stress

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

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

man on cell.jpg

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

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

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

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

Planning every perfect moment, until…

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

make a list.jpg

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

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

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

Facing the feelings is the way to go

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

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

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


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

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

Sleepless On Sunday Nights

Sunday Scaries

Sunday Scaries

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

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

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

Why Does Anxiety Make It Hard To Sleep?

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

Anxiety can make it hard to sleep

Anxiety can make it hard to sleep

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

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

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

Get Curious About Your Stress

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

 

Journaling can help

Journaling can help

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

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

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

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

 

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

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


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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why Do We Get Anxiety?

Many of the clients I see in my Annapolis, Md., counseling office suffer from anxiety, stress and feelings of being overwhelmed. Anxiety often slips slowly into lives, and it’s not always easy to recognize. I like working with clients who have anxiety because I know what it’s like to experience anxiety, and I realize the impact that it has on me. I also know that there’s hope. You can learn ways to manage anxiety that allow you to feel more in control.

When Anxiety Shows Up

Anxiety shows up in different ways. The most common form is called “generalized anxiety”—that is, you feel anxious about lots of things throughout your day. You might even have an anxiety attack occasionally, where you feel extremely anxious and experience intense physical symptoms.

Anxiety is a response to a perceived threat

Anxiety is a response to a perceived threat

Anxiety is a response to a perceived threat. When you’re anxious, it’s because a situation or event makes you feel uncomfortable, out of control or unsafe. Sometimes these uncomfortable feelings are unconscious and below the surface. Then, the anxiety bubbles up and you don’t have a clear understanding of why. That’s scary and leaves you feeling like you have very little control.

When you feel unsafe—and this might be an unconscious feeling—your body automatically responds as if there’s danger. We are hard-wired to ready ourselves for a fight, to flee or to freeze when we perceive that we’re in a dangerous, potentially lethal situation. This hard-wired response stems from our primal beginnings, when we had to fight off dangerous animals for survival. Today, the danger may be real, or it could just be that something triggered a memory of a previously dangerous time, but our body doesn’t know the difference!

Physical Symptoms Of Anxiety

When you perceive danger, your body jumps right in all on its own. Your brain releases chemical messengers that signal your body to be afraid and ready it to fight or flee. But that’s not all; they affect your heart, lungs, skin and internal bodily functions, too.

  • Your heart rate can increase.
  • You might breathe faster and shallower.
  • Your might skin get hot or tingle.
  • Your mouth and throat get dry.
  • You might have trouble swallowing.
  • You could get a stomachache, or feel nauseous. 

You can find out more about your body’s stress and anxiety responses in this New York Times article on Stress and Anxiety, The Body’s Response.

When Anxious Feelings Stick Around

For many people, anxiety comes and goes. But if you’ve had a lot of very stressful, very difficult experiences in your life, and you weren’t given the opportunity to process them, which can help relieve the stress, then you’re probably carrying anxiety with you all the time.

Anxiety’s Impact On Your Life

When anxiety is a constant companion, your body is living under stress most of the time. You might become used to living this way, but it takes a toll on your physical health, your mental health, your relationships and your interactions with your environment.

Some signs that anxiety might be ruling your life:

  • You’re easily startled.
  • Your startle response is out of proportion to the trigger. For example, you scream when someone touches you unexpectedly.
  • You often avoid people or situations because of uncomfortable feelings.
  • Stepping outside your comfort zone leaves you feeling overwhelmed and exhausted.
  • You experience anxiety attacks.
  • You worry all the time.
  • Your worries keep you up at night.

I know what it’s like to live with anxiety when it takes control of your life. It affected my sleep, my digestion and my relationships with friends and family. If I hadn’t gotten the help I needed, it might still be ruling my life.

How Anxiety Affects Relationships

You might isolate yourself when anxiety shows up

You might isolate yourself when anxiety shows up

As I mentioned above, anxiety can affect the quality of your relationships. It can make you irritable, and you might snap at your partner, children or friends for reasons that are not apparent to them, or even to you. You might isolate yourself because of your worries about stepping outside your comfort zone. You might be depressed with little motivation for new activities, because that little voice inside your head is whispering negative comments to you about your worth or abilities. Or you might think that there’s something wrong with you or that you’re damaged and can never be “normal.”

Whatever the impact, you can do things to move anxiety to the passenger’s seat!

5 Steps That Help You Manage Anxiety

  1. Recognize that anxiety often stems from fear. Try to go a little deeper to figure out what triggered your fear. If the fear seems unreasonable, as if it came from nowhere, or it stems from you feeling a lack of control, gently remind yourself that your body thinks this is a life-threatening situation, but you’re safe right here, right now.
  2. Learn and practice relaxation and grounding skills. Meditation, mindful awareness, deep breathing, taking a bath, hugging someone close to you, mindfully patting your dog or cat, or taking a walk in nature al all great options. Find what works for you, or try a combination of things. Sometimes just changing it up makes all of the difference.
  3. Exercise regularly. I can’t say enough about exercising regularly to help manage anxiety. Exercise releases the body’s  “make-you-feel-good” chemicals. According to the Anxiety And Depression Association (ADAA), “Scientists have found that regular participation in aerobic exercise has been shown to decrease overall levels of tension, elevate and stabilize mood, improve sleep, and improve self-esteem. About five minutes of aerobic exercise can begin to stimulate anti-anxiety effects.” Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? You can find out more about exercise and anxiety here on the ADAA website. If you can’t do vigorous exercise, then take a 20-minute walk and try to be present with the environment.
  4. Create regular sleep habits. Getting a good night’s sleep is another great way to combat anxiety. If you aren’t sleeping well, your body doesn’t have a chance to reset and relax. So, you wake up already stressed from the day or night before. The, if you add the additional stressors of the new day, you can get very anxious very quickly.
  5. Eat a healthy diet. A healthy body works better and more efficiently, and the proper nutrition can help stimulate the body’s natural stress responses.

Individual and group counseling can also help because it gives you a safe place to process and difficult life events. It’s a space where you’re heard and seen without judgment, and it can give you hope when it might feel like there’s none. If you are struggling and you think counseling might help you manage your anxiety, call or email me and we can talk about it.

Want to know more? I have a few articles about anxiety, its causes and things you can do to help yourself on my blog and on my podcast Woman Worriers.

New support groups for women with anxiety are forming now and begin at the end of March! You can learn more here.


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

Photo by Els Fattah on  Photo by Els Fattah 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 Is Feeling Flawed Holding You Back From Being Your True Self?

Many of my clients come to me because they experience a lot of stress and anxiety and want help learning how to manage it more effectively. As therapy progresses, it becomes evident that the deeply held feelings they have about themselves create or trigger their anxiety.

Uncovering these self-perceptions often takes time because they’re usually unconscious, only showing themselves when the anxiety starts to ramp up. As we work together, those buried beliefs begin to appear.

Some of the common themes that I hear from my clients include:

The fatal flaw is just a feeling

The fatal flaw is just a feeling

  • I am not enough.
  • I will always disappoint those who care about me.
  • I am unlovable.
  • There’s something in me that’s broken or flawed.
  • If they knew the real me, they wouldn’t like me.
  • Others will never see me for who I really am.

If You Feel Flawed, You’re Not Alone

My clients are often surprised when I tell them that their experience is not unique. Many of my clients hold similar beliefs about themselves.

In fact, at times in my life I’ve struggled with feeling deeply flawed as well. I used to tell myself that there was something wrong with me. I thought it explained why I had difficulty creating meaningful connections with the people in my life.

Feeling this way can cause a lot of pain. My clients tell me they believe that feeling broken or flawed is just who they are, and that it’s unlikely to ever change. That leaves them feeling sad, lonely and different from others. Therapy helps them better understand what occurred in their life to make them feel that way, and then we work on incorporating strategies in daily life to help them connect to more deeply with their true selves.

How To Handle The Feeling Of Being Flawed

In an article that Dr. Jonice Webb shared with me for this blog, she describes this experience as The Fatal Flaw. She describes “The Fatal Flaw: A deep-seated feeling that something is wrong with you. You are missing something that other people have. You are living life on the outside, looking in. You don’t quite fit in anywhere.”

Dr. Webb shares that “The Fatal Flaw is just a feeling.” In order to manage the feeling, we have to take charge. Here are some steps you can take that can help:

Talking about your feelings can help

Talking about your feelings can help

  • Notice when The Fatal Flaw shows up.
  • Name the feeling when it happens.
  • Talk about it with others. (This can be the hardest part but you might find that others feel the same way.)
  • Be compassionate with yourself when you feel flawed, different or damaged.
  • Seek therapy to help you begin to get more in touch with all of your feelings. Listening and understanding what you’re feeling and why helps to create a deeper connection with yourself. That connection with your self can lessen and often rid you of that fatally flawed feeling.

What I’ve learned in my own work and working with my clients is that learning to name, trust and truly feel your feelings helps you to feel more connected with your Self. If you’re constantly pushing away, ignoring or avoiding your feelings and thoughts, you’re never getting in touch with you, all of you — the good and the bad, the scared and the lonely, the excited or elated, the angry and the hurt — all of your beautifully imperfect parts.


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 Naqi Shahid and  Eye for Ebony 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

 

Staying Mindful Through The Holidays

Struggling With Holiday Stress

Struggling with holiday stress

Struggling with holiday stress

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

Mindfulness Can Help

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

Practice mindful awareness.

Practice mindful awareness

Practice mindful awareness

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

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

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

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

Practice feeling gratitude.

Practice feeling gratitude

Practice feeling gratitude

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

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

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

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


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

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

3 Simple Breathing Techniques For Stressful Times

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

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

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

Paying mindful attention to your breath can be calming

Paying mindful attention to your breath can be calming

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

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

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

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

Deep belly breathing can be done wherever you are

Deep belly breathing can be done wherever you are

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

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

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


Photo by Ian KeefeAndre Hunter on Unsplash

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

 

 

 

Have A Happy (Mindful) Halloween!

Pay attention to what you see and hear this Halowwen

Pay attention to what you see and hear this Halowwen

Halloween has become a holiday of give me more, bigger, best — more candy, the biggest outdoor decorations, the best costume. If you’d like to make the event more meaningful here are three ways to bring more mindfulness to your Halloween day/evening.

  1. As you move through your day notice the fall colors on the trees, pumpkin patches, and decorations. Are there different shades and intensities of the orange, yellow and brown colors?
  2. If you have kids and they’re going out trick-or-treating take a few moments to stop and really pay attention to them. Are they excited, nervous, or anxious? Ask your children to pause with you and take a moment for a few deep breaths before they run out the door. This will help calm your nerves and theirs!
  3. When outside bring your attention to the sounds you hear, without lingering on one sound. Just allow the sounds to come and go into your awareness. Maybe you hear leaves crunching under your feet, or the sound of the wind or rain. You might hear the cars driving by, or if you live in a city you might hear fire engines or police sirens.

I hope you have a happy, safe Halloween!


Elizabeth Cush, LCPC is a therapist and the owner of Progression Counseling in Annapolis, Md. She helps busy, overwhelmed men and women manage their anxiety and stress so they can live their lives with more ease, contentment and purpose. If you'd like to know more about how individual and group therapy can help ease anxiety and stress call me 410-340-8469. 

New Mindfulness Groups beginning in January, 2018. Email me if you'd like to know more!

Photo by Cala on Unsplash

Mindfulness In Times Of Uncertainty

This week Daniela Paolone guest blogs about using mindfulness when things in the world are feeling unsettled and uncertain. She is the owner of Westlake Village Counseling and she helps those with anxiety, chronic pain, chronic illness, and medical trauma find new ways of coping so that they can live their best lives. Daniela uses an integrative and holistic approach that helps clients feel both empowered and informed.  The approaches used are influenced by her experience as a person living with chronic pain and illness. You can read more about her practice, and how to follow her on social media at the end of the blog.


There has been so much going on in our world lately that it can leave us feeling worried and uncertain.  We may find it hard right now to stay focused on our day-to-day tasks because we keep getting flooded with new information regarding world events.

So what are we to do when we are feeling this way?

Perhaps in these moments we need to allow ourselves to feel what we feel.  Giving ourselves permission to express our emotions can help us to better cope and move onto a path of healing and recovery.

1. Active Meditation

This approach also happens to be a mindfulness practice. 

Bring attention to one activity

Bring attention to one activity

During hard times, thoughts and concerns can show up in a person’s mind that can be overwhelming.  However, when bringing attention to only one concern, the mind and body redirect their attention to that single thought.  When this happens, the mind and body begin to slow down and become more calm.

The advantages of mindfulness practices is that they can allow us to gain greater self-awareness and focus on what matters most. Putting these thoughts into perspective helps to quiet down all the noise and distractions. This then can lead to experiencing life with less overwhelm and distress.

2.  Dial Back On The News And Social Media

Feeling the need to stay up-to-date on world events can oftentimes leave us feeling stressed.  The constant information overload tends to turn on our stress response which then can be difficult to turn off.

Thinking back to the last time you watched the news, how did it make you feel? Did you feel drained and unwell afterwards?

If that has been your experience, please know you are not alone.  The truth is, is that the brain is designed to only handle so much information at a time.  When that time goes on indefinitely, the mind becomes overstimulated.  It can also be difficult for the mind to get back into a relaxed state even after you have stopped watching the news.

Take time away from the news and social media

Take time away from the news and social media

So if you reduce the amount spent with these activities, you may notice a shift in how you feel.  Do you observe a change in your breathing?  Do your thoughts become more clear? Are you feeling more grounded and present in your current surroundings?  Is it easier now to stay on task?

3.  Breathwork

Breathwork is another way to cope when feeling overwhelmed by current events.  When there is significant loss and devastation happening in the world, it is easy to feel powerless.  However a breathing practice is another way where we can work towards feeling more calm and in control.  

With a regular breathwork practice, the mind and body are learning how to slow down and both mentally and physically.  This is because you are directing your attention to the breath.  Moving from a state of trying to multitask, to instead focusing on one action, is what mindfulness is all about.

meditate.jpg

Breathwork serves as a great mindfulness practice because it reminds us about what we can control.  This can be such a welcome experience when we are going through difficult times.  Sometimes we need the reminder that there are aspects within us that we do have a say in.  Aspects such as how we are breathing, where we are sitting, and what activity we are taking part in.

There are a variety of breathing exercises, but the one I am sharing here is one that really seems to resonate with others. This exercise combines breathing techniques with visualizations.  So below, I put together a sample of a mindfulness script that I use both personally and with clients.

Sample Breathing Mindfulness Exercise

When in a seated position, I want you to have your feet planted firmly on the ground and your hands resting comfortably on your lap.  As you get comfortable in this seated position, you make small adjustments in your body to make sure you feel comfortable and well supported.  Once you find that comfortable position, you gently close your eyes and start practicing deep belly breathing.

As you inhale, you breathe in through your nose, and on the exhale, you open your mouth into a relaxed position and let the air go freely.  When on the inhale, you visualize your belly expanding out like a balloon, and on the exhale, that balloon becomes smaller.  As you continue to breathe in and out, you find a comfortable pace for each inhale in and exhale out.  With each breath, you start to feel your muscles relax because more and more oxygen is getting into you muscles.  You feel your body settle in more deeply and you continue to relax.

When you feel ready, you add in a thought on the inhale that you are breathing in calm, healing energy.  On the exhale, you visualize that you are breathing out your worries and concerns.  The more and more you breathe in and out, you continue to feel those worries leave your body. You begin to notice how you feel within, and observe it with curiosity. Your mind and body are also taking in all the healing and calming energy with every inhale, leaving you with the sensation of inner calm and peace.

You continue this breathing for a few more minutes in silence, and when you feel ready, begin to wiggle your toes and fingers.  Slowly open your eyes and look around the room, taking in what you see, hear, feel, smell and taste.   You are getting your mind and body back to where you are now.  You may feel like getting up and walking around to take note of what you see and hear.  Stretching and moving your body help you to orient yourself to where you are now.  Once you feel connected and present with the here and now, you notice how you feel physically.  You may feel more relaxed while also feeling energized and refreshed to continue on with your day.

Final Thoughts

While what is happening in the world may bring up feelings of instability and concern, there will always be aspects of life that remind us that we do know how to manage these worries so that they do not get the best of us. In the end, we get to have a say in many aspects of life.  How we set that up each day and implement it can make a big impact in how we feel each and every day.  We have the ability to reign in the distress by using mindfulness practices so that we can live our life on our own terms.  Small changes can lead to bigger shifts for the better to keep you grounded when upsetting world events takes place.


Daniela utilizes mindfulness based techniques, such as Emotional Freedom Technique, guided imagery and more. She helps them develop a new relationship with themselves.  As the body changes over time due to illness, which can be a difficult transition, Daniela honors where the client is in this process and helps them to become more in-tune with their body. She explores their emotions as different thoughts come to the surface.  

Daniela provides in-person and online counseling for California residents looking for more support.  You can find her offering free presentations in Southern California where she talks about pain management, the stress and pain connection, alternative techniques for improved sleep and more.  To find out where she is presenting next, or to learn more about her work and offerings, you can sign up for her monthly email newsletter here.

Daniela can be found on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn and Instagram

 


Elizabeth Cush, LCPC is a therapist and the owner of Progression Counseling in Annapolis, Md. She helps busy, overwhelmed men and women manage their anxiety and stress so they can live their lives with more ease, contentment and purpose. If you'd like to know more about how individual and group therapy can help ease anxiety and stress call me 410-340-8469. 

New Mindfulness Groups beginning in January, 2018. Email me if you'd like to know more!

Photos by Cassie Boca and Annie Spratt and  Aubin A Sadiki on Unsplash

 

Five Journaling Tips For When Anxiety Takes Control

When Your Anxiety Feels Like A Runaway Train

Anxiety can feel like we're on a runaway train

Anxiety can feel like we're on a runaway train

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

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

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

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

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

Creating New Habits Through Mindful Journaling

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

Journaling can help you idendtify what's making you anxious

Journaling can help you idendtify what's making you anxious

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

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

Here are some journaling prompts to get you started:

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

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


Elizabeth Cush, LCPC is a therapist and the owner of Progression Counseling in Annapolis, Md. She helps busy, overwhelmed men and women manage their anxiety and stress so they can live their lives with more ease, contentment and purpose. If you'd like to know more about how individual and group therapy can help ease anxiety and stress call me 410-340-8469.

Photo by Amine Rock Hoovr and Milos Tonchevski on Unsplash

 

Why Women Are More Likely Than Men To Be Anxious

Women are 2x more likely than men to experience anxiety

Women are 2x more likely than men to experience anxiety

I recently applied and was accepted as an expert contributor for Good Therapy. Good Therapy is a therapist directory, much like Psychology Today. They also have lots of great content and resources, like posts for particular populations or psychological issues. I’ll be writing about women and anxiety.

My first post discusses why women are twice as likely as men to experience anxiety. The human body is wired to respond with anxiety when it senses a threat. Here are some of the factors that make women more likely to be anxious than men:

https://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/is-she-more-anxious-than-he-is-probably-heres-why-0912174    

I would love to know your thoughts! You can leave a comment below or on the blog at Goodtherapy.com.

I'm also explore this topic in my podcast, Woman Worriers.


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

Photo by Sydney Jackson on Unsplash

 

 

 

Overcoming Feelings of Guilt

Guilty feelings are so much a part of our lives that we take little notice. They show up when we’re feeling like an issue or problem is our fault, or when we’re neglecting things we “should” be doing or “should” have done. Sometimes guilty feelings can prompt us to do things we might not feel like doing. They push us to be pro-social, reaching out to grandparents, parents, partners or friends because we feel we “should,” and we know we’ll feel guilty if we don’t. In these instances, guilty feelings can have a positive effect on our relationships.

Feeling Guilty and Anxious For Things You Can’t Control

But, much of the time the guilty feelings aren’t based on facts or the reality of the situation. They’re often formulated around things we have little control over. They arise when we worry about the way things might be different if only we’d done X, Y or Z. Worrying about the “what-ifs” or “if-onlys” creates guilty, anxious feelings because a part of us believes that maybe we’re the reason things went wrong.

feeling guilty can increase anxiety

feeling guilty can increase anxiety

When guilt creeps in, it can stop you from moving forward and from really connecting with what’s happening inside you. Guilt can leave you feeling incompetent, not good enough or even worse — that you’re worthless; reinforcing what your internal critic tells you all the time. Then your anxiety and depression increase, throwing you for a loop.

The question is, do we really have that much control over the randomness of life? Is it really our fault when bad things happen? Maybe we can start paying closer attention to those times when we’re feeling guilty and be curious about how much control we really have.

Why Mindfulness Is Helpful

Being more mindful can help slow things down. It can make you more aware of how your body reacts to your stress and guilty feelings. It can help you to be curious about what you’re telling yourself when you’re feeling guilty. Being mindful of our emotions can help us identify what we’re feeling and what triggered those feelings. Then you can work toward offering yourself some compassion. Here’s an example from my own life:

My son was leaving our home to go back to his. About an hour after he left, he called to say his car was acting strangely. My husband and I both spoke to him, offering advice, and he continued on his way. Not long after, he called again to say the car had broken down in the middle of a huge freeway, and he was stuck inside it in the middle of traffic. We were panicked, to put it mildly! My husband and I helped him through the crisis. He and the car survived, but it was a harrowing experience.

Afterward I experienced a few moments of worry over how we could have done things differently. I felt a little guilty about things I didn’t say but wished I had. The feelings weren’t strongly present, and I went to bed feeling relieved that my son was safe. I awoke in the middle of the night with my heart pounding. I couldn’t fall back to sleep, because the thoughts of what I “should” have done were circling my brain, leaving me feeling stressed, anxious and guilty as hell. I was telling myself that if only I’d only done X, Y and Z, everything would’ve been different. The car wouldn’t have broken down and all the stress would’ve been avoided.

Now that I see my feelings put down in writing, my thoughts seem pretty ridiculous and grandiose. As if I have that much power over the universe! But in the moment, my responsibility in the crisis felt very real.

Mindful Attention

Mindful journaling can clarify your thoughts.

Mindful journaling can clarify your thoughts.

I was able to go back to sleep after using some mindful deep breathing to calm myself, but the next day the feelings returned. So I slowed things down, I sat with my uncomfortable feelings and, using mindful journaling, I curiously explored what was happening for me in that moment. Here are a few things I discovered:

  • I felt like I had a tight ball of cold energy in my stomach.
  • My mind kept rehearsing the things I wished I’d said.
  • The thoughts weren’t only about the car and his safety. I’d moved into “this proves I’m not a good mom.” And that touched my core.

Paying mindful attention to my physical and emotional reactions allowed me recognize what was going on as I sat with those difficult feelings. I placed a hand on my stomach where I stored the tension. I took some slow deep breaths and then offered myself some compassion. And I felt better! I was no longer obsessing about the “what-ifs” and “if-onlys.” I was able to recognize that, although the situation made me have thoughts about being a bad mom, I could be compassionate about how hard I was being on myself and I could reinforce my self-worth. The tension released, and I slept like a baby the next night.

Practicing Mindfulness

Would you like to learn how to:

  • Slow things down?
  • Be more curious about your experience?
  • Practice more self-compassion?
  • Identify and understand your feelings?
  • Be more present in the moment?

Mindfulness groups will be starting this Fall. If you’re interested in learning more, please reach out so we can get started!


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

Photo by Nik Shuliahin and Green Chameleon on Unsplash

Breaking From Your Routine: Why and How

Discomfort From Anxiety- Part 2

Change can create discomfort

Change can create discomfort

In my last post, When Discomfort From Anxiety Creates Resistance,  I discussed how change can leave your mind and body feeling threatened, even when you consciously want to change (or make changes). I noted that the perception of a potential threat is often unconscious, and the reaction to it can happen so quickly that it escapes our awareness.

By way of example, I shared how the suggestion of riding bikes at a time when you routinely did other things might make you react from that place where you feel challenged or threatened. Reacting when you feel threatened might stop you from doing things differently, even when you’re the one who wants to make changes.

I recently read a passage from Mark Nepos The Book Of Awakening, Having the Life You Want by Being Present to the Life You Have, that I think speaks to the benefits of stepping out of your routine into the uncomfortable waters of change:

“Risk opens safety. It doesn’t shut it down. Only through the risk to open can we inhabit and receive the strength and fullness of what is whole.”

In other words, if we don’t try new things, if we keep our routines in place because they make us feel “safe,” we stop ourselves from fully engaging in our lives. If we don’t take the risk, we won’t live our life to the fullest, and we won’t heal the parts of us that are afraid of change.

How To Embrace Your Uncomfortable Feelings

So, how can we slow things down so we don’t react before we think it through? Mindful awareness. When we begin to recognize that potential changes might trigger a threat response, we can slow things down in the moment. Our body will still react to the perceived threat, but we can choose to take a moment to feel the reaction. We can identify what happened, own it and say it out loud (or in your head, if you’re within earshot of a bunch of people).

First take a slow, intentional, deep breath. Then, using the example from the last post, you might say to yourself, “Wow, just the suggestion of riding bikes Sunday morning makes me super stressed out. It makes me feel like my whole day will be turned upside down and I won’t get anything done.” Sometimes, naming and allowing your feelings in the moment is enough to bring your mind and body back to a calmer state.

If you’re still distressed after being with your feelings, you might need to explore and get a little more curious. In these moments, it might be that the suggestion of doing things differently is triggering a distant memory, what we therapists call an implicit memory. Implicit memories bring your brain and body back in time to a place where things might have been very stressful or to a place where you didn’t feel safe. If you want to know more about implicit memories, you can read about them in my blog post, 3 Grounding Techniques To Help you Manage Anxiety.

How To Get Curious About Your Anxiety

When we feel extremely anxious, sometimes it’s hard to get to a place where we can be curious. That’s because our brain is registering a threat. It wants us to react quickly, so we need to slow things down, to get more grounded and get back to the present moment. Here’s a video that leads you through three different grounding techniques.

The idea behind grounding is to bring the more conscious, problem-solving, curious part of your brain, the prefrontal cortex, back online. It gets kicked offline when our brain senses or perceives a threat. I italicized the word “perceives” because the threat might not actually be an unsafe situation, but our brain associates similar situations in similar ways and reacts as if the threat were real. By bringing the more conscious parts of our brain back online, we can then assess the true threat level.

5 Steps To Deactivate Your Stressed Brain And Get Curious

Slow things down

Slow things down

1.     Take a few slow, deliberate, deep breaths. You can count to help you really slow things down. Inhale for the count of 4, hold for 4, exhale for 4, pause for 4. Do this a few times.

2.     Notice the sensations in your body, whatever they are. Name what you’re feeling. “My head is pounding. I have an ache in my chest.” Put whatever you’re feeling into words.

3.     Now get curious. Ask yourself what feeling word or phrase you associate with your bodily experience. You might ask yourself:

a.     What am I worried about? Am I afraid of something? Take some time and pay attention to what surfaces.

b.     Can I name the feeling?  Does this feeling bring up any memories of occasions when I might have felt the same way? Again, take some time to listen and allow the feelings and sensations to arise and present themselves.

c.      What is my body telling me right now? Give yourself permission to hear whatever it might be.

4.     Be compassionate toward yourself and toward the feelings that arise. You can offer some kind words to the parts of you that are fearful. Placing your hand on your heart and acknowledging your fears in a compassionate, loving way can help ease the anxiety.

5.     Acknowledge that different isn’t always bad. Remind yourself that the discomfort you’re feeling might just be your brain believing that you’re doing something dangerous, and it’s prompted by your perception of the situation. Tell yourself, “Sometimes doing things a different way, or trying new things can feel uncomfortable, and that’s OK.”

Practicing Mindfulness Can Help

Sometimes it’s difficult follow these steps in the moment. I get it. When we’re totally stressed out, it’s hard to slow down and be mindful of our feelings. That’s why they call it a mindfulness practice; it takes doing it again and again for it to become a habit. And the good news — you can go through the above steps after the event. It’s just as helpful, and initially a lot easier, to take yourself back through the event at a later time, to feel the feelings once the perception of threat has passed. Not only does the distance from the event give you a different perspective, but also you’re less reactive, so you might find it’s easier to get curious about your emotional state.

New mindfulness practice groups will be starting this Fall. Please send me a message if you’d like information about them.  You'll learn how to bring more mindfulness into your life to help you better manage your anxiety.


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

Photo by Avi Richards and Cristian Newman on Unsplash

 

 

 

 

 

Exploring Women’s Anxiety — And My Own

Women and Anxiety.jpg

My Anxieties

I had the honor and pleasure of being interviewed by Lourdes Viado for her Women In Depth podcast. I was very nervous going into the interview. Because I‘ve struggled from anxiety, I wanted to be sure I was doing justice to the topic of women and anxiety and providing helpful, accurate information on the subject. Of course, because of my anxiety, I had TONS of self-doubt about my ability to do this!  But Lourdes is an accomplished interviewer, and she made it easy.  During the recording session, it felt more like a conversation than an interview. I hope it sounds that way to you, too.

 

I was relaxed and felt very comfortable during the process, and right after I felt really good about how well it went. But the next day I got cold feet and offered to do the whole thing over again. I was sure I could have done a better job (Oh, anxiety!).  My anxiety snuck up on me without much warning. Although, in the moment I attributed my discomfort to the interview it was really about the exposure, and putting myself out to the world in a new and different way that made me uncomfortable. Lourdes reassured me that it was great and that I had no need to worry! And she was right the podcast came out amazingly well. I’m so proud of our conversation!

 

 

Women and Anxiety

In the interview, I share why I was drawn to this work — because of my own personal journey with anxiety. We discuss how anxiety can show up, including the physical and emotional symptoms. We also explore the cultural, familial and environmental factors that make women 50 percent more likely than men to struggle with anxiety. We dive deep into how anxiety can affect women over the course of their lives and how mindfulness, meditation and self-compassion can help reduce anxiety and make it more manageable.

 

If you haven’t heard the Women In Depth podcast before, I hope you’ll become a fan after listening. In her podcast, Lourdes goes deep into the issues women struggle with, including motherhood, aging, loss, authenticity and self-acceptance.

 

Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.


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.

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.

When Standing Up For Yourself Gets You Down

Why is it so hard to say "no"?

Why is it so hard to say "no"?

Why is it so hard to say “no”? Why is it that asking for what we want or we need makes us anxious and stressed out? I know I’ve struggled with speaking up for myself. If you’ve had a hard time expressing yourself, here are some of the kinds of thoughts that might be standing in your way: 

  • “They won’t agree with me.”
  • “It doesn’t really mater what I want.”
  • “As long as everyone else is happy, I’m OK.”
  • “I can always do what I want another time.”
  • “I don’t want to seem selfish.”
  • “I don’t want to be a burden.”
  • “I’ll just go with the flow.”

Putting yourself out there can be very difficult, especially if you’re used to going along with others instead of expressing yourself. It might seem easier to keep quiet instead of speaking up, but being able to say, “No thanks, I can’t help you move next weekend,” or “I don’t really like Indian food. Can we eat somewhere else?” or “Sorry, I can’t watch your dog,” can be very liberating!

If you find you’re always deferring to others, or helping out when you don’t really want to, you might be feeling:

  • Resentful
  • Angry
  • Anxious
  • Taken for granted
  • Guilty

Steps To Help Understand What You Want

  1. When someone asks for your opinion about where to go or what to do, or if they’re asking a for a favor, and you’re feeling stuck or uncomfortable about speaking up, ask to have some time to think about it.
  2. Sit with the request and ask yourself, “What’s coming up for me right now?” Do you feel obligated? Are you afraid you might make the wrong choice? Are you feeling burdened? Would you like to say “no,” but are worried they’ll be mad at you?
  3. Whatever it is you’re feeling, it’s OK. Sit with it, acknowledge it and welcome the feelings.
  4. Once you’ve acknowledged how you feel, repeat the request to yourself. Now you can weigh it with more clarity.
  5. If you find that you really don’t want to do the favor, or that you’d rather eat in than dine out (or whatever the options are), practice saying what you want out loud. Sometimes I find it helpful to write down a few notes about what I want to say, and then I rehearse it.
  6. After you’ve gotten in touch with your feelings and what you want to say, you’re in a better position to respond. Call, text, email or talk to the requester and tell him or her your decision.

Sometimes we do have to do things we don’t want to. I get that. The problem comes when you find that you’re not comfortable expressing your needs, and you’re always doing things that you don’t want to do. If this sounds like you, try the steps above and let me know if they helped!


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

Photos courtesy of Jimmy Bay for Unsplash.com

Uncovering the Roots of Anxiety and Stress

Therapy can be a fascinating process. Some people compare it to peeling an onion. Each layer offers new insights and understanding. Case in point — many of my clients come to me because they want to learn how to manage their stress and anxiety more effectively. As therapy progresses it becomes evident that they’re not just stressed about what’s going on in their lives today. What triggers their anxiety are deeply rooted negative thoughts and feelings they have about themselves. These thoughts often determine the stories we tell ourselves about who we are.

Some of the deeply held negative beliefs that my clients have shared in sessions include:

Deeply held beliefs can leave us feeling flawed
  • I am not enough.
  • I don’t matter.
  • I will always disappoint those who care about me.
  • I am unlovable.
  •  I am flawed.
  • If they knew the real me, they wouldn’t like me.
  • I should not be forgiven.

My clients are often surprised to learn that their situation is not unique. I’m not saying that each individual isn’t unique, but I have many clients who hold similar beliefs about themselves, because of their past experiences.

Doing the Deeper Work

Uncovering these beliefs often takes time because they’re unconscious, barely showing themselves when your anxiety starts to ramp up. As our work together progresses, trust begins to grow, and the deeper work begins. Sharing stories and impressions of past experiences in therapy can open the door to recognizing the messages you received growing up. Often, what I call the critical inner voice (or Negative Nelly), originates from experiences we had in those early years.

Because these messages are so painful and difficult to process, they’re often pushed down below the surface and bubble up through negative self-talk. That inner critic’s message can lead to anxious or depressed feelings. Therapy helps by bringing those negative messages to light. You can determine where they stem from, what drives them, and whether they are legitimate.

When Trauma and Emotional Neglect Aren’t Resolved

If you were emotionally, sexually or physically abused in childhood and that trauma wasn’t resolved or validated, it can leave you feeling inadequate or “less than” when you’re struggling. The same can be true if you were told to buck-up, to get over it, never show to when you’re hurt. These events and messages can also lead to being disconnected from your physical and emotional experience in adulthood, which makes it hard to know how you’re feeling. This can leave you uneasy or numb.

Mindfulness and Meditation Can Help

Mindfulness can create awareness of negative thoughts

Mindfulness and meditation can help make you more aware of your negative thoughts and allow you to be more comfortable with your difficult feelings. Finding and practicing self-compassion also plays an important role in letting go of the negative self-talk that comes so easily when we make mistakes, or we embarrass ourselves through our actions or statements. Self-compassion acknowledges that we’re human and often make mistakes and that, although we all suffer, this too will pass. It also creates a space to offer yourself some support and comfort.

Therapy Can Make a Difference

If you’re suffering from trauma-related anxiety or depression, and it feels overwhelming, therapy can help. It’s important to find a therapist you feel comfortable sharing with and opening up to. You want someone who you feel will understand, empathize and support you in your journey forward. If you struggle with anxiety or depression that might be related to past trauma, please call me at 410-340-8469 to begin the journey to healing.


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

Photos courtesy of Joshua Earle and Ashley Batz for Unsplash.com

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. 

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