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