stressing out

Easing Your Anxiety When You’re Worried About A Loved One

I guest posted for Sharon Martin's blog Happily Imperfect on Psych Central. Here's her introduction followed by my post"
 

Have you spent a sleepless night worrying about a loved one? Perhaps it was your teenager who was out past curfew or your spouse who didn’t manage her diabetes. Feeling anxious in such a  situation is understandable. It’s scary to feel like things are out of your control and possibly heading for disaster.

When you have a loved one who is making “bad” decisions, worry can take over your life if you don’t know how to keep it in check. My colleague, Elizabeth Cush, an expert in treating anxiety, wrote this week’s blog post to support those of you who are experiencing worry and anxiety about a loved one.


Easing Your Anxiety When You’re Worried About A Loved One
by Elizabeth Cush, LCPC

woman worrying.jpg

It’s really hard to watch someone make bad or harmful choices or to see a loved one make decisions you wouldn’t have made given the same circumstances. Maybe you worry because:

  • They drink or smoke too much
  • They can’t control their anger
  • They quit their job
  • They hang out with “the wrong” people
  • They gamble
  • They don’t pay their bills

I know that as a mother, wife, and friend, I have had times when one or more of the people in my life did things that made me feel worried, angry, or hurt (and sometimes all three). It was hard not to get consumed by the worry. So, how do you stop worrying and quiet your mind when you’re concerned about a loved one but powerless to get him or her to change or make better decisions?

Anxiety shows up when we can’t control things

Relationships can create the perfect storm of emotional ups and downs, bringing with them waves of anxiety. We want the people in our lives to be happy. We don’t want them to struggle, to feel pain, or to cause pain and suffering, but we really can’t control a lot of what others do. That can bring on a lot of anxious feelings.

If you experience anxiety, this lack of control can make your anxiety worse. You might believe that if you could just control this thing — whether it’s someone else’s behaviors, life events, or future outcomes — then you would feel better. You stay awake worrying about what needs to be different, what needs to change, and how to make that happen. You get stuck in the “what ifs,” or “if onlys.” But the reality is that you can’t control many of the things going on around you. I might even venture to say you can’t control MOST things!

The need for control increases anxiety

My clients sometimes say, “if only my loved one wouldn’t __________ (you fill in the blanks). It’s ruining everything. I’ve told them time and again that they need to stop. I can’t sleep at night because I worry about what will happen.”

Worrying increases stress and it doesn’t create change or stop bad things from happening; it only makes you more stressed. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t worry about the people you love. I am saying is that the worry won’t make it better, and sometimes it makes you so stressed that it becomes hard to do anything else.

How to ease your anxiety when worries take over

So how do you ease the anxiety that arises when the people in your life aren’t cooperating? Here are seven steps to get you started:

  1. Take three slow deep breaths.
  2. Be curious about the part of you that wants to be able to control the behaviors of others. Maybe you say to yourself, “There’s a part of me that wants to keep things under control. I wonder what that part is afraid of?”
  3. Remind yourself that your anxiety is prompted by your fears about the future and of not being in control.
  4. Gently remind yourself that you can voice your concerns or opinions, but it’s up to others to make changes. A gentle reminder to yourself might be, “I can’t control what others choose to do or not do. I can only tell them how their behavior affects me and how I feel.”
  5. If the people in your life don’t change, be mindful that this might cause you distress. You might feel anxious or scared. You might say out loud,  “I’m so afraid because __________ isn’t changing. It makes me feel powerless and I worry about what might happen if they don’t change.”
  6. If someone’s behavior hurts you or puts you at risk, it’s important to create healthy boundaries or choose to spend time away from that person. If you’re not comfortable doing this, you might need to practice or get some support.
  7. Offer yourself some compassion. You might still feel worried about the people in your life. Saying to yourself, “This is really hard for me right now. I care about them, and I care about how they’re affecting me” creates a space where you can feel compassionate toward them and toward yourself.

Wanting the best for others is human. We want the people we love to make healthy choices, but that doesn’t always happen. If you need support and someone to help you work through the difficulty, seeing a therapist can provide a safe, non-judgmental space where you can share your feelings.


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 Kinga Cichewicz 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

 

 

Coming Together When We’re Coming Apart

It feels like our society has lost its sense of unity. All we do is take sides: Are you on the right or the left, Democrat or Republican, white or are you black, Christian or Muslim, male or female…? You get the point.

In order to take sides, or to figure out who isn’t on your side, you make a judgment about them. We can form opinions based on analysis or careful consideration, but when we make judgments, they are usually quick, in the moment decisions. Judgments are based upon visual clues, emotional cues, and the way we process, categorize and make sense of things. We can then fit whatever we’re judging into our mental picture of how we see world.

Judging Others

Judging others can cause us stress and anxiety.

Judging others can cause us stress and anxiety.

For instance, I was in a bookstore recently. The man ahead of me in the checkout line was white, and had a long ponytail, lots of tattoos, a leather jacket and boots, and a chain wallet. I hate to admit that my immediate thoughts were, He seems tough. He’s a biker. His motorcycle is parked out front. What is a guy like him doing in a bookstore? As soon as I started this process I chastised myself, for I had no way of knowing who he was, or why he was there. After we struck up a conversation, I found out that he had a lifelong meditation practice, and was buying a Jon Kabat-Zinn book for his girlfriend. When I made the effort to see him outside my narrow vision of him, and talked to him, I found out we weren’t so different.

Stressing Out

Constantly judging others who seem different from us takes mental energy and can cause stress and anxiety. When we feel threatened by people who are different from us, our nervous system gets activated, because our bodies think we are in real danger. If we see the world as a threatening or unsafe place because it includes people whose skin is a different color than ours, who are from a different culture or who practice a different religion, then we are living with added stress.

Each time we hear messages that reinforce our fears, our stress response activates, making us feel uncomfortable, and increasing our feelings of fear and distrust. All of that stress can overwhelm us.

An article in PsychologyBenefits.org noted that when we don’t take the time to learn about each other, and we respond from fear or anxiety, instead of empathy and compassion, we are more likely to:

  • Smile less
  • Maintain less eye contact
  • Use a less friendly verbal tone
  • Keep greater physical distance
  • Avoid interactions with people of other races altogether

Being Empathetic

Approach others with empathy and compassion.

The good news is that we can change, and all it takes is getting to know the people who might seem different from us. Studies have shown that when we approach others with empathy, curiosity and compassion, the racial and cultural anxieties lessen and positive interracial relations increase.

How To Stop Judging Others

Here are five steps to help you reframe your thoughts if you find you are quick to judge others:

  1. Be mindful or pay attention to your thoughts when you see someone who looks different from you.
  2. If you find you are making a judgment about the person ask yourself, “How do I know this is true? Have I met him or spoken to her?”
  3. Create a different story about him that doesn’t feel threatening.
  4. Be curious. If it feels right, talk to her and ask questions.
  5. Be empathetic. Try seeing the world from his eyes, and work to understand her experiences.

How To Stop Judging Yourself

Empathy and compassion not only affects how we see others, but also how we see ourselves. If we can see suffering and struggle as a common human experience, instead of being hard on ourselves when times are tough, or when we make mistakes, we can learn to be compassionate towards ourselves. You can find more about self-compassion here and here.

If you're feeling overly anxious or stressed and think that counseling might help you please reach out.


Elizabeth Cush, MA, LGPC is an Annapolis therapist who helps people manage their stress and anxiety. She owns and operates Progression Counseling in Annapolis. For a free 15-minute consultation call me 410-340-8469.