Trauma

Understanding Attachment And Finding Genuine Connection

Therapy is like peeling away the layers of an onion

Therapy is like peeling away the layers of an onion

Therapy is often like peeling an onion. As we peel away each layer, we’re offered new insights and understanding. Often my clients seek help initially for anxiety and stress, but 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 is a feeling that they’re not living their lives as fully or consciously as they’d like. They describe feeling as though they don’t feel connected to themselves or the people in their lives.  

Feeling as if you don’t know yourself, or not being connected to your feelings, are usually the result of very early childhood experiences. From the moment we’re born, our relationship with our parents or caregivers affects our ability to feel at ease in the world as adults.

Feeling unconditionally loved and accepted gets reinforced as our parents respond to our cries and hold us when we’re distressed, feed us when we’re hungry and keep us warm and dry. When parents consistently provide us with unconditional love and caring, we learn as infants that our parents will always be there when we need comfort. We call this “secure attachment.”

Disrupted Attachment

Sometimes parents aren’t able to attend consistently to a child’s needs. This week on the Woman Worriers podcast, Marie Celeste shared her adoption story and her experience working with adoptive families and adoptees. She said that when children are adopted, they often feel an unconscious sense of loss and disconnection because they weren’t able to build that bond and connection with their birth mother.

Some other circumstances that can cause disruption in attachment are:

  • The parents must focus much of their attention on a sibling with physical or emotional disabilities.

  • The parent has mental health issues that limit their ability to be emotionally connected to the child.

  • The parent is overwhelmed by the child’s needs and isn’t able to respond with love and affection.

  • The parent wasn’t given what they needed growing up so they don’t have the internal resources to attach to the child.

  • One or both parents struggle with addiction.

  • Physical or sexual abuse by a parent or caregiver.

The list could go on, but the point is that even when a parent’s intentions are good—they want to have and build an emotionally secure environment for their child—they might be unable to provide it because they aren’t emotionally grounded themselves.

Why Secure Attachment Matters

Does attachment really matter? If the child was raised in a safe secure home and given food to eat, a home for shelter, clothes to wear and parents who loved them, isn’t that enough?

Unconditional love and acceptance is important for emotionally healthy kids

Unconditional love and acceptance is important for emotionally healthy kids

The answer is, it’s not just material needs that matter. If you didn’t feel loved, cared for, and accepted unconditionally, then that impacts how you feel about yourself. It’s more about what you didn’t receive.

When children don’t feel unconditionally loved and accepted—for whatever reason—they internalize the pain and blame themselves. When you’ve been raised in an environment where your emotional needs were neglected, ignored, criticized or shamed it can lead to feelings of disconnection, anxiety and depression in adulthood.

Here are some things I’ve heard clients say about the affect of being emotionally neglected and insecurely attached to parents or caregivers:

  • I am not enough.

  • I don’t know what I need most of the time.

  • I don’t know how to ask for what I need.

  • I want to have a close relationship but maybe I’m just not able to.

  • There’s something about me that’s different from other people.

  • I feel like no one knows the real me.

  • There is this feeling that I’ll never be able to feel at ease in deeper connection. It’s something about me.

  • When I see other people so at ease socially I wonder what is it about me that’s different.

  • I know that if they knew the real me, they wouldn’t like me.

Healing Attachment Wounds

So how do we move forward and find true connection, love and acceptance? To feel grounded, safe and secure in the world?

We need to build, nurture and grow feelings of connection within ourselves. We need to re-parent ourselves, to learn to love and accept ourselves with compassion and understanding. We need to heal the wounded parts of us that weren’t given what they needed when we were children.

Recognizing that our childhood emotional needs weren’t met can open the door for healing. As we learn to love ourselves unconditionally and embrace our imperfectness we can start the process of healing our disrupted attachment and begin to identify, understand and express our emotional needs.

When we can fully connect with our self with love and compassion, it makes genuine connection with others so much easier. It eases feelings of anxiety and depression to help you feel more grounded and present in the world.

If you yearn to feel more grounded, at ease and present in your life, come join our exploration of mindfulness. Mindfulness groups are forming now in Annapolis. If you’re interested you can find out more here.

Here are some additional resources on Childhood Emotional Neglect:

Dr. Jonice Webb on Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN)™

Agnes Wainman, PhD, on Expectations & Anxiety

How to Take Control of Your Fatal Flaw


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

 

A Story of Survival and Healing: A Therapists Journey Into Seeing and Being

*This post was originally published on The Practice of Being Seen blog.

Healing begins when you’re seen. Healing deepens when you see yourself.

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Throughout most of my life, anxiety has been a constant companion. As a young child, anxiety was part of my emotional landscape, and it also inflected my physical world. I needed to feel that my body was safe and secure. I’d get my mom to tie the ribbons at the waist of my dresses so tightly that I could feel them cutting into my skin. I couldn’t fall asleep at night unless the covers were tucked so tightly that I felt the pressure of the blankets pushing me into the bed.

As a teenager I often disconnected from my difficult feelings. I wasn’t fully present and it was as if I was in a fog. At other times, it was as if all the wires in my system fired at the same time. When I was stressed and anxious I became hyper aware of my clothes touching my skin. Irritable and angry much of the time, I struggled with depression. All of this confused me. I wasn’t making the connection between the physical sensory discomfort and my emotional discomfort.

I felt like I didn’t fit in. I believed that there was something wrong deep within me and that I was the problem. When I’d try to “fix” that, I’d mold myself to other people’s needs and agree to things I wasn’t sure I wanted. My body would try to get my attention: a heavy tightness would press down on my chest. To this day, that pressure continues to remind me when I’m holding back and not speaking up for my wants and needs.

Surviving Abuse

It’s not easy for me to open up and it takes a lot for me to let down my guard - to be vulnerable, to trust, to be me. So much of that comes back to my childhood. The physical and emotional symptoms that I described didn’t just crop up one day. When we were very young, my sister and I were abused by a powerful man in my family. The abuse was allowed to continue even after my sister and I came forward and told my parents and they consulted with the other adults in the family. It took a huge leap of faith to tell our story, but the adults we relied upon rationalized the abuse. My sister and I were told to figure it out on our own.

We were 4 and 6 years old.

I can picture my younger self in a starchy, smocked calico printed dress. Chubby legs, a smile on my face, wanting to be loved, cared for... I just wanted to be seen, heard, and protected. Instead the message I received was, “Don’t make a fuss! Please, go figure out how to protect yourself.” As we grew older the abuse stopped, but the emotional scars are still present and they show themselves when I’m feeling most vulnerable.

Seeing the Unseen and Hearing the Unheard

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I know what it means to feel like no one sees you and no one hears you.  I know the fear of showing my real self. And this is why I became a therapist, because I care so deeply about those who feel unseen and unheard.

As a therapist, I hold sacred space as I see my clients in their most vulnerable moments. I work with women who have trouble showing up as who they really are. They feel inauthentic in their lives and they struggle with anxiety and depression. As we work together, they experience what it’s like when their voices, their needs, their wants, and their pain are finally seen and heard.

Truly Seeing Myself

My own deep dive into therapy has helped me understand my shame and self-blame. It’s helped me to re-integrate the parts of me that I pushed away. I’m able to feel the power of those voices inside me that long to be heard. I’m able to acknowledge the parts of myself that need to have their stories told, shared, and embraced with compassion. I’ve begun the process of listening, loving, trusting, and seeing all of me.

I’m not sure I’ll ever rid myself of the need to protect myself, or the worry that I’ll show myself and there won’t be anyone to see me, but I’ve learned that I can be there for me. I am the one who will be able to see me, to hear me, to support me, and love me.

The abuse I experienced used to feel like a liability, but now I see it as my strength. I am a better therapist because of my story and I appreciate how it’s shaped me both personally and professionally. My clients feel that I truly understand their pain and trust that I can see their true selves in ways that might be hidden from them. I receive their stories with empathy and I support them with encouragement and compassion. As they reach out, as they explore their experiences and move forward on their journey, I continue to grow and heal right there beside them.

**You can hear me read this story aloud on the Woman Worriers podcast. episode 40.


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.  

You can follow me and the Woman Worriers podcast on these social media platforms — Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and Twitter

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

 

How Trauma Imapcts the Mind and the Body

Traumatic Memories

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Coping with a traumatic event isn’t only about managing what happened at the time, but it’s also a process of managing how it affects you throughout your life. Traumatic memories can be triggered years later or re-experienced through dreams, flashbacks, physical symptoms and emotional overwhelm.

For trauma survivors, traumatic memories can feel very scary. You’re left feeling as if you have no control over your body and mind. The good news is that you can bring some light and healing to the stored trauma by working with a trauma-informed therapist.

Storing Traumatic Experiences

Whenever a traumatic event happens, whether in childhood or adulthood, you store the experience two ways. You store visual memories and you store memories in your body. When these traumatic memories are triggered, some survivors report “seeing” the trauma as if it just happened. They can recall places, faces, smells, sounds and tastes.

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Emotions can spring up without prompting, and you can feel as if you’re in a dangerous situation even when the present moment isn’t dangerous or scary. Traumatic memories can also leave you feeling anxious or depressed. It might seem like you’re feeling bad for no reason at all, but when memories that are stored in the subconscious get triggered, intense feelings seem to come out of nowhere.

I know about traumatic memories because I’m a trauma therapist and a trauma survivor. I see my clients struggle in sessions everyday. I also struggled with anxiety for many years without truly understanding the impact my trauma had on me or why I was such an anxious child, teen and young adult.

What I’ve learned as a counseling psychology grad-student, as a therapist and as a client in therapy has helped me understand that you can’t control when your memory is triggered by past events. What you can control is how you react or respond to the feelings and memories as they arise. 

Avoiding the feelings that arise when you’re feeling triggered — pushing feelings away, telling yourself to get over it, using substances, disconnecting from your feelings — might help for a short time, but the feelings are still there, and they want to be heard.  In my interview with Kristen Ulmer, we discuss how to tune into our fear (which is usually the root of anxiety and depression) so it can be heard and honored. Brain research suggests that naming your feelings can diminish the intensity of these feelings.

Trauma, Difficult Feelings And Therapy

The hard part about naming feelings if you’re trauma survivor is that initially you might not know what you’re feeling. Because the traumatic feelings were stored in the unconscious memory and that helped you survive. You might also be worried that your feelings will overwhelm you if you tune in and pay attention. In fact, trying to resist or avoid your feelings can actually increase the intensity of your emotions.

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Working with a counselor who specializes in trauma-informed therapy can help. You learn how to soothe yourself when you’re feeling emotionally overwhelmed. You learn to regulate your emotions as they arise and you learn to honor you story of healing.

Trauma therapy used to mean you had to retell your trauma story in order to heal, but that’s no longer a given. In trauma-focused therapy, you may share the story when you’re ready, but not before you have the skills create a space where your body and mind are ready.

If you’d like to know more about trauma, traumatic memories and healing here are some resources:

I spoke with Laura Reagan and Robert Cox about trauma, the brain and healing. You can find those interviews at WomanWorriers.com.

Dr. Bessel van der Kolk has done some groundbreaking work on the subject of traumatic memories. You can learn about his research in his book , The Body Keeps The Score. Additionally, the Sidran Institute’s article What Arte Traumatic Memories, explains traumatic memories and how they’re stored. 


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. 

Photos by whoislimos and Anita Jankovic and Michael Browning 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.

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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

 

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

What Have You Done For You Lately?

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

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

Growing Up In A Stressful Home

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

Childhood stress impacts adulthood

Childhood stress impacts adulthood

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

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

It’s All In The Past — Or Is It?

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

Past experiences can impact adulthood

Past experiences can impact adulthood

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

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

Anxiety From Childhood Stressors

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

Tuning Into Anxiety To Help Heal

Tune into anxiety with compassion

Tune into anxiety with compassion

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

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

Self-Care Doesn’t Mean Selfish

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

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


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

Photo by Katherine Chase & Morgan Basham & Tanja Heffner on Unsplash

 

 

 

How Is Feeling Flawed Holding You Back From Being Your True Self?

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

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

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

The fatal flaw is just a feeling

The fatal flaw is just a feeling

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

If You Feel Flawed, You’re Not Alone

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

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

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

How To Handle The Feeling Of Being Flawed

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

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

Talking about your feelings can help

Talking about your feelings can help

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

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


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

Photo by Naqi Shahid and  Eye for Ebony on Unsplash

 

The Power of Making Movement Part of Your Journey

Recently, I’ve been exploring movement in my life. I don’t just mean my physical movement, but also movement through painting, movement in my psyche and movement in my environment.

Movement Helps Heal

Movement helps heal

Movement helps heal

I’ve been more mindful of movement because I’ve been incorporating movement into my own therapeutic journey. I’ve found it incredibly healing. I was traumatized as a young child, so I learned early on to disconnect from my physical experience. Because of that, it’s taken a concerted, mindful effort to get back in touch with all of my body’s sensations.

Our bodies can tell us a lot if we’re willing to be attentive and listen. The problem is that sometimes we get so caught up in our daily grind that we forget to pay attention. We ignore what we’re feeling, or we might have disconnected from our physical experience in order to cope with trauma. 

How Mindful Awareness Helps Us Stay In Touch With Our Bodies

Our bodies talk to us everyday. Actually they’re talking to us every moment of every day! Your stomach might growl because you’re hungry, or your bladder might feel full because you need to go to the bathroom. Maybe  a tightness in your chest signals that you’re feeling anxious. But often, we don’t tune into the physical sensation. We continue on with what we’re doing until the signal is hard to ignore.

The sensations that occur within our bodies aren’t always uncomfortable. You might feel a lightness in your chest or heart when you feel joy, or gratitude might make your heartspace feel warm and full,. Laughter can make your whole body vibrate.

Bringing a mindful awareness to the movement and sensations in your body can help you feel more connected internally and externally. The aliveness that’s there, at all times can help you recognize that all sensations and movements within will come and go. So you might feel good or bad for a time, but by being more aware you come to understand that you’re in a constant ebb and flow of feelings and sensations.

3 Ways To Bring Awareness To Movement

1. Move Your Body! Yoga, exercise, walking, dancing or whatever moves you! When you allow your body to move in ways that feel good to you, it can bring a whole lot connection and awareness to how your body feels and when it wants you to hear.

Art can make us aware of the power of movement

Art can make us aware of the power of movement

I’m taking an Authentic Movement Group with other healers. Without going into too much detail, the idea is that you trust your body to communicate with you about how to move in a way that feels true and authentic. (And you do it with your eyes closed!) It’s been an enlightening and freeing growth experience for me in ways I can’t even put into words.

3. Explore Through Art. Whether you draw, paint, sculpt or weave, it’s all about movement of the medium. I know you might say, “But I’m not an artist,” but guess what? It doesn’t matter! I’m not an artist. Without any formal training, I’ve begun painting with watercolors, and it’s fun! I try to approach it with no judgment. Some of my creations I love. Some, not so much — but expressing myself through the movement of color on paper has been another surprisingly powerful experience.

3. Notice Movement In Your Environment. As you walk, drive, run and move throughout your day, notice the sounds that move in and out of your awareness. Notice others moving around you. Notice how your own movements change as you walk, go up steps or sit down. Pay attention to the wind as it blows branches or trash or stoplights. Or notice how the wind passes by your cheek or blows your hair. Here’s a video I took of waves and the motion of water on a beach.

Movement is ongoing. What can we learn from that? The thing I’ve taken away from paying attention to all of this movement in and around me is that whatever I am experiencing at this moment, it’s likely to change. Maybe not right away, but it will change. So, I might be feeling anxious now, but it’s not going to last forever — and that’s reassuring.


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

Photo by Nadim Merrikh and Rifqi Ali Ridho on Unsplashon

 

 

 

Top 10 Questions About Therapy And My Counseling Practice

Progression Counseling Office

Progression Counseling Office

If you’ve thought about getting counseling but haven’t taken the first step, you probably have questions. Everybody does. In this post, I’ll share the questions I hear most often — and the answers. If I haven’t addressed your specific question here, please feel free to ask.

1. Do you take insurance?

New clients who call or email often ask this question first. Research shows that the most important component of effective therapy is the therapeutic relationship, which means that if you feel connected and aligned with your therapist, you’re more likely to feel better sooner. Regardless of whether you need to use insurance, my advice is to interview a few therapists to find the one you like who seems to truly understand what you need from therapy. Word of mouth, Google searches, your insurance company, Good Therapy and Psychology Today are good places to start looking for therapists in your area.

I am an Out-of Network provider, which means that you pay me my full fee and I give you paperwork to file with the insurance company for your partial reimbursement (if they provide out-of-network coverage).  But I understand that health costs are crazy, and being able to use insurance is a real consideration for many people.

2. Are you accepting new clients?

I am! I have openings for individual and group therapy.

3. How does counseling help?

The therapist should be someone you feel comfortable with, someone you trust, and someone you feel understands you and your perspective. When you find that, therapy provides a safe, supportive space for you to share your stuff. The therapist should also be qualified to do the kind of work you need. For instance, if you’ve experienced trauma in your life, you want a trauma-focused therapist. I you’re looking for therapy for your child, you want someone qualified to work with kids. 

Many clients either don’t know how they’re feeling at any given moment, or their emotional state feels like it’s in charge. For them, it feels as though their emotions are invisible or uncontrollable. Counseling can help through exploration and development of relaxation strategies, mindfulness and grounding techniques that help regulate emotional states — an important step in therapy. 

Therapists work at your pace to explore and bring to light life the events or feelings you want to understand better. They help you practice skills for coping when life circumstances trigger you. Counseling also gives you the opportunity to examine new and different perspectives about yourself and your life, creating greater self-awareness. When we feel connected to ourselves, it’s easier to feel more connected to others.

Working with women who struggle with anxiety is my specialty

Working with women who struggle with anxiety is my specialty

4. What’s your specialty?

I work best with women who struggle with anxiety. I experience anxiety myself and I know how hard it can be to feel like you’re always reacting instead of responding! I know how difficult it can be when anxiety affects your sleep, your peace of mind and your relationships. I’ve worked hard to manage my anxiety, and I want to help others on their journey.

5. Can you help me get rid of my anxiety?

I can’t. Being anxious is a natural state when we’re afraid and feel threatened, so it doesn’t go away. But therapy can help you learn to manage the anxiety better through a greater awareness of what triggers the anxiety, and by practicing self-compassion and self-care, practicing relaxation skills, and using mindfulness to help you get out of your head (where we get stuck when we’re anxious) and more focused on the present moment.

I often tell new clients that managing anxiety means that you learn to be more comfortable with the discomfort that anxiety brings. 

6. How often do we meet?

Therapy works best when it’s consistent, so I recommend meeting weekly to start.

7. Are my issues more severe than most of your clients?

I get this question a lot and my answer is always pretty much the same. Everyone enters therapy from a different place. And each person’s journey through the counseling process is different. You are where you are. As we work together, you’ll gain a greater understanding of who you are and how you got to be the person you are today.

I don't prescribe medication

I don't prescribe medication

8. Do you prescribe medication?

No. In Maryland, therapists are not allowed to prescribe medication. If needed, you would see your primary care provider or a psychiatrist for medication management, and we would all work together to help you find the medication that works best for you.

9. Is group therapy for me?

Group therapy is a unique experience. Unlike individual therapy, where it’s just you and the therapist, group therapy gives you the unique perspectives of all the people who share the group with you. Their insight and experience often brings a greater awareness to what you’re experiencing. It’s also incredibly supportive and connecting.

10. How much?

The first session is $150 for one hour, and subsequent sessions are $100 for 45 minutes. Group therapy sessions are usually $45 for one hour, but often there are cost incentives to sign up early.


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

Photos by Jon Ly on Unsplash & pina messina on Unsplash

 

 

 

 

 

 

Managing Anxiety For The Long Game

I’ve struggled with anxiety for most of my life and I’ve gotten pretty good at managing it. I recognize many of my triggers and I plan ahead when I know I might encounter a situation that sets me off. I’ve learned self-compassion, so I’m not too hard on myself. I practice mindfulness for relaxation and greater awareness, and I continue with my own therapy.

When Anxiety Pops-Up Without Warning

But  my anxiety still pops up sometimes , seemingly for no reason. It’s as though my body decided all on its own to be anxious! So how do I prepare for that? The reality is that sometimes anxiety is triggered by an implicit or unconscious memory. When that happens, our bodies are responding to a memory we’re not even aware of. Most likely, it’s not an actual threat.

Anxiety can hit you when you're least expecting it

Anxiety can hit you when you're least expecting it

For me, the anxious response often happens when I’m just about to fall asleep. I’m relaxed, tired and so ready for sleep. I begin to slip into that dreamlike state when you think you’re awake but you’re actually between sleep and wakefulness. I’m all ready to drift off and suddenly I’m wide awake, my heart is pounding and I feel like something bad is about to happen. How the heck am I supposed to fall sleep feeling like that?

Anxiety that seems to come out of nowhere is common. I encounter it often when working with my clients. Many of them feel as though their anxiety is hiding, just waiting to spring when they’re least expecting it. When anxiety appears without an obvious reason, they feel like it’s controlling them.

Managing An Anxious Memory

Even though the anxiety stems from a memory, our body responds as if the threat is real. The trigger could be something as small as a sound, smell or touch of something that reminds you of a past experience that truly did feel threatening. So, how do you deal with a threat that’s not actually a threat?”

To first thing to do to help get through those unexpectedly anxious moments is to recognize that the anxiety was triggered by some memory from your past. You can even say to yourself out loud (if no one is around), “OK, Body. I hear you telling me that something just made you really anxious! I can feel it, but I know this isn’t about something that’s happening right now.” Saying it out loud, or even just in your head, reinforces the fact that the anxious experience popped up because your body remembered something from the past, not something that’s happening right now.

Next, take a few deep breaths. Slow, deep breathing can calm your anxious nervous system. If you’d like some practice with deep breathing exercises you can find out more here.

Feel your feet planted firmly on the ground

Feel your feet planted firmly on the ground

Then orient yourself in the present moment. You might be asking yourself right now, “What the heck does that mean?” It means I want you to bring yourself out of your head, where the worry is controlling your reactions, and into where you are physically  — right here, right now. It’s called grounding. Metaphorically speaking, I want you to feel like your feet are planted firmly on the ground at this very moment in time, as if they were the trunk of a tree, with the roots spreading out beneath you to steady you and keep you strong.

There are a lot of different grounding strategies. I’ve detailed some of them in a video here. One of the easiest techniques I’ve found that you can do anywhere is tapping your feet. Tap each foot, alternating them back and forth, for a minute. As you do it, really pay attention to the feel of your feet on the ground, the sound they make as they tap and how the movement feels throughout your body.

Another grounding technique is to bring awareness to your surroundings. Focus on the colors you see, the sounds you hear, things you can touch and how they feel in your hand, and the things you can smell and taste. This can be hard if you’re feeling extremely anxious. In those instances it can help to pay attention in a very specific way. It’s called 5,4,3,2,1. It goes like this: Notice 5 things you see, 4 things you hear, 3 things you touch, 2 things you smell and 1 thing you taste. 

Bringing yourself back from the remembered state of anxiousness into the present, where there’s no apparent danger, can help your body relax and help your brain recognize that the memory was in the past. You’re here now in the present and you’re not in danger.

If your anxiety is pretty intense, you might have to repeat the grounding strategy for a few rounds, but these exercises should help soothe your anxious state.

Practicing mindfulness is a great way to bring a more present awareness into your daily life.  And being more present can help you manage your anxious feelings. Mindfulness groups are forming now in Annapolis and you can find out more here.


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

Photos by Alexandra Gorn  & by Ian Baldwin on Unsplash

Staying Mindful Through The Holidays

Struggling With Holiday Stress

Struggling with holiday stress

Struggling with holiday stress

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

Mindfulness Can Help

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

Practice mindful awareness.

Practice mindful awareness

Practice mindful awareness

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

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

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

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

Practice feeling gratitude.

Practice feeling gratitude

Practice feeling gratitude

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

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

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

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


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

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

What Is A Mindfulness Practice?

Meditation is one part of a daily mindfulness practice

Meditation is one part of a daily mindfulness practice

Meditation and mindful awareness are two components of a mindfulness practice. Both are equally important. Meditation helps you learn how to focus your mind, which in turn helps you focus your attention on the world around you in the moment. Mindful awareness, or focusing your attention on the present moment, can be as simple as paying attention to an activity you do mindlessly everyday, like brushing your teeth.

Because we’re so used to just doing, without thinking, each part of a mindfulness practice really does take practice. We’re so used to going about our day with our mind running in a million different directions that bringing it back to the here and now can seem difficult. For some it can be frustrating, because it doesn’t always come easily. 

What Is Meditation?

Learning to focus your attention is where daily meditation can help. Meditation is sitting quietly and focusing on an anchor. An anchor can be your breath, a mantra or something else you choose to bring your attention back to each time it wanders. And it will wander, because we’re human and we’re wired to be thinking, planning and worrying beings. Each time you bring your attention back to your anchor, you’re being mindful! It’s that easy — or not!

A key component of meditation is being compassionate and non-judgmental with yourself. Some days it might come easily; other days, when you’ve got a lot on your min or you’re easily distracted, it can be harder. What’s important is to enter into the meditation with the intention of being mindfully centered and try not to give yourself a hard time if it feels difficult. You can even say to yourself, “My intention was to meditate mindfully for 10 minutes today. It was very hard for me because my mind was all over the place. My intention is to try it again tomorrow.”

Mindful Meditation: Getting Started

Meditation can be guided or you can guide yourself. I think that when you begin a mindful meditation practice, it’s much easier to have some gentle guidance. A bunch of apps for you phone, websites with free meditations and YouTube videos are available to help you get started. I’ve listed a few resources at the bottom of this post.

Make meditation a part of your daily routine

Make meditation a part of your daily routine

When talking with my clients, I suggest picking a time of day when you won’t be disturbed and finding a place where you can sit quietly. I like to meditate in the morning when I’m at home by myself, or when I’m between clients in my office. To start, try meditating once a day for 3–5 minutes. It’s important to do it everyday, but if you forget, be compassionate with yourself and do it tomorrow.

Once you’ve established a routine, begin increasing the amount of time that you meditate. Ideally doing it for at least 10 minutes a day is a good goal. You’ll probably begin to notice that your thoughts automatically come and go, and it gets easier to come back to your anchor and to be less reactive about the thoughts that do pop up. That’s because you’re learning to let your thoughts pass through, instead of latching on to them.

My Experience

I find that when I take the time to meditate before I start my day, I can approach the day with greater sense of ease and intention. Do I still get stressed out? Of course! But I know that the stress will pass too, much like my thoughts. Meditation allows me to feel stress, but I don’t have to be stressed. If I don’t overly identify with the feeling, then I can acknowledge its presence without it pulling me under.

Do you meditate, or have your tried it? I’d love to know your experience in the comments. If you don’t meditate but would like to start and think having a group to support you would be helpful, I have an eight-week group, beginning later this month, where we will practice meditation and mindful awareness together. You can find out more here.

In my next post, I’ll talk about mindful awareness and how to bring more of it into your life.


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

You can also find me on Twitter, Facebook and Linked In

Photo by Natalia Figueredo and by Ben Blennerhassett on Unsplash

 

 

I'm A Featured Guest On Selling The Couch!

This week I was the featured guest on Melvin Varghese’s Selling The Couch podcast (STC). The podcast is rated one of the Top 100 Business and Top 30 Career podcasts in iTunes and featured in Psychology Today, Psych Central, and Good Therapy.

STC has been influential in helping me build my business because Melvin interviews people who’ve experienced a lot of the same issues and obstacles that I’ve encountered while building my business, Progression Counseling. We dive deep into how I developed my business and what drives me to continue to grow in new ways.

In the podcast I discuss:

  • Starting a new career in “mid-life”
  • Why I chose to work with clients who are experiencing anxiety
  • Why I’ve moved into group work
  • How managing my own website has allowed me to speak to my clients in a genuine way that comes from my heart. 

I hope you’ll take a moment to listen, and if you feel inclined, please leave a review for the podcast on iTunes. Feel free to leave me a comment on my blog too!


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