Mindfulness

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

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

Intensive Practice

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

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

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

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

What Is Self-Compassion?

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

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

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

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

Training Highlights

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Our compassionate voice can actually create emotional safety.

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

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

    • Resist them

    • Be curious about them

    • Tolerate them

    • Allow them

    • Befriend them

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

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

You can find out more here:

Elizabeth Cush on Self-Compassion

Ignite Annapolis

Self-compassion.org

Center for Mindful Self-Compassion

Kristin Neff, Ph.D.

Christopher Germer, PhD.


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

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

 

 

 

5 Paths To Discovering Your Body's Wisdom

Connect with your body’s wisdom

Connect with your body’s wisdom

Our bodies hold so much wisdom, intuition and awareness of how we’re feeling—yet we’ve become unaccustomed to listening or paying attention to what it’s telling us. Round-the-clock access to social media, news and entertainment can keep our attention and energy focused outward, increasing our lack of connection with our body and our desire to tune out instead of tune in.

Building a connection with the internal world of your body can help you heal from trauma, childhood emotional neglect and difficult life experiences. It also helps you feel more at peace and builds compassionate acceptance of self. 

Practicing mindfulness can help ground you.  As you start paying attention and become more aware of your body’s sensations, you grow more used to them—and more comfortable with the feelings that bubble up.

You might begin to recognize that some of those feelings are from long ago—that you’re not actually experiencing the pain right now, you’re just remembering. The growing awareness reinforces your understanding that the sensations and feelings in your body come and go all the time. Knowing that helps us feels less stuck.

Here are five ways to help you tune in to your body:

yoga and meditation can help you connect with your body

yoga and meditation can help you connect with your body

1. Yoga: Yoga is a mindful body-based exercise. Throughout the practice you’re checking in with your body, feeling the movement, paying attention to your breath and tuning into where your body is at that moment. Yoga helps you bring attention to the different parts of your body with compassion as you move. There are lots of different types of yoga—Hatha, Iyengar, Bikram, Kundalini, Ashtanga, just to name a few—so if you try one style and don’t like it, try a different one!

2. Body scan: The body scan is a meditation that gradually brings your attention from your head to your toes. This particular mediation has been shown to help people who struggle with chronic pain, but you don’t have to be suffering to enjoy the benefits of allowing your body to be where it is at any given moment, whether it’s relaxed, numb, tense or in pain. You can find a guided body scan here.

3. Meditation: Mindful meditations bring your awareness to your breath or another anchor. Each time your mind wanders, you bring it back to the anchor. As you meditate regularly, you begin to notice that your body reacts when you get caught up in thoughts, worries or plans. Practicing meditation helps you bring your awareness back again and again to a place of non-judgment, of non-reactivity and a place of calm.

4. Mindful walking: When you walk mindfully, you tune in to your body’s movements as you travel. You can do it indoors or out. Your body becomes your focus. You might sense how the earth feels under your feet, how the breeze feels on your skin or the sun on your face. You might notice the temperature of the air, or how your arms move and your hips sway as you walk. Maybe you can even feel some gratitude for the body that carries you throughout your day without you paying much attention to it. Here’s a guided mindful walking exercise to try.

5. Somatic interventions in therapy: If you’ve experienced trauma, you might not feel safe bringing more awareness to your body. Certain forms of therapy can help you get in touch with your body in the safe space of the therapist’s office. The therapist works with you to help you feel more grounded and present in your body. You work at your own pace and explore strategies to help you soothe yourself when you feel overwhelmed.

As with all new things, take your time, explore the different options and be compassionate for where you are on this journey. You’ll begin to open a path to a better understanding of what you’re feeling at any given moment.

In this week’s episode of the Woman Worriers podcast I talk about why body awareness is so vital to creating a better connection with yourself, and I share a guided exercise to help you tune in to your body.

Next week, we dive deeper into finding connection with the body on the podcast with my guest Lynn Fraser.

For readers who live in the Baltimore/Annapolis area, mindfulness groups are now forming for March. If you’re interested, you can find out more about the groups here.


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

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

 

Addressing Perfectionism With Compassion

When I think about a perfectionist, I see the woman who not only looks great — the right clothes, hair, car — she also has the perfect life. Nice house, lovely partner, well-behaved kids. She’s together and she does it with ease. She might work 80 hours a week but she’s happy doing it and gets it all done.

Perfectionism can be messy

Perfectionism can be messy

But perfectionism doesn’t always show up in obvious ways. In fact, perfectionism can even look a little messy! On this week’s Woman Worriers podcast, I spoke with Sharon Martin about her book, The CBT Workbook for Perfectionism: Evidence-Based Skills to Help You Let Go of Self-Criticism, Build Self-Esteem, and Find Balance, and she shared that sometimes perfectionism looks more like avoidance or procrastination.

Perfectionism could be stopping you from truly engaging in your life. You might struggle to send emails because you feel the need to check and re-check the wording to be sure you don’t offend or make a mistake. You put off doing work because you feel like you can’t — but should be able to — do it flawlessly. Or maybe you decide not to go to an event because you’re sure you don’t have the right outfit, the right job, or live in the right place. 

Perfectionism Can Make Us Feel Less Than Perfect

Believing that our mistakes reflect poorly on us, or feeling that other people are constantly judging us, can create a lot of anxiety. We think that need to be perfect all the time and if that’s not possible it’s not worth trying.

Being a perfectionist can make you pretty hard on yourself. You might make matters worse by allowing your inner critic to comment on how you’re failing. You might call yourself lazy, stupid or worthless. You might even tell yourself that you’re going to get fired or won’t get hired because you don’t have what it takes.

If you find that you’re holding yourself back or withdrawing most of the time, you might be stuck in a perfectionism loop. That’s when you don’t feel you can do the “thing” perfectly so you put it off. Putting off the task increases your anxiety, so you continue to avoid the task. Then you start to criticize yourself and make assumptions about your abilities. That makes you feel even worse, so you avoid or distract yourself some more.

You might believe that self-criticism will keep you on your toes and stop you from making mistakes, but more often it’s just encouraging you to stop putting yourself out there. Sadly, instead of making you feel better, fixing what went wrong or helping you learn from your mistakes, negative self-talk leaves you feeling worthless, less-than and sometimes hopeless.

Soothing Our Critical Parts

Self-compassion can ease distress

Self-compassion can ease distress

Self-compassion — treating yourself as you would treat others who are struggling — can help ease the burden of trying to be perfect and reframe your perfectionist thoughts into more compassionate ones. Martin’s book has some great exercises to help you cultivate more self-compassion and help ease the discomfort around being an imperfect human. You can find the book here.

Here are four tips I encourage my clients to use to help bring more self-compassion and mindfulness into their lives when the perfectionist parts want to take charge:

  1. Be mindful and start paying attention to your negative self-talk. When that negative voice pipes up, ask yourself, with curiosity, “What prompted that?” Try to identify what that part of you is afraid of or what you are worried about. Sometimes journaling when you’re most critical of yourself can help you identify the things in life that make you feel less-than. We call those things your triggers.

  2. Make a note of the negative things you tell yourself and ask, “Would I say these things to a close friend?” If not, then say out loud or write down what you might tell a friend who was struggling with the same thing. Try saying those things to yourself.

  3. Notice your triggers. As you begin to recognize when you get triggered and become more aware of your negative self-talk, pay attention to those moments. When they arise, I want you to try to say to yourself with compassion, “Wow! I just said some really mean things to myself. I would never say that to a friend. I was ready to put myself down for not being perfect, and my critical parts jumped in without my noticing! I’ll try not to be so hard on myself.”

  4. When times are tough, remember that everyone struggles from time to time. It’s a part of the human experience. When you’re feeling overwhelmed or when that critical voice wants to berate and minimize your difficulties, try saying to yourself, “I’m struggling right now. We all struggle once in a while.” You can also place your hand on your heart and repeat these phrases: “May I be peaceful. May I be safe. May I be healthy and may I live my life with ease.”


I hope these techniques help you quiet your inner critic, ease your perfectionist urges and bring more self-compassion into your life.

For those who live in the Annapolis area, I’ll be leading mindfulness groups for women that help cultivate self-compassion. You can find out more here.


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

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

11 Subtle Signs That You Might Be Anxious

Insomnia can be a sign of underlying anxiety

Insomnia can be a sign of underlying anxiety

Anxiety doesn’t look the same for everyone. It’s not always obvious. Anxiety can have subtle influences on your thoughts, behaviors and feelings. It shows up in different ways for different people.

The way you were raised, the experiences you’ve had in your lifetime, and your biology/genetics can all affect how you experience anxiety. Those factors can determine when you are likely to feel anxious, what you feel like when you’re anxious and how you respond to situations and things that make you feel anxious. That’s because anxiety is often triggered by an emotional memory that is stored both in the brain and in the body.

Here are a few traits and behaviors that might mean you’re anxious:

  1. Procrastination. If you constantly put things off because it feels uncomfortable to move forward, or you worry that you won’t be able to do something “right,” you might be anxious. If you find that you procrastinate a lot, putting things off might be a sign that you have anxiety about your abilities or about being judged by others.

  2. Perfectionism. Perfectionism and procrastination sometimes go hand in hand. You want things done perfectly. If you don’t think that will happen, you procrastinate. In reality, sometimes perfectionism leads to over-doing and over-thinking. Giving 110 percent to everything in your life might really be a sign of your anxiety working overtime. Part of you believes that avoiding mistakes, being perfect, going above and beyond in all areas of your life will keep you from feeling uncomfortable. Unfortunately, it often leads to exhaustion and burn-out. 

  3. Phobias of any kind. You might be afraid to cross bridges in a car, afraid of spiders or flying insects, or afraid of flying. No matter what you’re fearful of, if it gets in the way of daily activities, it’s probably due to your anxiety about the unexpected the unknown and the unpredictable.

  4. Fear of new situations. Do you avoid going places you’ve never been or being with people you’ve never met? It might be that your anxiety is making it hard to be in new situations because there are so many unknowns and things you can’t control.

  5. Indecision. Is it hard for you to make seemingly small choices? Do I exercise or not? Should I have the chicken or fish? Do I walk or drive? Sometimes small things can be very difficult to decide when you’re anxious. You feel stuck in the middle, unable to move toward either choice.

  6. Irritability. When anxiety starts to bubble up, it can leave you feeling uncomfortable. That discomfort can make you very irritable, especially if you’re trying to control uncontrollable situations. You might snap at your partner, friends or children for no reason at all, except that you’re anxious.

  7. Extreme distress when things don’t go as planned. Trying to control people, places and things is a hallmark behavior of an anxious person. You might think, “If I can keep everything under control, then I’ll feel calm.” But life is uncontrollable, so it’s a losing battle. The fight for control usually leads to more anxiety, because so little is really within your control.

  8. Insomnia. If you find that on many nights you lie tossing and turning, or just lie in bed awake, it might be due to anxiety. Anxiety can make it hard to turn off your mind and relax your body enough to fall asleep.

  9. Worrying all the time. We all worry sometimes, but if you find you worry all the time — and maybe worry about how much you’re worrying — you probably have some underlying anxiety.

  10. Assuming the worst. Worrying and assuming the worst are often partners in crime. If you find that you’re always thinking about all of the worst possible outcomes, and you tell yourself you just want to be prepared for what might happen, there’s usually some anxiety there below the surface. The problem is, we can’t control what might or might not happen. All that worrying about bad things just makes you more anxious.

  11. Frequent stomachaches or headaches. Anxiety has both emotional and physical symptoms. Frequent stomachaches, headaches, chest tightening, difficulty swallowing, feeling flushed and increased heart rate are a few of the physical symptoms of anxiety. If you’re experiencing one or more of these symptoms pretty regularly, and you’ve seen your doctor to rule out any health issues, you might be experiencing some anxiety.

Anxiety can take a toll on our daily life and our physical and emotional health. You don’t have to struggle with this alone. Know that others struggle, too, and that you can get help. Therapy, mindfulness practices, meditation and medication can help you better manage the anxiety so you can live your life with more ease and contentment.

On the Woman Worriers podcast this week:

If you’re anxious, does that mean you’re an introvert? Does being an introvert means you’re shy? In this episode of Woman Worriers, I talk with Nicole Burgess—a marriage and family therapist and life coach, an empowerment mentor for introverted women, and an introvert herself— clear up many myths and misperceptions about introversion. They also talk about how introverted women can come to find and embrace their unique strengths and find the quiet groundedness they crave.


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

 

 

Skip New Year's Resolutions — Set Intentions Instead

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

January 1.jpg

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

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

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

Add More Of What You Love To Your Life

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

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

New Year Intentions.jpg

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

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

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

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


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

What Helps Manage Anxiety During The Holidays?

holiday stress.jpg

The holidays can be stressful. Even if Christmas, Chanukah, Boxing Day, Diwali or Kwanzaa is your favorite holiday, this season can add stress to your life. And stress can invite its more difficult cousin — anxiety — to the celebration.

Because anxiety often makes us feel uncomfortable, many of us avoid or fight the anxiety in an attempt to make it stop. Those strategies might work sometimes, but usually the anxiety returns with greater force and can lead to a panic attack.

Below are some strategies to help you manage the anxiety so that you can enjoy the holidays!

Remind yourself that you’re not alone. A lot of people struggle with anxiety during holiday season. Knowing that you share this experience with others can help you feel less isolated and alone.

Acknowledge your anxiety and allow to be there. Think of the anxiety as a message from your body telling you that there’s some kind of danger lurking. Your anxiety wants to keep you safe. When you ignore or avoid it, it just gets louder, because it wants you to pay attention. Practice saying, “I’m feeling very anxious right now.” Or you can greet your anxiety like an old friend: “Hello anxiety. It’s nice to see you again.” Or, “Here you are again.” Then ask it, “What is it that you want me to know?” You might not find an obvious answer right away, but as you get used to talking with your anxiety, it can make the feelings less intense.

Get curious about your anxiety. Notice where you feel the stress in your body and tune into the physical feelings. Can you breathe into that body part? Does is shift or change? Is it hot or cold? If you could assign it a color and/or shape, what would it look like?

Tune into the present moment

Practice self-care. I’m not talking about facials or mani-pedis here — although they sound like great ideas, too. I’m talking basic needs like eating, hydrating, sleeping, exercising and going to the bathroom regularly. When we get stressed, anxious and overwhelmed, it’s easy to let go of or put off the moment-to-moment needs. So, take time throughout your day to pause. Take a deep breath. Ask yourself, “What do I need right now?” Notice how easy it is to tell yourself you don’t have time to pause or to take care of your needs, and then do it anyway.

Practice mindfulness. When the anxiety gets activated, we can get stuck ruminating over past and future events. When you notice you’re stuck in your head—re-thinking, planning, worrying — slow down and bring your attention to your immediate surroundings. It doesn’t matter where you are. You can pay attention when you’re driving, walking, shopping, laying in bed or at work. Tune into your five senses:

  • What can you see? Colors? Shapes? Lights? Shadows?

  • What can you hear? Horns? Cars? Music? Voices? Wind? Rain?

  • What can you touch or feel? Your feet on the ground? The chair under your butt? Your hands holding your keys or a drink?

  • What can you smell? Food cooking? Exhaust from cars or busses? Scented candles or perfume?

  • What can you taste? Sweet, salty, bitter, sour?

When you allow your anxiety to serve as a reminder that you might need to take care of yourself, it can help you feel less intimidated and overwhelmed when it shows up. I’ve also recorded two podcast episodes to help you manage holiday stress using gratitude, self-compassion and mindfulness techniques.


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




 

 

 

 

Nine Helpful Tips For Stressful Holidays

Handling The Holidays When You Don’t Feel Like Celebrating  

Holidays can overwhelm

Holidays can overwhelm

The holidays are here in full force with all the associated decorations, music, advertisements and crowds. For some, the season is a joyful, happy time; for others it can be difficult, stressful, even painful. Lots of articles focus on how to manage holiday stress — how to fit it all in without feeling overwhelmed. This  isn’t one of them. This post is for anyone who is struggling this holiday season.

Maybe your memories of holidays aren’t happy ones. Maybe you’ve lost someone, and celebrating seems impossible. Maybe you feel disconnected and lonely, or you’re living far from family and can’t get back to be with them. Maybe just the thought of spending time with family makes you anxious, depressed or stressed. Regardless of what you’re struggling with, if the holidays don’t seem like a time to celebrate, the constant seasonal reminders can make you feel pretty terrible. Below are nine tips to help you manage your anxiety or depression through the holiday season.

 9 Tips For Holiday Stress

  1. Take care of yourself. When we feel down or anxious, self-care is usually the first thing we drop. Taking care of yourself can be as easy as taking a bath, a walk or a drink of water. Whatever you do, it’s important to be kind to yourself when you’re struggling. If you need tips for practicing self-compassion, you can find some here.

  2. Manage expectations. Whether you’re spending time with family or friends, or you’re alone for the holidays, it can be helpful to manage your expectations. If your family or your friends are dysfunctional, combative, unsupportive or hard to be around, don’t expect them to be different or the holidays to be amazing. If you have friends who don’t connect unless you reach out first, don’t expect them to reach out just because you’re feeling down. Knowing that the holidays won’t provide a happy elixir to make all your troubles disappear can help you let go of the media’s portrayal of what the holidays “should” be.

  3. Create things to do. Whether you’re with family and friends or alone, having things to do can give you a sense of purpose and offer a distraction from holiday “stuff.” Planning a long walk, going to the movies, volunteering or traveling can provide some relief from holiday overload.

  4. Limit your exposure. Take your own car or have a separate mode of transportation, so you escape from a holiday celebration early if needed. Knowing you’re in control of when you leave can be very liberating.

  5. Find support. Reach out to those in your life who provide positive support if you’re feeling depressed and anxious. Connecting with others can be hard to do if you’re struggling, but it can provide a sense of belonging and meaning.

  6. Take time to be mindful. When we’re anxious, it’s often because we’re thinking about past or future events that make us uncomfortable. If you find that you’re rehashing the argument you had during last year’s holidays or worrying about what might happen this year, take a moment to pay attention to where you are. What do you see, smell or hear? What can you touch or taste? Being present in the moment can help get you out of your head and can ground and calm you.

  7. Feel what you feel. Allow yourself to feel your emotions. If you’re mourning a loss, feeling lonely, sad, angry, whatever… try not to push those uncomfortable feelings away. Instead, sit quietly for a moment and try to get in touch with them. Acknowledge and allow the pain, sorrow, loss or anger, and offer yourself, as you would a good friend, some compassion and kindness in this difficult time.

  8. Pause.  Things can get very busy around the holidays. Taking time to slow down, pause and reflect on your environment and your needs can be very nourishing. A great place to do this is in the bathroom. Take a moment to breathe deeply, look at yourself in the mirror, smile and take another deep breath.

  9. Get a good night’s sleep. Your body and mind need sleep to reset. If you’re burning the candle at both ends you probably go to bed stressed and wake up stressed. Make your bedtime routine a priority and try to get seven to eight hours of sleep every night. Your body and brain will thank you! You can find out more about sleep and stress here.

 

If you feel that managing the holidays seems too hard to do alone, counseling can help. Therapy can give you support, connection and a non-judgmental space to talk about what’s happening for you.

If you’d like help this holiday and aren’t sure if counseling is right for you, email or call (410) 339-1979 to set up a 15-minute free consultation.


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

Photo by Johannes Hofmann on Unsplash

 

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. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Minute of Mindfulness

It Only Takes a Minute

Take time to pause

Take time to pause

I created this quick video below to demonstrate how easy it is to be mindful. Wherever you are, take a moment to slow down and tune into the sights, sounds, tastes, smells and touch the things that are there with you in the present moment.

No matter where you are — on the street, in the city or country, forest or ocean side, at home or at work — you can take a minute and pause.

If you’d like to do more meditating and don’t know where to begin I have a FREE guide to get you started! Fill out this form and I’ll send it along to you with a free meditation too!

If you’d like a longer meditation that also incorporates your senses this week on the Woman Worriers podcast I offer a guided imagery meditation using your sensory information to create a calm, safe space.


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 and video by Elizabeth Cush



Maybe It's Time For A Little Self-Compassion

*This blog was originally published in the Severna Park Voice.

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Everyone makes mistakes, but some of us continue to think about what we could have done better after the event. We beat ourselves up about small things. If you find that you are your own worst critic—harder on yourself than others—maybe it’s time to show a little self-compassion.

What Is Self-Compassion And Why Is It So Hard?

We seem to be able to offer others, even strangers, compassion when times are tough. Why is it so hard to be kind to ourselves when we are struggling? Some people think, “If I’m not hard on myself, I will never get things done.” Others might say, “Self-compassion is self-indulgence, or selfishness.”

Many people think self-compassion means we give ourselves a pass for everything we do. That’s not it. Self-compassion means that we offer ourselves the same message of comfort and understanding that we might offer a friend who was going through the same thing.

Dr. Kristin Neff has done a lot of research and writing about self-compassion. She identified that self-compassion has three components: self-kindness, common humanity and mindfulness. You can read more about her findings here.

The Argument For Self-Compassion

I’d argue that if we don’t take care of our own emotional well-being, we’ll have a hard time helping others when things get tough. If we are struggling emotionally, frustrated with ourselves, or constantly self-critical, it is very hard to give balanced support to someone else.

When we're overly critical of ourselves it can also increase our anxiety. Imagine a friend that always pointed out your faults, and told you you weren't enough, or worse that you were a failure. Imagine that friend was with you 24/7, constantly reminding you of things you could have done better, and that this was for your own good.

It might stress you out, or you might try to ignore them, or push them away but the bad feelings about yourself remain, because maybe a small part of you begins to believe what the constant criticism and that can make you feel very anxious.

Self-Kindness

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Self-kindness means that if we are feeling fearful, or sad, or we are questioning our behavior, we offer ourselves words of kindness, instead of criticism. When we imagine what we might say to a good friend who was suffering and then offer those same words to ourselves, we can acknowledge our discomfort and recognize that no one is perfect. This can help challenge our inner-critic, which can cause us to feel bad about ourselves, create anxiety, and keep us from taking chances or trying out new things.

Common Humanity

When times are tough—maybe you’re feeling anxious, depressed, or just having a bad day—if you can remind yourself that everyone has bad days, that everyone struggles, it can ease the intensity in that moment. When we ease the intensity, we can reduce the feelings of anxiety and depression.

Mindfulness

Mindfulness is a non-judgmental, receptive mind state in which one observes thoughts and feelings as they are, without trying to suppress or deny them
— Kristin Neff, PhD.

When rethinking a mistake, we can get stuck in the “what ifs,” or if onlys.” Learning to come back to the present moment, through mindful breathing and grounding techniques, we begin to understand that thoughts, feelings and behaviors all come and go. Instead of the constant worry about the past or future, we become accustomed to allowing what is. This can help reduce negative thinking, ruminating, self-blame and shame, because we learn not to over-identify with our feelings or thoughts.

How To Move Forward With Self-Compassion

Through self-compassion practice, we can begin to accept our imperfections, and to feel more connected with those around us, because we are all human, and humans struggle from time-to-time. We learn to accept the ups and downs in life as a part of our experience, instead of a reflection of who we are.

If you want to bring more self-compassion into your daily life I host mindfulness each Spring and Fall. You can find out about the groups here.


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 gabrielle cole & Philipe Cavalcante on Unsplash

 

 

 

New Book Offers Advice On Everyday Mindfulness

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I recently read the book, The Mindful Day, Practical Way to Find Focus, Calm and Joy from Morning to Evening, by Laurie J. Cameron. In it, the leadership coach and mindfulness expert shares how to bring more mindfulness into all the different parts of your day. The book goes through each part of your day, from waking up to easing into sleep, and each chapter gives specific, practical strategies to help you incorporate more mindfulness into your daily life at home and at work.

Cameron shares how mindfulness can help you find your purpose, bring more focus to work and daily tasks and feel more grounded and peaceful throughout your day.

Each chapter focuses on one mindful activity, explaining the activity and why it’s helpful. At the end of each chapter, Cameron gives you step-by-step guidance on how to bring the activity into your life.

Cameron encourages daily meditation, and I’m a BIG proponent of meditation for managing anxiety and minimizing reactivity. After reading The Mindful Day, I started meditating first thing in the morning, before I get out of bed. It’s allowed me to start my day with more intention and focus.

With repeated mental exercises, you gradually condition your mind to tap into joy more often than fear. Inclining the mind means to condition yourself so that your mindsets shift from being judgmental, anxious or uncomfortable to receptive, appreciative, and compassionate.
— Laurie J. Cameron

I found the chapter on identifying and defining your purpose to be particularly helpful and meaningful for me. Cameron leads you through some questions to help you define purpose for your life.

When big decisions come up, your purpose is your internal compass, and mindfulness is the mechanism that helps you check in with your emotions, thoughts, and feelings about those questions.
— Laurie J. Cameron.

I enjoyed the book so much that I invited Cameron to be a guest on the Woman Worriers podcast. You can listen to our conversation here, and find out more about Cameron and her book here.

Counterintuitive Ways To Manage Anxiety

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On another note, I was quoted in an article on Bustle, 9 Counterintuitive Ways To Stop Anxiety In Its Tracks, According To Psychologists by Eva Taylor Grant. The article shares strategies that might not be the first things that come to mind when you’re trying to manage your anxiety. I explain how tuning into your anxiety and allowing it to be there might feel like a bad idea, but it’s really the best thing you can do. Mindfulness can help you tune in and tolerate the discomfort. If you want to find out more, you can read the article here.

Most of the time people want to avoid feeling uncomfortable, but the discomfort is our body telling us it’s time to pay attention.
— Elizabeth Cush

If you would like to bring more mindfulness into your daily life I would recommend reading The Mindful Day.

Also, if you’re local to the Annapolis, Md., area, my Women’s Mindfulness Groups will incorporate some of The Mindful Day’s strategies into our sessions. You can find out more here, and tune into my Facebook live videos for weekly mindfulness tips that help you bring mindfulness into your life.


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 Lina Trochez & Daniel Monteiro on Unsplash

 

Natural Ways To Manage Anxiety

Managing anxiety naturally

Managing anxiety naturally

Nine Ways To Help Anxiety Naturally

Anxiety management strategies are a very personal choice. What works for some doesn’t always work for others. Some clients choose to take medication to help lessen their anxiety but many come to see me for therapy because they’re looking for alternative ways to manage.

Do you have anxiety? Have you wondered if you can manage it without medication? You may be able to! In my post for Good Therapy this month I share with you nine strategies that provide a starting place. You can find Want To Manage Anxiety Naturally? Here Are Nine Ways To Begin here.

Essential Oils: Can They Help With Anxiety?

I also interviewed Deb Del Vecchio-Scully for the Woman Worriers podcast last month and she shared why essential oils work so well and so quickly and which essential oils works best when you’re anxious. You can find the episode here.

I hope you find these helpful! If you’re local to the Annapolis area I will be starting Mindfulness Groups for women beginning this Fall. If you’ve wanted to bring more mindfulness into your life but aren’t sure how, or you’d like support in your mindfulness practice I’d love to talk to you!


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 Ksenia Makagonova on Unsplash

Manage Anxiety With Mindfulness & Meditation

Meditation and mindfulness can ease anxiety

Meditation and mindfulness can ease anxiety

If you’ve read my blogs or listened to my podcast, you know that I’ve struggled with anxiety throughout my life. I also share that my mindfulness practice, including meditation, has made a huge difference in how I feel and how I view my anxiety. I went from hating my anxiety and avoiding it to learning to appreciate it as my body’s signal that something doesn’t feel right.

Turning toward, instead of away from, the anxiety opens up space to allow the feelings to come and go. Feeling the feelings without judgment allows your body to understand that the situation you’re worrying over isn’t life or death — that it’s not going to last forever. It’s just a worry you’re struggling with right now. That non-judgmental awareness gives you the space to be more present in the moment for whatever is happening right here, right now.

In the end, just three things matter:
How well we have lived
How well we have loved
How well we have learned to let go
— Jack Kornfield

Mindfulness can help you learn to live with and allow difficult uncomfortable feelings. It brings a greater awareness of self, and that helps you feel connected to yourself and to others.

3 Mindful Activities For Managing Anxiety

So how do we bring more mindfulness into our daily lives? Here are three tips to get you started:

1. Practice mindful meditation every day.

If you’ve never meditated before, this can be a challenge so start small — five minutes a day. If you’d like help getting started, you can request FREE Get Started Meditating Guide and find some guided meditations here .

The goal of mindful meditation isn’t to clear your mind of all thoughts. The goal is to notice each time your mind wanders and bring your attention back to an anchor of your choosing — your breath, a sound, a sensation or something else.

“If you want to conquer the anxiety of life, live in the moment, live in the breath.”
— Amit Ray, Om Chanting and Meditation

2. Pick one activity a day and single-task.

What is single-tasking? It’s the opposite of multi-tasking! Pay attention to your five senses while performing a single task. You can choose any daily activity you usually do without thinking — like brushing your teeth, washing dishes, driving your car, walking your dog…. You get the idea.

Instead of tuning out or being inside your head or on your phone, bring a mindful attention to the activity. What do you see? What colors, shapes, objects? What can you feel? Do you feel water running on your hands, the ground under your feet, the toothbrush on your gums? What are the smells? Does the soap have a scent, or do you smell flowers blooming? What noises and sounds do you hear? What do you taste? Each time your mind wanders, gently bring your attention back to your senses and the task you chose.

People usually consider walking on water or in thin air a miracle. But I think the real miracle is not to walk either on water or in thin air, but to walk on earth. Every day we are engaged in a miracle which we don’t even recognize: a blue sky, white clouds, green leaves, the black, curious eyes of a child—our own two eyes. All is a miracle.
— Thich Nhat Hanh

3. Tune into and name your feelings.

As you begin meditating and being more mindful, you might begin to notice that feelings arise, sometimes without warning. When we’re more in tune with our bodies and ourselves, our feelings become more present. As you notice discomfort or joy, take some time to pause. Feel what you’re feeling. See if you can name what the feeling is, without judgment. Say the name of feeling aloud or to yourself, and see if the word resonates with you. If not, try to pick a different word that might describe what you’re feeling. If you find yourself judging yourself about how you feel, remind yourself, “All feelings are welcome.”

One is a great deal less anxious if one feels perfectly free to be anxious, and the same may be said of guilt.
— Alan W. Watts

If you’ve been meaning to start a mindfulness practice but keep putting it off, consider participating in a mindfulness group. Groups forming now will start in the fall. I will be holding Facebook Live events in August with weekly mindfulness tips to help you get you started. You can follow me on Facebook for more information on the live events.


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 Antonika Chanel on Unsplash

Perfectionism and Anxiety

Striving For Perfection And Anxiety

Being perfect, never making mistakes or failing, would relieve a lot of stress! You could enter every task or challenge with the knowledge that you would succeed every time. How amazing would it be to be able to let go of all those insecurities, worries and anxieties when new, difficult life events happen? You could live your life with ease.

Unfortunately, if everyone were perfect, life would be pretty boring. We would’t learn or grow, because we’d already know how to do everything. As cliché as it sounds, imperfections make us human and make life more interesting.

Imperfections Can Create Anxieties #youareyourownworstenemy

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When we believe that our mistakes reflect poorly on us, and when we feel that other people are constantly judging us for those mistakes or difficulties, it can create a lot of anxiety. You are your own worst enemy, because the perception that we need to be perfect all the time or people will criticize us often sets off a firestorm of critical self-talk:

  • I’m so stupid!
  • I can’t believe I just made a mistake!
  • What is wrong with me? I can’t get this right!
  • Now everyone will know I don’t know what I’m doing!
  • I shouldn’t have even tried!
  • I’ll never do that again!
  • I’m an idiot!

I’m pretty sure that you’d never say to others the hurtful things you say to yourself.  But when we feel vulnerable, the parts of us that want to protect us and keep us safe from harm jump in and start yelling. They criticize. They ridicule. Those parts of you believe that if they can get your attention, they’ll save you from making another mistake in the future.

Those self-protective parts think that the self-criticism will keep you on your toes for next time, but they can also encourage you to stop putting yourself out there, to stop you before you make the next mistake. Sadly, instead of making you feel better, fixing what went wrong or helping you learn from your mistakes, the negative self-talk leaves you feeling worthless, less-than and sometimes hopeless.

Soothing Our Critical Parts

So how do we break the cycle of beating ourselves up when we make mistakes? We do it through the practice of self-compassion.

smiling woman

If we can hold ourselves with the same compassion that we show to others, it can reduce stress and anxiety. When we allow ourselves to be imperfect, to embrace our imperfections, we’re able to approach life with more openness and ease.

Here are four steps to help bring more self-compassion into your life:

1. Start paying attention to your negative self-talk. When that negative voice pipes up, ask yourself, with curiosity, what prompted it? Try to identify what that part of you is afraid of or what you are worried about. Sometimes journaling when you’re most critical of yourself can help you identify the things in life that make you feel less-than. We call those things your triggers.

2. Make a note of the negative things you tell yourself and ask, “Would I say these things to a close friend?” If not, then say out loud or write down what you might tell a friend who was struggling with the same thing.

3. As you begin to recognize when you get triggered, and you become more aware of your negative self-talk, pay attention to those moments. When they arise, I want you to try to say to yourself with compassion, “Wow! I just said some really mean things to myself. I was ready to put myself down for not being perfect, and my critical parts jumped in without my noticing! I can be so hard on myself.”

4. Now, bring to mind the things you’d say to a close friend who was struggling and try to say them to yourself. If you’ve been hard on yourself for a long time, this takes a lot of practice. You might start by imagining what your good friend might say to you if they knew you were having a hard time.

When times are tough, it can help to remember that everyone struggles from time to time. It’s a part of the human experience. When you’re feeling overwhelmed or when that critical voice wants to berate and minimize your difficulties, try saying to yourself, “I’m struggling right now. We all struggle once in a while.” You can also place your hand on your heart and recite these phrases: “May I be peaceful. May I be safe. May I be healthy and may I live my life with ease.”

I hope these steps help you quiet your inner critic and bring more self-compassion into your life.


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 SHINE TANG & by Joshua Rawson-Harris on Unsplash

What's Your Body Telling You About Anxiety?

When you struggle with anxiety, sometimes you might wonder why you even get anxious in the first place. What purpose does it serve? And why does it make you feel so bad?

Over the years, while struggling to manage my own anxiety, I’ve learned that signs that I’m uncomfortable often show up before the anxiety is running full tilt. It might be a feeling of pressure in my chest. Sometimes my throat feels like it’s full of sand, or my belly feels hollow (like I have a pit in my stomach), depending on what’s making me uncomfortable and anxious.

My mindfulness practice has allowed me to be more aware of my body’s sensations in the moment when stressful things are happening (or I’m interpreting that the events are stressful). My body signals me long before I’m fully aware that the situation is overwhelming or triggering.

Where Do You Feel Anxiety?

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I ask clients to tune into their physical reactions when they’re talking about something stressful or difficult. When I ask, “Where do you feel that in your body?” they can often point or place their hand right where they feel it. Or is I ask, “What physical feelings do you have when your anxiety shows up?” Some clients can identify exactly where anxiety lives in them. For others, it’s a little harder to figure out, but usually clients at least have a general sense of some internal sensations.

Many times the body signals come before the anxiety is fully recognizable. Basically your body is telling you that you’re feeling something, usually something uncomfortable. It’s alerting you, wanting your attention and letting you know it’s time to tune in, it’s time to listen, it’s time to take care of yourself.

Tune Into Your Anxiety Through Your Body

So how do we learn to tune into our body so we can hear what it wants us to know?

Start a mindfulness practice. Mindfulness helps you become more aware of yourself — your reactions, your thoughts, your feelings and what’s happening inside your body. If you haven’t already recognized the patterns, you might begin to notice that when certain thoughts or feelings enter your consciousness, your body reacts to those thoughts and feelings in particular ways.

Practice yoga, tai chi or another form of movement. They help you learn to focus on the different parts of your body.

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Start a meditation practice. Body scan meditations guide you from head to toe (or toe to head), gradually moving your non-judgmental awareness from one body part to another. It helps fine-tune your focus as you practice the meditation. It also brings an awareness of how your body holds stress and how the stress might change as you bring a conscious awareness to it.

Take a moment to pause. When you’re anticipating a stressful event or encounter, take a minute to pause. Take a few slow, deep breaths. Check in with yourself and ask “Where am I feeling this in my body right now?” If tuning into your body is something new, you might need to do it a few times before you’re able to pinpoint where you feel the stress. That’s okay. Be patient and keep tuning in.

Work with a therapist. The right therapist — one who’s been trained in somatic, movement or body awareness therapies — can help you work toward a greater understanding of your body and help you learn why it reacts the way it does.

As with all new habits and skills, getting in touch with your physical reactions can take some time and practice. Be gentle and compassionate with yourself on this journey!


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 Tanja Heffner and by Caique Silva on  Unsplash

 

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

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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

Strategies For Dealing With Anxiety And Worry

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

5 Ways To Recognize That Worry And Anxiety Could Be Ruling Your Life

  1. Worrying keeps you from falling asleep or staying asleep most nights.
  2. It feels like your mind is always “on.”
  3. You rehash your conversations, actions or behaviors over and over again, wondering how you might have done things differently.
  4. When things don’t go as planned, you get frustrated, angry or scared.
  5. You’re irritable a lot of the time.
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All the worrying can make it hard to sleep well, and anxiety can cause headaches and stomachaches. Sometimes stress can be so intense that it can make it hard to swallow or eat because of the tightness in your throat or feelings of nausea.

If left unattended, all the stress and worrying can lead to an anxiety or panic attack. You might feel light headed. Your chest might feel constricted, and your breathing becomes shallow and fast. You might begin to sweat, see stars and feel like you’re going to faint. You might even worry that you’re having a heart attack.

Counseling For Anxiety

Often the worries and anxiety stem from things beyond our control, and the desire to control the uncontrollable fuels the stress.

Through counseling you begin to understand that your need for control might be rooted in a childhood that was filled with uncertainty or upheaval. Maybe you were left in charge of your siblings at a young age, or you were the moderator in your parent’s arguments. Counseling can help you understand how your childhood could have affected you as an adult.

Counseling can also help you understand that the constant worrying is a form of anxiety, and that all the worrying can have an impact on your mental and physical health. Through therapy, you can explore strategies to help you more easily accept the natural ups and downs of life, allowing you to let go of the need to control everything.

5 Strategies To Help You Let Go

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

If you'd like more strategies on managing anxiety in the moment you can check out my podcast episode dedicated to anxiety here.

Achieving Emotional Balance

Through counseling and some lifestyle changes, you can live a more emotionally balanced life. If you would like to live your life with more balance, please email me or call me at Progression Counseling in Annapolis at 310-339-1979, for a free 15-minute consultation.

This week on the Woman Worriers I interview Dr. Jonice Webb where we explore why feelings of anxiety, emptiness and disconnect often have roots deep in seemingly happy childhoods. 


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 Kinga Cichewicz & Nine Köpfer on Unsplash

 

 

Anxiety and Anger: Manage Them Mindfully

When you don't express your anger it can turn inwards

When you don't express your anger it can turn inwards

When you’re very anxious and you’ve spent a lifetime pleasing others in order to manage your anxiety, it can be very hard to express anger in ways that feel safe or comfortable. Telling someone you’re angry with him or her can feel too much like an all-out conflict. But if you don’t tell the people you care about when you’re unhappy or angry, your anger can turn inward. Then, that at critical part of yourself might be mad because you always let others have their way. You might say things to yourself like:

  • “I’m a pushover.”
  • “I’m a wimp.”
  • “I have no spine.”

The inner critic will remind you each time you choose to stay quiet. Your critical voice will tell you over and over how you might have done things differently. Or it might wonder, in not so nice terms, why you can’t stand up for yourself.

Anger’s Impact On Relationships

Anger can build inside you if you don't say what you need

Anger can build inside you if you don't say what you need

Sometimes you might hold onto your anger and resentment because you believe that the people in your life should know how you feel, even if you don’t tell them. The anger builds inside you with each event where you don’t say what you need. People you care about might hurt your feelings,; when you don’t speak up for yourself, the resentment grows. You store away each wound, and occasionally you take it out to re-examine it and refresh the hurt feelings.

As the anger builds up inside, it leaves you feeling on edge until maybe something small happens and you explode! You wind up reeling off the list of all of the hurts that led up to this moment. This can be difficult for the person you’re angry with. Chances are that he or she wasn’t aware of how their behavior was impacting you. Now they’re wondering why you didn’t bring it up when it happened.

If blowing up isn’t comfortable for you, you might swallow your anger once again, withdrawing from the people you care about most. This can be overwhelming for you. It’s also difficult for the person you’re angry with because he or she had no idea that you were upset.

5 Mindful Ways Top Manage Your Anger

So how can you do things differently? How can you begin to say what you need, or express your anger in more healthy ways, so that you feel heard and not hurt?

Pause and pay attention when angry feelings show up

Pause and pay attention when angry feelings show up

Here are a few tips to help you get started:

  1. When your irritation starts to grow, begin to notice how you’re feeling. Where do you feel the irritation in your body? If you could describe it, what color and shape would it be? What are the thoughts that go with the feeling?
  2. Pay attention when you start to go over all the times this person has irritated you before. If you’re scrolling through a list of all the times you’ve been angry or hurt by this person, notice how those thoughts change how you’re feeling in the moment. Does the irritation grow into full-blown anger or does it lessen?
  3. Take a few slow, deep breaths, breathing deeply into your belly. Belly breathing can calm and relax you in the moment, but it’s also good to practice it when you’re feeling calm. It can stimulate your parasympathetic nervous system, and that helps you feel more at ease.
  4. Try writing down what’s bothering you, or try drawing a picture of the irritation that you’ve come up with from #1, or both!
  5. Ask yourself how old the angry, irritated part feels. Does this part feel like an adult or like a child? Are the angry thoughts and feelings familiar? Do they feel similar to a time in your past when you felt the same way? Is there something your angry part wants you to know? Journaling can help here, too.

Anger and irritation can also be a symptom of anxiety. If you think that you need help managing your anger in healthier ways, seek out a therapist who can help you work through and better understand the root of your anger. Counseling can help you find strategies for expressing your anger and irritation in healthier, more meaningful ways when it surfaces.


In his week's episode of the Woman Worriers podcast we're talking about trauma, attachment trauma and anxiety with Laura Reagan. You can check it out 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. 

Photos by Gabriel Matula & Stanley Dai & Nik MacMillan on Unsplash

 

Exploring Women and Anxious Parents

It feels like Spring has been a long time in coming this year. We have a few nice days and then we return to rain and cooler temps. The weather seems to affect my mood so here’s hoping Spring is right around the corner! I’m ready to get outside and do some gardening.

Anxious Parents

Parents modeling how to manage anxiety helps kids manage their anxious feelings

Parents modeling how to manage anxiety helps kids manage their anxious feelings

This month my Good Therapy article, Does My Anxiety Affect My Kids? discusses how anxious parents’ behaviors might affect might their kids. As a young mom I knew that my anxiety was impacting my kids. I didn't know how to do things differently and I often felt guilty and blamed myself for any of their anxious behaviors.  In my article I share that there’s good news for anxious parents! Just as children can be influenced by a parent’s anxious behavior, modeling how to manage anxiety can help kids learn to cope with their own anxious feelings.

Anxious Women

I continue to explore women and anxiety in my Woman Worriers podcast. Last week I shared my thoughts on mindfulness and how it helps me manage my anxiety today.

This week on the podcast I talk with chronic illness and pain specialist Daniela Paolone, LMFT .  She shares her personal journey with me and explores how chronic illness and pain has impacted her client’s lives. I hope you’ll tune in and if you enjoy the episode please consider leaving an honest review!

You can find the Good Therapy article here and the podcast here. I hope you have a wonderful week!


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 Meghan Holmes on Unsplash

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