317: The Midlife-Anxiety Connection
Anxiety is not the most likeable of human emotions. Most of us would probably rather go our entire life without experiencing it. And yet… it is a part of the human experience and, like every emotion, it contains important intel for you.
In this episode of the Grace & Grit Podcast, I explore why the midlife female population is especially susceptible to experiencing anxiety and, more importantly, what we can do to navigate it with more grace and ease.
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The Grace & Grit podcast is your go-to resource for reclaiming, generating, protecting and expressing your power as a woman in midlife.
This show will completely change the way you think about health & well-being and help you make your second act the best one yet!
- 320: The Power of Letting Go
- 319: From Digital Distraction to Digital Wellness: Insights and Strategies for Better Tech Use w/ Dr Kristy Goodwin
- 318: The Hiding Habit: Understanding and Conquering the Urge to Avoid Action
- 317: The Midlife-Anxiety Connection
- 316: Navigating Nervous System Health for Behavior Change w/ Irene Lyon
Transcripts are auto-generated.
Courtney Townley 0:00
Welcome to the Grace and Grit Podcast, made for women who want their healthiest years to be ahead of them. Not behind them. Join your host Courtney Townley right now. As she breaks down the fairy tale health story, you have been chasing all of your life, indispensable action steps and lasting change.
Courtney Townley 0:28
Hello, friends, and welcome to the Grace & Grit Podcast. This is your host, Courtney Townley.
Courtney Townley 0:33
Today we’re going to talk about something that I’ve actually never addressed on this Podcast, which is the topic of anxiety, and specifically, how it relates to midlife.
Courtney Townley 0:44
Anxiety is definitely not the most likable human emotion. I think most of us would agree with that. Most of us would probably prefer to travel through the rest of our life, never experiencing anxiety again. And yet, it is a part of the human experience. And like every emotion, anxiety has very important Intel for you.
Courtney Townley 1:09
So I thought it would be helpful to explore on today’s episode, why the midlife female population is especially susceptible to experiencing more anxiety,
Courtney Townley 1:25
and most importantly, what we can do about it, how we can navigate anxiety with more grace and ease.
Courtney Townley 1:34
So let’s start where we so often do on this show, which is just really getting clear on what anxiety is. Anxiety is a feeling of uneasiness, of worry of fear, a lot of people would probably associate anxiety with stress.
Courtney Townley 1:54
And like I said before, it’s normal, it’s natural, it is a part of the human spectrum of emotion.
Courtney Townley 2:01
And typically, we feel it in response to a perceived threat, or danger.
Courtney Townley 2:11
And remember, the brain doesn’t know the difference between real or imagined. So it could be a real threat, a real danger. Or it could be a conjured threat or danger in your mind. Something that you’re telling yourself a story about, that you’re creating, but doesn’t actually exist.
Courtney Townley 2:33
And anxiety manifests. Of course, it has a physical manifestation as all emotion does. There’s a way that we feel it in the human body, and all of us would probably describe it slightly differently.
Courtney Townley 2:48
But often, some common symptoms of anxiety in terms of how we’re experiencing it in the human body are things like an increase in heart rate,
Courtney Townley 2:58
difficulty concentrating, or maybe even the opposite, hyper concentration, restlessness, maybe sweaty palms, maybe a pit in your stomach, maybe tense muscles.
Courtney Townley 3:14
And just like not all stress is bad stress, like stress has a very beautiful side. It’s what helps us to grow and expand as humans. Anxiety also has a very useful side.
Courtney Townley 3:28
It can be tremendously helpful when we are in situations
Courtney Townley 3:34
that are presenting us with real threats, real dangers.
Courtney Townley 3:41
Courtney Townley 3:43
it can become problematic when we are experiencing it in high volume on a consistent basis. And anxiety is starting to interfere with our daily life.
Courtney Townley 3:58
Even though there’s no real threat in our midst.
Courtney Townley 4:03
And like I said before,
Courtney Townley 4:05
all emotion exists for a reason.
Courtney Townley 4:08
And anxiety is no exception.
Courtney Townley 4:12
I would propose that anxiety exists. Just like all emotion exists to relay messages to you.
Courtney Townley 4:22
And those messages might be about your biochemistry.
Courtney Townley 4:26
Those messages might be about your mental and emotional state
Courtney Townley 4:30
about your relationship to the world around you. There’s lots of different messages that anxiety may have for you.
Courtney Townley 4:40
But what’s interesting about anxiety for me personally is that I have worked with a lot of clients over the years who rumble with anxiety. A lot of midlife women,
Courtney Townley 4:52
but I personally have not had a lot of experience with anxiety. I’ve certainly felt it in my lifetime but I have
Courtney Townley 4:59
It’s never been a frequent visitor
Courtney Townley 5:02
until recently. And when I say recently, I mean over the past couple of years.
Courtney Townley 5:08
As I moved deeper into the throes of perimenopause, which I am thick in the throes of right now, the more frequent visits I seem to be getting from anxiety.
Courtney Townley 5:21
And they’re very predictable, by the way. So about three days out from my cycle starting
Courtney Townley 5:28
anxiety shows up at my door.
Courtney Townley 5:33
And the way that it usually goes for me is I feel anxious from the moment I wake up. And that is not a normal state for me.
Courtney Townley 5:43
So I start to feel a little anxious in the morning, my mind is all over the place, I have trouble focusing.
Courtney Townley 5:51
And one of the tail tail signs for me, that I’m experiencing anxiety is I start to tell myself stories about why I’m feeling anxiety, which usually is somewhere along the lines of all the ways in which I’m failing, all the ways in which I could do better.
Courtney Townley 6:12
All of the ways in which I’m missing opportunities.
Courtney Townley 6:17
And those opportunities might be spending time with family and friends. I mean, it can look like a lot of different things. But I marinate in self doubt, when anxiety shows up.
Courtney Townley 6:31
And when it first showed up, I really wasn’t familiar with it at all, you know, on a because again, I hadn’t been feeling this on a regular basis. But now that it seems to be showing up every single month,
Courtney Townley 6:44
in very timely fashion,
Courtney Townley 6:47
I have come to predict it.
Courtney Townley 6:49
And that has been lovely. Because I am able to mentally prepare and coach myself through the experience of being with anxiety. I realize not everybody has that luxury of knowing when anxiety is going to show up.
Courtney Townley 7:10
But let’s talk a little bit about why there is such a
Courtney Townley 7:16
correlation between midlife for women especially and anxiety and please don’t hear me saying that I don’t think anxiety is a very real issue for men. Absolutely it is.
Courtney Townley 7:28
But because I work with the female midlife population,
Courtney Townley 7:34
I really can only speak to my experience of working with that population.
Courtney Townley 7:42
So one of the things of course that happens in midlife is that hormones are shifting. And I think this is a really important thing to recognize and honor as it relates to anxiety. Because a lot of people are touting this message, that it’s all in your head. Just think positive, change your thoughts and anxiety will go away. But that is not necessarily true.
Courtney Townley 8:10
Because during a hormonal shift like perimenopause and menopause is the body undergoes very drastic hormonal changes, specifically, the decline of estrogen and even testosterone.
Courtney Townley 8:27
And estrogen plays a key role in regulating our mood and our emotions.
Courtney Townley 8:34
And as estrogen is declining, that hormonal shifts can lead to mood swings, irritability, and yes, anxiety.
Courtney Townley 8:49
And for me, this just this is a way I extend compassion to myself around sort of this new relationship that I have with anxiety because the education of understanding what is happening hormonally in my body allows me to greet anxiety in a way that is helpful to me.
Courtney Townley 9:10
So I’m not making it worse, I’m not a necessarily suffering, because I remind myself that hey Courtney, it makes a whole lot of sense that a few days before you start bleeding,
Courtney Townley 9:24
estrogen is declining
Courtney Townley 9:26
and you are more susceptible to feeling things like anxiety.
Courtney Townley 9:34
So chemistry is absolutely can be at the root
Courtney Townley 9:41
of anxiety, especially at midlife
Courtney Townley 9:45
as can nervous system dysregulation.
Courtney Townley 9:50
So the nervous system plays a really crucial role in helping us to regulate anxiety. Because again, anxiety is a very normal
Courtney Townley 10:00
response to stress.
Courtney Townley 10:03
But when stress in our life becomes chronic or excessive,
Courtney Townley 10:10
it makes sense that our anxiety would also correlate with that.
Courtney Townley 10:16
And I talked, I’ve talked so much about stress on this show
Courtney Townley 10:21
about the the oscillation that needs to happen between our fight and flight system, that sympathetic nervous system and the rest and digest, which is the parasympathetic nervous system.
Courtney Townley 10:36
And what happens often at midlife is we are being confronted with a lot of new stressful challenges. We are loading in more responsibility into our life than we’ve ever had. And some of the things I always use the highlight that is just this combination between the aging process which in and of itself can be stressful, depending how we’re thinking about it, but also what’s happening internally, our bodies become a little bit more pro inflammatory. We aren’t as great at regulating our stress at midlife because of estrogen and progesterone declining.
Courtney Townley 11:14
But then we also have lifestyle factors. at midlife a lot. If you are in a career, you are often in the throes of your career at midlife,
Courtney Townley 11:24
you might have the added pressure of thinking about how you might eventually work less as in retirement.
Courtney Townley 11:33
You might be contending with losing friends, or helping friends through some really difficult life transitions at that stage of life.
Courtney Townley 11:44
Helping with aging parents, kids going away to college,
Courtney Townley 11:49
maybe wanting to change careers, I mean, there’s so much baked into
Courtney Townley 11:55
what might be feeding midlife stress. So I say this I feel like on almost every episode, but midlife is a period where we have more opportunity than ever to bring stress in. And we carry the least amount of hormones that are helping us to regulate stress. And if we do not have ways
Courtney Townley 12:17
of decompressing and regulating our nervous system in ways that support our well being, we end up reaching for things that end up jacking up our nervous system and chemistry. So we create more anxiety for ourselves, which of course isn’t helpful.
Courtney Townley 12:42
So just to recap, so far, far, some of the players in midlife, anxiety hormones, nervous system dysregulation, which is highly connected to stress.
Courtney Townley 12:55
Courtney Townley 12:58
we when we have these factors that play the hormones shifting, nervous system dysregulation, more stress than we’ve ever had,
Courtney Townley 13:07
we also experience a lot of sleep disturbances,
Courtney Townley 13:12
and not sleeping well can contribute to feelings of anxiety, and increased stress levels.
Courtney Townley 13:22
And of course, there’s always this element of just our own individual genetics and personal history.
Courtney Townley 13:30
Everyone experiences anxiety a little bit differently and in different dosages. And everybody’s factors that are playing into their anxiety are also a little different.
Courtney Townley 13:44
So one woman might be experiencing anxiety because it’s very chemically based, her biochemistry is disrupted, her nervous system is dysregulated. And another woman might be experiencing anxiety because she’s constantly generating a landscape of thinking that is producing a lot of anxiety.
Courtney Townley 14:05
So what are some solutions? Because there really are quite a few solutions. I’ll tell you first what the solution is not. The solution to anxiety is not just to tell yourself to stop feeling it or to tell someone else to stop feeling it.
Courtney Townley 14:21
So ignoring it soldiering on bucking up right like that, that really isn’t a strategy.
Courtney Townley 14:29
It’s just avoidance.
Courtney Townley 14:32
And emotions do not like to be avoided.
Courtney Townley 14:37
I mean, think about the last time you felt anxious and you try to avoid feeling anxious, you probably produced more anxiety for yourself.
Courtney Townley 14:49
When we ignore emotion or when we resist emotion, resisting emotion is a lot of work. Resisting anxiety is a lot of work. I always think of trying to hold a beach ball underwater.
Courtney Townley 15:00
When I think of resisting emotion, you can do it for a while. But it takes a lot of resources takes a lot of energy, a lot of mental bandwidth. And eventually, you’re gonna let go of that beach ball, and it’s gonna fly up and smack you in the face.
Courtney Townley 15:17
You can react to anxiety. So when you feel anxiety, you can definitely react to it
Courtney Townley 15:27
in ways that are not useful to you,
Courtney Townley 15:31
and you can also feed it,
Courtney Townley 15:34
you can feed your own anxiety. And I see this all the time, I see it in my own life. And I’ve definitely seen it through the coaching work that I do with my clients, where not only as a woman experiencing anxiety, but then she’s telling herself stories about her anxiety that is making her more anxious, I shouldn’t feel anxiety, there’s something wrong with me that I feel anxiety, anxiety is a problem, right? And on and on, it goes that we have anxiety about our anxiety.
Courtney Townley 16:06
So those things are not helpful to us. But what is helpful is that number one, reminding yourself that there is often a chemical component involved in anxiety.
Courtney Townley 16:20
So when I said earlier that emotions have Intel for you,
Courtney Townley 16:25
some of that immotile might be about the state of your biochemistry
Courtney Townley 16:31
might you need to change your lifestyle in a way that produces that helps you to manage your own thinking and produces less anxiety for you.
Courtney Townley 16:42
Courtney Townley 16:44
Might you need to change your the way that you’re trying to regulate your nervous system.
Courtney Townley 16:52
So maybe you have a lot of self soothing strategies that are actually further disrupting your chemistry. So when you feel anxious you drink or you smoke weed, or you do I don’t know what you do, but we all have vices.
Courtney Townley 17:09
And that’s not really solving the issue.
Courtney Townley 17:14
It’s just temporarily numbing the issue.
Courtney Townley 17:19
Then we have this whole world of pharmaceuticals.
Courtney Townley 17:23
Right pharmaceuticals are absolutely
Courtney Townley 17:27
some often warranted, with a lot of chemical disruption that is feeding anxiety.
Courtney Townley 17:34
And especially at midlife, a couple things that come to mind, for me are definitely hormonal hormonal therapy. So specifically hormone replacement therapy.
Courtney Townley 17:45
I will tell you that for me personally, that’s not an option.
Courtney Townley 17:49
I have this very rare and chronic blood disorder that makes my blood very sticky.
Courtney Townley 17:56
And so I’m already prone to blood clots.
Courtney Townley 18:00
Courtney Townley 18:02
estrogen has also been linked to blood clots. So it’s really not something that is recommended for people in my position.
Courtney Townley 18:12
That may not obviously hormonal hormone replacement therapy is an option for a lot of women. I’m obviously not an endocrinologist, I would never give you advice on hormone replacement therapy. But I do just propose it as a solution for a lot of women who are experiencing anxiety from a chemical disruption.
Courtney Townley 18:36
And we talk we’ve heard a lot about antidepressants. I mean, how many women in midlife, do you know who have been prescribed antidepressants?
Courtney Townley 18:45
And while I do think antidepressants are probably over prescribed, in no way am I suggesting that they are insanely useful for certain people.
Courtney Townley 18:59
And so that is something for you to discuss with your own physician. Because I think of antidepressants as a therapy, that if you are truly suffering on a biochemical level, and something like an antidepressant is going to help ease that suffering and help you to function in a way that expends less resources towards anxiety and depression. Why would you take why would you use it?
Courtney Townley 19:32
Again, a conversation to be had with your physician but I did want to just kind of offer that as a piece of this conversation that for some people, when it is a chemical disruption, this is an option
Courtney Townley 19:47
for me because I can’t do hormone replacement therapy.
Courtney Townley 19:52
And I also feel like my anxiety does not warrant an antidepressant be
Courtney Townley 19:59
Because I usually can get it under control. And it only lasts for a very short period of time for me a couple of days at the most. And it’s not like I feel it all day long. I feel it for a few hours in the morning, usually, you know, somewhere in the middle of the day. And I just noticed that it stays with me for a few days.
Courtney Townley 20:18
So one thing that I have personally chosen to use, which has been really helpful are adaptogens.
Courtney Townley 20:24
So adaptogens are non toxic plants,
Courtney Townley 20:29
or herbs that help the body to adapt to physical, chemical and biological stressors.
Courtney Townley 20:37
And they help to support the body’s natural ability to cope with stress. By promoting balance, and restoring homeostasis, which we all know the body loves so much, it loves to find its happy place.
Courtney Townley 20:54
So adaptogens are things you may have heard of things like ginseng, ashwagandha, rhodiola, holy basil.
Courtney Townley 21:06
Again, I definitely think if you go the adaptogen route, it is a worth a conversation with your naturopath with your physician, with somebody who can help you monitor
Courtney Townley 21:18
Courtney Townley 21:20
But I did just want to offer here that for me, it has been a true godsend to us at adaptogens to help manage my anxiety.
Courtney Townley 21:31
And then one of the solutions that I think would be really
Courtney Townley 21:36
crazy to neglect is managing our mind.
Courtney Townley 21:42
Because I do find for myself, like I shared at the beginning of this Podcast today, not only do I experience anxiety, but then I can really easily start spinning out into a place of self doubt, because I’m experiencing anxiety. And that’s not because of my biochemistry, that’s because of my brain going wild with what I’m making my anxiety mean.
Courtney Townley 22:08
And so taking radical responsibility for the way we are looking at the stressors in our life, being very careful that we don’t produce more anxiety about our anxiety with the stories we’re telling ourselves.
Courtney Townley 22:27
And of course, to me the answer to this is really a beautiful answer to this is self coaching. Learning how to parent your brain in a way that helps you to really take radical responsibility for the anxiety you are producing with your thoughts.
Courtney Townley 22:46
And this is of course, the a lot of the work that I do in my coaching business is teaching women how to manage the thinking that is generating unnecessary suffering for them emotionally.
Courtney Townley 23:02
So I want to talk you through a few steps that I have found helpful and that a lot of my clients have found helpful over the years when they are experiencing anxiety. The first thing is to number one, acknowledge it.
Courtney Townley 23:17
All emotions are messengers. And all messengers need to be acknowledged, if you want the message.
Courtney Townley 23:26
You need to listen to the messenger.
Courtney Townley 23:29
So I always call this naming and noticing. It’s just saying, wow, like I’m noticing this response in my body today, my heart’s kind of beating fast, and I’m feeling a little scattered. And you know, I’m having trouble focusing. And I’m definitely noticing this tendency to drift towards self doubt. To me, those are all indicators that anxiety has arrived.
Courtney Townley 23:57
So I just named notice it. Oh, anxiety is here today. Anxiety to set it to show up? I don’t judge it. I try. I mean, sometimes I do. But I really do try to do the work of just naming and noticing with no additional storyline.
Courtney Townley 24:16
But I will ask it questions.
Courtney Townley 24:19
Right. So I let anxiety come in. I acknowledge her. And then I just asked her. I wonder why you’re here. Why are you here?
Courtney Townley 24:30
Why am I feeling anxious? Is there a true threat in my midst? Which honestly for me 99% of the time? No, there is not.
Courtney Townley 24:41
So if there’s not an actual threat in my midst,
Courtney Townley 24:45
why else might anxiety be here?
Courtney Townley 24:50
Well, you know, Courtney, you’re getting really close to your cycle. So this could be very chemically oriented. Okay, that makes sense.
Courtney Townley 25:00
And you know, you have been thinking a lot
Courtney Townley 25:04
about stress at work, or problems that you haven’t yet solved.
Courtney Townley 25:11
So maybe you need to take some accountability,
Courtney Townley 25:14
for reducing stress in those areas,
Courtney Townley 25:19
for really making some conscious choices about how you’re going to think about those areas, so you’re not generating more stress and more anxiety.
Courtney Townley 25:31
And just again, taking responsibility where you can, I can’t take radical responsibility for my hormones shifting, they’re going to shift. I’m 46 years old, like it’s par for the course.
Courtney Townley 25:46
But I can help my body out in the ways that I know how to.
Courtney Townley 25:54
And so one of the things for me is like, I really have to be mindful of my caffeine consumption.
Courtney Townley 26:02
Because caffeine, first of all, is it’s very strong love of mine.
Courtney Townley 26:07
And it feeds anxiety when I’m in a space of anxiety.
Courtney Townley 26:14
So that is something I can absolutely reduce, I can absolutely manage my thinking,
Courtney Townley 26:22
I can absolutely try to rework my schedule,
Courtney Townley 26:27
those three days prior to my cycle, not in epic ways. But I can make a few tweaks here and there to just allow more space.
Courtney Townley 26:39
More decompression, more nervous system regulation.
Courtney Townley 26:44
Because I know my system is going to be in hyperdrive. At that time. I can also remind myself that I’m safe. There’s no real threats here, Courtney.
Courtney Townley 26:56
Right, you’re not under attack, you’re not going to die.
Courtney Townley 27:02
And that sounds silly. But that reminder is very settling to the nervous system.
Courtney Townley 27:10
And then a big theme that I’ve been talking about with my community over this past month, my paid community Rumble & Rise, is really organizing our life in a way that helps to honor
Courtney Townley 27:27
episodes of anxiety. Like for me, and again, I realized maybe not everybody can do this, because for a lot of you anxiety is very unexpected, it shows up out of the blue, there is no predictability to it.
Courtney Townley 27:42
And then there are other people in the camp of
Courtney Townley 27:46
again, being in midlife, knowing it’s part of a hormonal cycle, having a little bit of predictability to when it shows up.
Courtney Townley 27:55
And for me, like I said earlier, one of the big shifts I’m making is in just looking at my schedule a few days out from the start of my cycle.
Courtney Townley 28:05
To honor that my body needs more self soothing at that time, it needs more decompression, it needs less stress, I have more work to do in my brain, in terms of managing my thinking.
Courtney Townley 28:20
So I create space for that.
Courtney Townley 28:24
So again, just to kind of recap those steps, acknowledge the anxiety name and notice it
Courtney Townley 28:30
inquire, why is it here? What message does it have for you?
Courtney Townley 28:36
Are you under threat?
Courtney Townley 28:39
Is something disrupted in your chemistry?
Courtney Townley 28:42
Are you letting your brain go wild with all kinds of thoughts that are producing anxiety.
Courtney Townley 28:49
Step three, take responsibility where you can which is not in all places.
Courtney Townley 28:56
But take responsibility where you can and organize. And part of that is organizing your life
Courtney Townley 29:03
in a way, when possible
Courtney Townley 29:07
to help nurture and soothe and process your anxiety. Because I think that’s it’s so stressful when we feel anxiety and then we have no time to work through it. Or we have no time to give it what it’s asking for. We have no time to apply skill sets that might help us to lessen it.
Courtney Townley 29:32
So again, I don’t think it needs to be epic periods of time, but pollinating your day with a few breaks
Courtney Townley 29:43
to be with your anxiety in a way that helps you to move it through.
Courtney Townley 29:51
So I don’t know who needed to hear this. I felt compelled to talk about this today. Because again for me right now there’s a very strong
Courtney Townley 30:00
On correlation between moving through my midlife transition and experiencing anxiety, but I also feel that anxiety is such a big topic. In and of itself, I mean, menopause aside, and mid life aside, anxiety is a human emotion that deserves time and attention and, and thought and consideration just like any other emotion.
Courtney Townley 30:28
So I will be wildly curious in the spaces in places where I am after the production of this episode to hear from you about your experiences with anxiety and what is working for you. And how do you greet your anxiety in a way that prevents unnecessary suffering.
Courtney Townley 30:51
I hope it was helpful. I hope there’s a takeaway in here. I hope you take excellent care of yourself in the coming week and I will talk to you again very soon. Take care.
Courtney Townley 31:08
Thank you for listening to the Grace & Grit Podcast. It is time to mend the fabric of the female health story. And it starts with you taking radical responsibility for your own self care. You are worth the effort and with a little grace and grit anything is possible.
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