, how did you get to be a person who puts your own needs last? You see other people who say, “No.” Why is it so hard for you to set boundaries?

Childhood stress impacts adulthood

Childhood stress impacts adulthood

Children who grow up with caregivers who set unreasonably high expectations, who are extremely volatile, or who need their children to take care of them are at risk of becoming adult children who put their own needs last or who suppress their needs altogether.

Children learn at a very early age how they’re expected to be in the world. So, if the message you received in childhood is that your needs don’t matter, or that it’s selfish or even dangerous to ask to have your needs met, you’re likely become an adult who has difficulty seeing yourself as a priority or in need of self-care. It’s hard to undo those patterns of behavior.

It’s All In The Past — Or Is It?

Below are some of the responses I’ve heard from friends and clients when they talk about how their past experiences are affecting their adulthood.

Past experiences can impact adulthood

Past experiences can impact adulthood

  • “I’m over it.”
  • “I’ve moved on.”
  • “I don’t even think about my childhood.”
  • “What’s the point of rehashing old wounds?”
  • “I barely remember my childhood.”

But the past does affect the present! What you experienced in childhood determines how you learned how to maneuver in the world. It’s how you learned how to survive. But sometimes the survival or coping skills you learned as a child to get by and to please your caregivers stop working for you. They might even hurt you in adulthood.

Anxiety From Childhood Stressors

If you feel a lot of anxiety but you aren’t sure what’s causing it, you might be experiencing a flashback or an unconscious past memory that was triggered by a present experience. Or maybe your anxiety stems from your ignoring or putting your own needs last. If you’re constantly giving to others with little consideration for yourself, it can bring up some difficult feelings like anger, resentment and frustration. Those difficult feelings can be hard to tolerate if you’re unfamiliar with expressing them, and that can bring on feelings of anxiety.

Tuning Into Anxiety To Help Heal

Tune into anxiety with compassion

Tune into anxiety with compassion

Anxiety is something we like to avoid, ignore or push through. I get it, I’ve been there. But by tuning into your anxiety, you can hear your body telling you that it’s afraid or feels threatened. When you’re a person who always gives to others with little consideration for what you need, your body is probably telling you that it’s feeling threatened because no one is listening. You’re invisible to yourself and others. That feels scary and maybe a little too much like childhood, where you learned that it was safer and easier to take care of others.

When we learn to listen with compassion and love to the fear that lies below the anxiety, it can lead to a deep healing of old wounds. Meditation, mindful awareness and individual therapy can all help in the healing process.

Self-Care Doesn’t Mean Selfish

Learning new behaviors takes time and patience. Self-care isn’t something many of us learned at a young age. Self-care isn’t selfish; it’s a basic need. If we don’t know what we need, then it’s really hard to take care of ourselves. It takes practice — lots of it — to create a lifelong self-care routine. So be compassionate, loving and kind to yourself in this journey!

If you’d like support on your journey of mindful self-awareness and anxiety management, Woman Worriers Groups are forming now. You can find out more about the groups here.


Elizabeth Cush, LCPC is a therapist, blogger,  host of the podcast Woman Worriers 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 Katherine Chase & Morgan Basham & Tanja Heffner on Unsplash

 

 

 

How To Make Self-Compassion A Part Of The New Year

Self-compassion can help counter self-criticism

Self-compassion can help counter self-criticism

In my Progression Counseling New Year blog  I wrote about creating intentions, instead of resolutions this year. And the practice of self-compassion is one intention that’s really helped me manage my anxiety over the last few years.

In my January blog post for Good Therapy, This Year, Resolve To Be Kinder To Yourself, I review the benefits and myths of self-compassion and I give some guidance on how to start a self-compassion practice.

Ask yourself, “Do you extend yourself the same kindness and compassion you would offer a friend? Why not?” You can find out here how self-compassion can help you to counter self-criticism

Here’s the direct link to the article:  https://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/this-year-resolve-to-be-kinder-to-yourself-0105184

If you’d like to bring more mindfulness and self-compassion into your daily life please contact me. I offer group and individual therapy in Annapolis, MD.


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 Aki Tolentino on Unsplash

How To Live With Intention In The New Year

Making intentions for the New Year

Making intentions for the New Year

Last year I decided that instead of making New Year’s resolutions, which I rarely fulfilled, I would make New Year’s intentions. The idea was to focus on the things in my life that mattered to me on a more personal level. I was thinking that I would be more likely to use the intentions as a guide toward a more fulfilled life, rather than resolutions I would feel guilty about if I didn’t heed.

I was surprised when I looked back at last year’s post. I had followed through with every one of my intentions! What surprised me most was that I wasn’t constantly looking at my intentions to measure my success. A couple, like going on a retreat and taking more time away from work, felt a little outside my comfort zone, so they were on my mind more over the course of the year, but overall, my intentions fell into place naturally.

Did I hit each and every intention on the mark and cross it off my list? No! But I did move toward them. The intentions are things that truly matter to me, so I will continue to strive to bring them into my life in meaningful ways.

I’m not writing this post to boast. Instead, I want to reinforce that creating purposeful intentions in your life, whether they’re about personal or professional things, can help you live your life with more fulfillment and contentment. That said, here are my 2018 intentions for the New Year. Following up and expanding on my last years’ intentions I hope to:

Attend another retreat.

Connecting with horses is a healing magical experience.

Connecting with horses is a healing magical experience.

This fall, I joined some colleagues on an Equine-Assisted Daring Way retreat hosted by Laura Reagan, LCSW-C, and Charlotte Hiler Easley, LCSW. It was a magical, healing experience. Until then, I hadn’t spent much time around horses, but after this day-long retreat with two beautiful horses, I was hooked. Feeling so connected to a huge animal I’d met for the first time, and being able to share the experience with like-minded people, opened up something deep inside me. It made me feel more connected to the universe in a way I hadn’t felt before.

Setting aside time for your own personal growth, whether it’s going on a retreat or reading a self-help book, can be a powerful, self-affirming experience. I highly recommend it.

Continue to take time off.

I was able to take a few trips to travel to see family and friends and to spend time with my husband and kids this year. It required that I take time away from work, which isn’t always easy to do.

Taking time away from work, even just a long weekend, can make the work so much easier to come back to. You’ll come back refreshed and fulfilled with more brain space available so you can be creative and more present at work and at home.

Continue to make meditation a priority.

This past year I meditated much more regularly than I have in the past. I find that when I do, I’m better able to be mindful, to pause before reacting and to be fully present with my clients and the people in my life.

Meditation takes an effort, and it’s easy to stop meditating when things in your life get busy or stressful — but that’s when it’s most effective! A regular meditation practice helps you be more aware of the times when you’re stressed so you can manage it more effectively in the moment.

I’ve also begun to recognize other areas of my life that I’d like to be more intentional about going into 2018. Here are a few:

Make my health a priority.

It’s easy to put off addressing your health issues or to put your physical well-being at the bottom of your priorities list — but if you don’t attend to your physical health, or it gets off track, it affects you both physically and mentally.

Here are the ways I hope to bring my physical health to the top of my list:

  • Practice Yoga. Now that I’m approaching 60 (!), I want to get back to doing yoga for body strength and flexibility in the New Year. By bringing your attention to  your body, yoga promotes mindfulness, and the movement is healing in many ways.
  • Get a physical check up. I haven’t had a physical in years! It’s so easy to put off taking care of yourself, but I know that attending to my physical well-being is taking care of Me. By making self-care an intention for the New Year, I’m telling myself that I care about Me.
  • Pay more attention to what I consume. It’s easy to eat and drink without paying much attention, and that can lead to over-eating and drinking! Going into the New Year, I intend to be more mindful of what I put into my body.

Show up more fully in my personal relationships.

Feeling more connected with yourself creates more connection with others.

Feeling more connected with yourself creates more connection with others.

It’s easy to assume that the people in your life know exactly how you feel and what you’re thinking. Maybe you assume that you know how they’re feeling and what they’re thinking, too. The reality is, unless you express how you’re feeling, the people around you are making assumptions about you, too.

My intention is to pay closer to attention to how I’m feeling and share my feelings with people who matter to me. When you affirm your feelings to yourself or with the people you care about, you can be more present and feel more connected.

Explore new areas professionally and personally.

Getting trapped in old patterns or doing things the way you always have can leave you feeling stuck, bored and uninspired. Shaking things up by trying new activities, going new places and putting yourself out there in new ways can help keep things interesting. I intend to explore new areas in my business and in my personal life. By stepping out of my comfort zone and doing new things, I hope to bring more life into my life!

Creating Your Own Intentions

If you’d like to create an intention list for yourself but you’re not sure how, here are a few pointers:

  1. Think about what matters most to you. What do you value? Is it love, connection, family, work…, something else?
  2. Using the things you value most, ask yourself if some values aren’t as much a part of your life as you’d like them to be.
  3. Then try to create a statement that that brings together the things you value and what’s missing, “My intention for the New Year is to spend more time ________ (you fill in the blank).
  4. Lastly I want you to write down your intentions. Having them in writing keeps them front and forward in your mind as you enter 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. 

New groups are forming now!

Photo by NordWood Themes & Kenny Webster & Joseph Pearson 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

 

 

Managing Anxiety When Things Don’t Go As Planned

When Unplanned Changes Create Stress

I’m not super organized. I don’t have my days planned down to the minute, but I like to know what the day has in store. It brings me comfort and it helps me manage my anxiety. If I know what to expect for the day ahead, I feel more settled. But no matter how organized I am, or how much I plan, things don’t go the way I expect, and that makes me anxious.

I know that life can’t be completely predictable. It would be way to boring if it were. I also know that it’s important to be able to manage change, but anxiety creeps in when you don’t know what happens next. If you’re like me, it’s much harder to manage anxiety in the face of an emergency or even a sudden change of plans.

When your plans do change unexpectedly, you might feel:

unplanned changes can leave you stressed

unplanned changes can leave you stressed

  • Tightness in your chest, or stomach
  • A general sense of foreboding
  • Resistant to doing something else
  • Hyper-focused on how things could have gone differently
  • Worried about the new or changed plans
  • Stuck and unable to “go with the flow”
  • Wary, but unsure as to why
  • Angry about having to make changes
  • Unsettled and upset

Anxiety Builds When We're Not in Control

Many people manage their anxiety by trying to control their environment. Control over your life and environment gives you the sense that things are right with the world. You tell yourself, “I’ve got this, easy-peasy.”

When that sense of control is shaken, it can feel threatening and scary — and that’s a vulnerable place to be. The feeling that the world could turn upside down without warning creates a lot of anxiety and stress. You feel unsafe, sensing that a potential danger lies ahead. Research has shown that being able to recognize and name your fears can calm you more effectively than avoiding or ignoring them.

Here are 5 steps to help you manage your anxiety with self-care:

1.     Check in with yourself with curiosity. Ask yourself, “What’s happening for me right now? What am I worried will happen?”

woman alone.jpg

2.     Name your fears and worries. Use the list of feeling words I shared in my last post and dive deep to get at the root of those fears. Say it out loud to yourself: “I’m feeling ______ because I don’t feel in control of my world right now.”

3.     Allow the feelings to be present. We’re so used to avoiding difficult emotions, especially if we’ve been traumatized or neglected. And our culture and society reinforces that message. Just watch television for a little while and you’ll get the idea that we’re supposed to move on from difficult feelings. But research has shown that acknowledging how you’re feeling, allowing the feelings to be there, can ease anxiety and depression.

4.     Self-soothe. It’s possible you were never taught how to offer yourself compassion or how to soothe yourself. Placing your hand on your heart and saying a few soothing phrases can help reground you and calm your anxious mind and body. Say to yourself, “I’m struggling right now. We all struggle from time-to-time and this is really hard for me in this moment.” Again with your hand your heart, you can also offer yourself these calming phrases: “May I be safe. May I be peaceful. May I be healthy, and may I live my life with ease.”

5.     Check in with yourself again. With curiosity, ask yourself again how you’re feeling. Check in with your thoughts, feelings and your body. It’s possible that you’re feeling better. If not, ask yourself if you need to repeat the steps again.


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

Photo courtesy of Nik Shuliahin and Aidan Meyer for Unsplash.

Asking for Help and Setting Boundaries During The Holidays

Over the last few weeks I’ve shared some tips on how to manage holiday stress when you’re feeling overwhelmed. You can see the full post with 30 tips here, and the shorter posts on self-care and how to get organized to reduce your stress, for those who like to consume information in smaller chunks. 

This week I’m sharing tips on how to ask for help and set boundaries over the holidays. For some of us, creating, setting or keeping boundaries can be super hard. We feel guilty about saying no, we help others and often put their needs before our own, we don’t want to be a burden to others when asking for help, and we worry that others will be mad at us if we do say “no.”

Without clear boundaries you might feel underappreciated, irritated with others, taken for granted, anxious, stressed out, and you might not know why you feel overwhelmed with all of these feelings.  

Setting Boundaries Can Reduce Your Anxiety And Stress

Setting limits and creating boundaries allows you to tell others what you want or need without feeling guilty, you feel less burdened and you establish healthier relationships.

Relationships flourish with healthy bondaires

Say “no.”

Saying “no” isn’t easy, but saying “yes” to everyone and everything often leads to anxious, overwhelmed, resentful and irritated feelings.

Ask for help.

Asking for help can be difficult for people pleasers. You hope others will know what you want because asking for help feels vulnerable and needy. You might think your partner, friends or family can read your mind, but it’s not likely! The thing is, when you ask friends and family to help take care of the kids, your dog, or whatever it can relieve your stress and anxiety. Expressing what you need also allows others to help you out, and that can make them feel good too.

Manage others’ expectations.

Promising everyone everything they ask for will only lead to you feeling even more overwhelmed. Let your family and friends know your limits and stick to them. You’ll be able to accomplish what you need to do and you’ll feel more productive and empowered.

Let go of perfectionism.

You don't need to be perfect this holiday

I love Pinterest, but having happy holidays doesn’t mean that you have to try every Pinterest idea to create that “perfect” holiday experience.

Be kind to yourself.

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 know that you’re human, just like the rest of us.

A good resource to help you in this process is the workbook, Setting Boundaries Without Guilt by Sharon Martin, LCSW.  She writes, when you’re a people pleaser and are always doing for others “you compromise your own needs to make other people happy.”

Counseling can also help you learn how to set healthy boundaries so that you can live your life with more self-confidence and less stress, anxiety and resentment. If you think counseling might be helpful to you call me @410-340-8469 or email me.

Photos courtesy of Ian Schneider and Ellie Lord for Unsplash.com.

Preventing Stress This Holiday Season

Making yourself a priority can be difficult anytime, but it's even harder during the holidays. This week, my post focuses on ways you can take care of yourself while managing the season's craziness. I posted 30-tips to help you make it through New Year's a couple of weeks ago and over the next month I'm breaking it down by topic. Last week’s post provided tips on keeping you organized and your life under control to help you reduce stress and anxiety during the holidays and this week is all about taking care of yourself.

Practice mindfulness

Paying attention to your senses can calm the mind.

When stress overwhelms you, the sights, sounds, smells, tastes and sensations of the season and the holidays can be soothing. I know that frantic shoppers might not seem very calming, but if you take a deep breath and pay full attention to your senses, your body can relax and you might find something to appreciate in all of the craziness.

Allow feelings, even the icky ones

Let yourself feel your feelings, and know they, too, will pass.

Take time to enjoy the holiday

If we’re caught up in all that needs to be done, we forget why we’re celebrating.

Get a good night’s sleep

A good night's sleep reduces stress, is good for your body, and does wonders for your outlook on the day.

Eat healthy

Your body will thank you. Eating junk food can make you feel lethargic, bloated and uncomfortable.

Take time each day for self-care

Taking care of yourself can reduce stress.

Self-care can be as easy as reading for pleasure or taking a walk, just spend some time doing things that nourish your spirit.

Find time to relax

Calming your mind and body can help recharge you for the next task or challenge.

Fit exercise into your to-do list

Burning off that excess energy and stress does wonders for anxiety.

Check in with yourself

When stress and anxiety hits ask yourself, “What do I need in this moment?” and pay attention to those needs. If your body is screaming at you to take a break and relax, then do it!

I hope you have a happy holiday, but 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 for those you’ve lost or help you to process the difficult life experiences that keep you from moving forward. 

If you're wondering whether counseling is for you and you would like to talk about it please reach out. 


Elizabeth Cush, MA, LGPC is a therapist in Annapolis helping adults and adolescents manage their stress and anxiety. She owns and operates Progression Counseling — 410-340-8469.

If you'd like more self-care tips during the holidays check out Laura Reagan's LCSW Therapy Chat Podcast episode #61.

Photos courtesy of Samilla Maioli and Kash Goudarzi for Unsplash.com.

How to Manage Anxiety Through the Holidays

Having anxiety can be tough on any given day, but it can be worse this season. The holidays create the perfect storm that makes you feel buffeted by emotions, overwhelmed by the mounting waves of to-do lists, and wanting to take shelter to avoid all the stress.

I’ve put together a list of things you can do to help you manage your anxiety and stress through the holidays and into the New Year. There are 30 tips, and you don't have to implement them all at once. If the idea of 30 stress reducing tips stresses you out and makes you want to close your browser right now, take a slow, deep breath. Over the next few weeks I will break these down into more manageable chunks, so that you too can enjoy a less stressful, more enjoyable holiday.

30 Tips for Reducing Holiday Stress

stay organized to ease holiday stress

1. Create manageable to-do lists for the day or week. If your to-do list is 50 items long, it’s bound to make you feel more anxious. You want a list that you can actually get done.

2. Organize your to-do lists by location. If you have three stores to visit, try to group your errands so you’re going to places that are near each other.

3. Manage your expectations about how much you can get done each day. Remember, if you’re putting pressure on yourself to get way more done than you realistically can, you’re just adding to your anxiety. Allow yourself to let some things go.

4. Keep your regular sleep habits. Getting a good night’s sleep does wonders for your outlook on the day. It reduces stress and it’s good for your body.

5. Eat healthy. Your body will thank you. Eating junk food can make you feel lethargic, bloated and uncomfortable.

6. Ask for help. You might think your partner, friends or family can read your mind, but it’s not likely! Ask friends and family to help take care of the kids or your dog if you have a long day of working and running errands. Expressing what you need allows others to help out.

7. Let go of perfectionism. I love Pinterest, but having happy holidays doesn’t mean that you have to try every Pinterest idea to create that “perfect” holiday experience.

take care of yourself during the holidays to reduce stress

8. Take time each day for self-care. Self-care can be as easy as taking the time to read for pleasure, just spend some time doing things that nourish your spirit.

9. Find time to relax. Calming your mind and body can help recharge you for the next task or challenge.

10. Budget your money realistically. You don’t want to go into extreme debt trying to create a perfect holiday, only to find you are totally stressed out later because of all the bills.

11. Budget your time. If you put off everything until the last minute, you’re only causing yourself more stress and anxiety.

12. Manage others’ expectations. Promising everyone everything they ask for will only lead to feeling more overwhelmed. Let your family and friends know your limits.

13. Allow yourself to defy tradition. Before you cave in to the pressure of “we’ve always done it that way,” ask yourself if that’s really how you want to do it or if there’s a simpler, less stressful alternative.

14. Say “no.” Saying “no” isn’t easy for many of us. We worry we’ll hurt feelings or make others mad at us, but saying “yes” to everyone usually leads to anxious, overwhelmed, resentful and irritated feelings.

15. Be okay with making some mistakes. Letting perfectionism go can be liberating, but 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.

16. Fit exercise into your to-do list. Burning off that excess energy and stress does wonders for anxiety.

17. Take time to enjoy the holiday. If we’re caught up in all that needs to be done, we forget why we’re celebrating.

Pay attention to your surroundings during holidays

18. Practice mindfulness. The sights, sounds, smells, tastes and sensations of the season and the holidays can be soothing. I know that frantic shoppers might not seem very calming, but if you take a deep breath and pay full attention to your senses, your body can relax and you might find something to appreciate in all of the craziness.

19. Try to de-stress while traveling. If you’re driving, instead of getting angry about the traffic, take the time have a conversation with your traveling companion, or listen to your favorite podcast, audio book or playlist.

20. When you’re stressed, take a moment to breath deeply a few times. Imagine a soothing presence as you breath in, and a letting go of the stress as you breath out.

21. Acknowledge that holidays can be SUPER stressful. Just allowing yourself to feel the frustration, or anger, or whatever it is you’re feeling can be liberating.

22. Manage your negative self-talk. If you find you’re constantly reminding yourself of all the mistakes you’ve made, try a little self-compassion. It goes like this, “Yup, I could have done that better, but it’s OK. I made a mistake but we all do and it’s OK.”

23. Be mindful that every family has issues. And your family’s stuff, whatever it might be, will not disappear just because it’s a holiday.

24. Each day, think of one thing you are grateful for and share it with a friend. Feeling gratitude can improve your mood if you’re feeling down.

25. Get a hug(s) each day. Hugs make us feel more connected with ourselves and others. If you live alone, you can hug yourself!

Hugs can help you feel connected and reduce anxiety

26. Allow feelings, even the icky ones. Let yourself feel your feelings, and know they, too, will pass.

27. Focus on the task in front of you. Worrying about your entire to-do list at once can be paralyzing. As they say, “Eat the elephant one bite at a time.”

28. Communicate with those you love and care for. Telling someone you love them and feeling the love from them can be very nourishing.

29. Before you blow a gasket when stressed or anxious, pause before reacting. Slow down your breathing and think about what you want to say before you say it.

30. Check in with yourself. Ask yourself, “What do I need in this moment?” and pay attention to those needs.

If you feel like you might need some additional support to help you manage your anxiety so you can enjoy the holiday season, please call me at 410-340-8469 or email me.


Photo credits go to Luis Llerna, Toa Heftiba, Cecil Vedemil and Nathan Anderson for Unsplash.com.

Elizabeth Cush, MA, LGPC is an Annapolis, Md counselor who helps high-functioning men and women manage their anxiety and stress. She owns and operates Progression Counseling.

My Struggle With Anxiety

Suffering from anxiety can make you feel alone

This blog post was featured in the November editions of the Severna Park Voice.

Dealing with mental health issues can be hard. You often feel alone, isolated — like no one understands what you’re going through. The reality is, a lot of people struggle. The National Institute of Mental Health reports that in 2014, 18.1 percent of all adults in the United States suffered from some type of mental illness. I thought that I’d share my own experience with anxiety to let you know that you are not alone.

I’ve struggled with anxiety for most of my life. Up until my late 40s, I didn’t call it anxiety. I called it stress, or I’d say I was overwhelmed. So what if the same things got me stressed and overwhelmed, over and over again? Later, as I learned more about anxiety, I understood that those things that made me anxious were called triggers.

Some of my triggers included:

  • Holidays
  • Traveling to unknown places
  • Staying somewhere that wasn’t home
  • When things didn’t go the way I expected
  • When I felt like I was failing, or couldn’t figure something out
  • Unplanned events, like being asked to go somewhere at the last minute
  • Being with a group of people I didn’t know very well
  • Making phone calls

I could probably think of more examples, but you get the idea. When I wasn’t in control, when things weren’t “perfect,” I got anxious. Anxiety presented itself in ways I thought were just a part of my personality. I got really cranky leading up to things that made me anxious, like those listed above. I snapped at my family. I became obsessed with the details — everything had to be “just so” to make me feel somewhat at ease. I avoided situations and events that felt threatening. I’m pretty sure I lost some friends when my kids were little, because I was happier being at home where I could handle any emergency than I was hanging out with them. Later, when the kids were older, I felt uneasy when they weren’t at home. I’d also make my husband call for pizza or answer the phone.

I realize now that anxiety had a greater impact on my life than I was willing to recognize. If someone had asked me examine how anxiety or stress was affecting my day-to-day experiences, I might have gotten help sooner!

Managing Anxiety Day-To-Day

I’ve worked with counselors on and off throughout my life, and it’s been very helpful. (Yes, lots of counselors also get counseling.) These days, my anxiety usually pops up when I have significant transitions in my life. Counseling helped me identify my triggers, so I can start paying attention and begin to relax my body before the anxiety kicks into full gear. In addition to counseling, I also read a lot and learned about anxiety — what causes it, how it presents itself both physically and emotionally, and how to manage it better.

Being aware of the here and now reduces anxiety

Here are some strategies that have helped me manage my anxiety:

  • Using grounding techniques to refocus myself when situations make me anxious
  • Practicing mindful meditations
  • Taking care of myself and recognizing my needs
  • Being more present in the moment instead of worrying about the past or future
  • Practicing self-compassion

My struggle with anxiety pushed me to learn about more about it — the causes, how it shows up in my clients’ lives, and how to help those who grapple with anxiety manage it more effectively. Providing a calm, non-judgmental space for my clients to share their story is the first step.

Managing Anxiety Is An Ongoing Process

Anxiety is a normal response to threats, so it doesn’t just disappear. Different situations will continue to trigger my anxiety, so I have to keep working at managing it. The good news is, I’m more aware of the impact of anxiety when I let it take control, and I recognize what is happening. Now, anxiety no longer rules my life. It’s taken a backseat, where it belongs.

If you’d like help managing your anxiety or stress, call me at 410-339-1979 for a free 15-minute phone consultation.

Photos by Mike Wilson and Averie Woodard from Unsplash.com.


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. 

5 Expert Tips On How To Add Self-Care Into Your Life

Part 3 in a Series: Over-stressed and Overwhelmed — We’re Not Taking Care Of Ourselves

Making self-care a priority isn’t easy — but it’s critical to our well-being. My last two posts offered insights from experts on why self-care is so important and why women seem to struggle with self-care. Several of my colleagues talked about the negative consequences that we can experience if we don’t take care of ourselves. So the question remains: How can we make self-care a part of daily life, without adding stress to our life, or our to-do list? Here’s some suggestions:

Take a moment each day to simply pause and feel peace. In that moment, be aware of the breath, maybe close the eyes, find a smile on the face and feel it in the heart. Just simply pause... and feel peace. — Julie Blamphin, Stretch Your Spirit, Annapolis, Md.

Hugs are good self-care

Hug someone you love — more than once a day, if possible. (Pets count!!) Hugs. They heal. They connect. They remind you what it feels like to receive support. They remind you that you're not alone. They release oxytocin and serotonin: aka The Cuddle Drugs. They make you want to get closer and they make you feel a part of something cozy, and warm, and LOVE. Hugs are the physical manifestation of love. And as a Self Proclaimed LoveGeek, I advocate for more love, always. — Robyn D’Angelo, LMFT, The Happy Couple Expert, Laguna, Calif.

Mindfully check in with yourself, intentionally, at multiple points throughout each day. Use your breath to connect with your inner self and ask, what do I need? Then wait and listen. The first dozen times I did this, I would receive an answer and immediately discount it, thinking, “That can't be it.” But it was! It might be as simple as '” need water” or “I need to go to the bathroom.” It can be surprising to realize how often we simply ignore those basic needs that our body tries to tell us to attend to. — Laura Reagan, LCSW-C, Therapy Chat Podcast, Severna Park, Md.

Listen to music you love for self-care

Pay attention to things you are already doing that could be transformed into self-care. If you are already feeling overwhelmed, do not feel like you have to add more things onto your plate. Rather than wolfing down your lunch at your desk, actually enjoy and savor your food. If you’re in the car, put on music that you love listening to rather than surfing the radio stations getting frustrated. Look for opportunities to connect and enjoy your experiences that are already present. — Agnes Wainman, Ph.D., C. Psych., London Psychological Services, London, Ontario

Incorporate micro self-care into your day. Taking care of yourself doesn’t necessarily mean you have to go on a weekend spa retreat (although that sounds amazing). Micro self-care means adding small, regular habits into your daily routine that allow you to feel re-energized, more balanced and better able to cope with your day. In an article on micro self-care in Psychotherapy Networker, Ashley Davis Bush, points out that a one-minute grounding exercise, such as listening awareness or breath awareness, at the beginning or in the middle of your day can help keep your focus on the here and now, and you’ll worry less about what’s next. — Elizabeth Cush, MA, LGPC, Progression Counseling, Annapolis, Md.


You can also listen to the Therapy Chat Podcast Episode #50 where more therapists share their personal favorite self-care tips.

I hope you’ve found this series on self-care to be helpful. If you’d like some support as you make self-care a greater priority in your life, call me for a free 15-minute phone consultation at 410-340-8469.

Photo by Freestock and Daniela Cuevas, for Unsplash.com


Elizabeth Cush, MA, LGPC is an Annapolis counselor who works to help people manage their stress and anxiety. She owns and operates Progression Counseling in Annapolis, MD.

Why Do Women Struggle With Self-Care?

 Part 2 in a Series: Over-Stressed and Overwhelmed —We're Not Taking Care Of Ourselves

Women don't take time for self-care

Recently, two different female clients told me that they couldn’t fit self-care into their schedule. I think everyone struggles with making self-care a priority, but I also believe that many women make caring for others a priority.  Doing so makes them prime targets for burn-out, added stress, anxiety and feeling overwhelmed. Perhaps it’s because I am a woman, or because I talk to female friends about this more frequently than I do with male friends, but it seems to me that women in particular struggle more than men when making self-care a priority.  For me, when life is crazy, self-care is the first thing that drops from my to-do list.

Is it genetics? Societal factors? Where did we learn that we should care for others before we care for ourselves? In my last post, several colleagues offered their thoughts on the importance of self-care. I asked some of them, and some others, about why women seem to struggle more with self-care.

Experts Offer Perspectives

Julie Blamphin, a registered yoga teacher, and owner of Stretch Your Spirit in Annapolis, MD, says, “We live in a culture that sometimes tells us that if we put Self before all others, it means that we’re narcissistic, egocentric, or downright selfish. So many of us women shy away from shining our light fully bright. We instead focus that light upon caring for others.”

When we put the focus on others instead of ourselves we can lose track of who we are, what our priorities are, and can lead us to feel unfulfilled, or living our life for others. Blamphin says that when we neglect our needs, our energy becomes imbalanced. This imbalance shows up in our life as:

  • Insomnia
  • Anger
  • Illness
  • Addiction
  • Pain
  • Resentment
  • A general sense of grumpiness

Agnes Wainman, Ph.D., C. Psych., of London Psychological Services in London, ON, agrees that our culture’s expectations and perceptions can play a role in women’s priorities. She says, “Women are often expected to take care of others and to put their own needs below others. Self-care is often seen as being selfish or indulgent. We often think of self-care as extravagant — like weekends at the spa. We may feel guilty for taking time for ourselves.”

Neglect of emotional needs can lead to anxiety

Laura Reagan, LCSW-C , a Severna Park, MD therapist, and creator/host of the Therapy Chat podcast, agrees that our culture plays a big role in our quest to put others’ needs before our own, but believes that other factors also impact how we care for ourselves. “If we grew up receiving praise for being quiet, nice, responsible and helping around the house, we associate those behaviors with being ‘a good girl.’ If no one attended to our emotional needs we learned to ignore them as well,” she says. “The problem is, if our own emotional needs were neglected by our caregivers in childhood and we continue to ignore our own emotional and physical needs in adulthood by neglecting our own self care, we are re-enacting the neglect we experienced in childhood. This eventually catches up with us, either with our bodies shutting down or having an emotional breakdown — what many people call a ‘midlife crisis’. 

We certainly want to avoid the dissatisfaction, the physical symptoms and the behaviors that accompany self-neglect.  

So how can we make self-care a part of our daily life, without adding to our stress, or our to-do list?

My next post will offer five tips for making self-care easier. In the meantime, if you’d like help reducing stress and making self-care a greater priority in your life, call me for a free 15-minute consultation at 410-340-8469!


Elizabeth Cush, MA, LGPC is an Annapolis counselor who works to help people manage their stress and anxiety. She owns and operates Progression Counseling in Annapolis, MD.

Photos by Benjamin Child and Alex Hockett for Unsplash.com

Over-Stressed and Overwhelmed — We're Not Taking Care Of Ourselves

Why Is Self Care So Hard?

Part 1 in a Series: Over-Stressed and Overwhelmed: We’re Not Taking Care of Ourselves

Recently, my husband and I were both ill — fortunately, not at the same time. When he became ill, I took time off from work, without thinking twice. I rescheduled my clients. I kept him company while he was in the hospital, and I brought him take-out food so he didn’t have to eat the gross food from the cafeteria.

Stress and overwhelm when we don't use self-care

After he was discharged from the hospital, I got sick. I had stomach pains that kept me up all night and lasted for three days. It was hard to eat, my body ached, I was exhausted, and I felt terrible.

If someone had asked me what I’d do if I got sick, I’m sure I would say, “I’d take time off to care for myself.” But that’s not what I did. I went to work! I suffered through the first two days, feeling miserable. I’m sure I wasn’t doing anyone any favors by being there and feeling terrible.

Only after I’d struggled through the week, and gone to see my doctor, did I ask myself why I didn’t take better care of myself. How is it I that can tell my clients how important self-care is, yet I can’t stay home when I’m sick?

I talked to a friend who offered her own example. She noted that her intentions were always good, and at times she made self-care a priority. For her, that meant doing yoga every day. But as life her got busier, more stressful and overwhelming, her daily yoga became weekly yoga, and now she said she struggles to fit that in. 

Why do we find it so hard to care for ourselves? Why, when we need it the most — when we’re stressed, burdened and overwhelmed — does self-care go to the bottom of the list, particularly for so many women? I struggled to answer these questions, so I asked a few therapists and healers for their thoughts. This is the first in a series of posts with their insights into the importance of self-care, why women struggle with self-care and how to take better care of ourselves.

Why Is Self-Care Important?

Take time for yourself

When asked about the benefits of self-care, more than person has said to me, ‘They tell you to put on your oxygen own mask before helping the person next to you for a reason.”  If we aren’t caring for ourselves then what good are we to the people in our lives whom we care about?

Read what my colleagues have to say about why self-care matters so much:

“Self Care is important to me because I don't do it enough and I really hate the consequence of that. As a helper, healer, and hopeful - I am wired to support, give to and guide others. Which means, all that giving does two things:

  1. Leaves little or no room for receiving
  2. Reminds me of my purpose

These two things don't sound astronomically horrible, but as a woman, I struggle to hold space for both. I try and remind myself that setting myself on fire just to provide light to others is not the best way to live.”

Robyn D’Angelo, LMFTThe Happy Couple ExpertLaguna, CA,

“I used to think self-care was important because I can't be a good wife and mother if I am not taking care of myself. Now I realize that I deserve to have my own needs met just so I can be a healthy and happy human being, aside from my roles of caretaking for others as a mother, wife and therapist. I am worthy of love and attention just simply because I'm alive, and I have needs that must be met so I can function.”

Laura Reagan, LCSW-C, Therapy Chat Severna Park, MD

“Self-care is an activity or practice that gives to us rather than takes from us. It may give us a time to rest, a time to connect with ourselves, a time to invest in our own physical and emotional well-being. Self-care is the fuel for our coping tank.”

Agnes Wainman, Ph.D., C. Psych., London Psychological Services, London, Ontario

My next post will examine why women seem to have a hard time making self-care a priority. If you’d like help managing your stress and making self-care a greater priority in your life, call me for a free 15-minute consultation at 410-340-8469.


Elizabeth Cush, MA, LGPC is an Annapolis Counselor who works to help people manage their stress and anxiety. She owns and operates Progression Counseling in Annapolis.

Photos by: Elizabeth Lies & Drew Coffman- unsplash.com