How To Resolve Stress Cycles In Midlife
Welcome to a transformative conversation about breaking free from the grip of stress cycles, particularly for women navigating midlife and menopause.
Join me as we discuss how our bodies react differently to stress during perimenopause and menopause, and how the resulting decrease in resilience to stress can make even minor challenges seem insurmountable.
In an enlightening deep dive, I reference Emily Nagoski’s “Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle”. And we discuss the difference between stressors and stress response, explain stress cycles, and emphasize the integral role physical activity has in releasing stress.
Explore the stark reality of modern life—incomplete stress cycles and learn how to regulate your nervous system through stimulating physical activities.
Discover how feelings emerging from stress can be managed, regardless if external stressors persist or not. Arm yourself with practical methods to deactivate stress, allowing you to navigate midlife and menopause with vitality and confidence.
This episode also addresses the common fear we have towards our feelings due to our upbringing and how this fear amplifies stress. By focusing on our bodily sensations and meeting these feelings with kindness and compassion, we can dissolve stress.
Whether dealing with stress at any life stage, this episode encourages listeners to confront their feelings with kindness and awareness, engage in physical activity, and consider shifting from solo self-care to connected care for achieving psychological freedom.
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Full Episode Transcript
[00:00:00] Meegan Care: Hey, my friend, welcome to the podcast. So glad that you’re here. When I go through the midlife upgrade course, which is my signature program for women in midlife. We have one module that is entirely dedicated to stress, anxiety, overwhelm. You know, that, that pattern that goes on in our body and nervous system that we all know so well from the inside out and that becomes much more impactful in midlife.
And the reason is because we have declining estrogen that wobbles around a bit in perimenopause, we have lowering of progesterone, our body becomes less resilient to stress. So what may not have caused you overwhelm five years ago, before perimenopause, may feel just too much of a big mountain to climb when you’re in perimenopause.
On our live calls during the week, I expand on the module, which is actually pretty comprehensive in terms of stress processes, what happens in the nervous system, and what you can do to support yourself when You know, you’re in that stress state and on the live calls, I expand on that because I’ve become really interested in this idea of stress cycles.
So we all know what a grief cycle is. So you have that event. of loss that causes the grief. You have those different stages that we go through. I can’t quite remember how many there are. And then there’s a completion or a sort of an integration of getting on with life of the grief cycle. Now we know it’s not black and white and it doesn’t have a complete and finite finish, but there’s this sense and this essence of a cycle within the grief process.
And so if we Transfer that over to stress cycles. This is what I want to talk about today. And the importance of completing stress cycles. This episode is based on the work of Emily Nagoski. And she has written a book called
Burnout, the secret to unlocking the stress cycle and what I’m going to talk about in this podcast is based largely on her work. So to begin with, we really need to understand the difference between stressors, which is what is happening, the life circumstances, the issues, the thing that is happening and stress. inside our body, the stress response.
So we have stressors, and then we have the stress response. And the stress response is what happens in your body
when there’s an external stressor happening. Right? So, it might be a raise of heart rate, an acceleration of breathing, a tensing of muscles a lot of thinking going on in my mind, I might start to feel a bit sweaty and a bit shaky depending on the level of stressor that’s happening. And I might notice that rise in cortisol within my body.
So that’s my stress response in that moment. The stressor is the email, or the conflict with someone else, or the Pranging of my car into the car in front of me, whatever the event is that’s happening, right? So we want to separate those two out. And a stress cycle has a beginning, a middle, and an end.
So in the beginning, there’s the threat, the event, the stressor. In the middle, this is where We are experiencing the stress response. Now, in ancient, ancient times, when you were being chased by the saber toothed tiger, what would you have done? You would have run, which is flight in our stress response.
You may have fought, which of course is fight in our stress response. And sometimes if those get overwhelmed, then you might have gone into freeze. But freeze response is when fight and flight don’t do what they need to do, right? It becomes overwhelming for the body when we go into freeze.
So in ancient times, you would have run away or you would have fought. You would have done something with your body. And then at the end of the stress cycle, which is what we’re focusing on. The stress is released from the body because you’ve done something physical with your body. Now, think of the example when I get the email from the boss telling me I’ve got a review coming up.
I get the email of all the bills. I get the email from the IRD. Am I doing anything with my body after I receive the stressor? No, I’m probably sitting in a chair, I’m sitting still, I’m not moving around. So you can see that I’m not, in modern times, giving my body something to do as a healthy response to the stress cycle.
So that’s one of the main problems that we have. And so if we go to our doctor or we go to a helping professional, and we are experiencing burnout, we’re feeling completely overwhelmed and stressed, often we’re told to go home and relax. To do something calming, well, first of all, that doesn’t work, right?
Because you and I know when we’re really in a stress response, when we’re really wound up, it’s actually really difficult just to go, Oh, I need to relax. Like that is one of the worst things you can say to someone who is in a big stress response is to tell them to relax because you can’t go from. a hundred to zero really quickly.
Our human body, brain and nervous system was designed to move to take action in response to an external stressor, right? And so then that causes the stress to be released from the body. And what also is true is that you might have dealt with the stressor. I might have sorted out the taxes I need to pay.
I might have got myself ready for that evaluation from the boss. I might have paid those bills, but I might not have necessarily dealt with the stress response inside my body. So just doing those things in modern times does not necessarily give my body an activity to do which helps to complete the stress response, right?
So I might have dealt with a stressor, I might not have completed the stress associated with it. However, This is actually good news for us to understand because the reverse is also true. I can actually deal with the stress. without actually needing to have the stressor be completed, done, gone away.
So the stressor could be active, it could be something that’s chronic. I might have a very difficult boss at work, that’s an external stressor, that I perhaps cannot change for the medium term or the long term, but the good news is, is that I can do things with my body that actually help me to release the stress, to complete stress cycles so that my body and nervous system can come back to a neutral state.
And so, We have beginning, middle, and end of stress cycles. The problems that we’re facing in modern life is that we’re walking around with a whole bunch of open, incomplete, stress cycles caused by those everyday stresses that we all have in our lives. And then couple that with the change of hormones in perimenopause and menopause and our body’s lowered resistance to stress for now because of our hormone status.
When you’re on the other side of menopause, that does change for the majority of women. But while you’re going through perimenopause and the earlier stages of menopause, our resilience to stress can be lowered. Right, so then you couple that with these open stress cycles like all of those open tabs that we’ve got in our computer and I feel overwhelmed just thinking about it, right?
We have this level of overwhelm that we are trying to manage and live through and that’s why sometimes doing passive things to release stress is not as effective as going for a walk, lifting weights, jumping up and down on the spot
getting in the garden and actually moving your body and doing something active. Is what we need to be doing to help our system complete stress responses. And like I said, whether or not the external stressor is Resolved, it may not be and that’s okay, we’ve got to find ways to, ways to move our body little and often as a response to stress and that is actually really going to help us.
So we are separating the stress that’s showing up inside of us from the thing that caused us stress and we can. Minimize, lower the stress inside of us, regulate our nervous system by actually moving our body. Just trying to relax will not do it because that is not how we’re wired. Now I’m not saying we shouldn’t meditate, we shouldn’t do things that help us to relax, we absolutely should, but we want to bring in this piece where we’re moving our body, because that is how our body and brain has been wired over Eons of humanity, right?
Because we’ve got this life that has sprung forward in advancements. Modern society is fairly advanced compared to the setup within our brain and body. So we need to do these things that our body has been hardwired to do to release the stress inside of us. And so further to that, I want to talk about feelings.
That arise in us, and I think most of us because of how we’ve been raised are actually afraid of our feelings. We’re afraid to contact them, to feel them, and I’m not talking about like cathartic releasing of feelings. I’m actually talking about like a bodily awareness of feelings. And so, if we’re trying to muscle through something, if we’re trying to tough something out, if I’m trying to push through, And I’m feeling very stressed about it.
Actually, the solution is to turn towards the difficult feelings inside of myself, with kindness and with compassion. And when we turn towards those difficult feelings, we’re actually making contact with them, with our awareness. And We don’t have to figure them out with our brain. We don’t have to solve the problem with our brain.
But if you’re in a really overwhelmed state, you might choose to turn towards those difficult feelings instead of avoiding them, instead of pushing them away, instead of whatever it is you do to avoid those feelings. Turn towards them with kindness and compassion. And you might even ask those feelings, Why are you here?
And just notice what comes through. Notice what arises as you ask that question. And don’t try and make yourself solve for the feelings. Simply contacting them with your awareness, so turning towards them with kindness and compassion. Maybe asking that question, why are you here? Is really helpful medicine for completing stress, because what makes stress worse inside of us is our very natural fear of feeling our feelings, right?
Because we, because of the way we’ve been raised, most of us have been raised to avoid feelings. To toughen up. In Taranaki, there’s that phrase that we see everywhere, Taranaki Hardcore. We’re raised to be hardcore. And we’re raised that turning towards our feelings with kindness and compassion, for many of us, is seen as a weakness and seen as an opening or a doorway towards weakness.
But actually, the exact opposite is true in my experience. Is that if we can turn towards our feelings and we can contact them in that way, we don’t necessarily have to resolve them at all. That actually really, really supports our resilience. And I love this analogy that Emily Nagoski uses, and she talks about it in her book, is that feelings are tunnels.
So think of feelings as tunnels that you have to go all the way through to get to the other end, that analogy of there is light at the end of the tunnel. So our feelings are tunnels and we want to go through them to come out the other side. And with any stress response that’s going on, you’ll have a nervous system response, you’ll have a bodily response, you’ll have a response in your brain, and there’ll also be feelings around them.
And if we can Contact those feelings and with awareness move through them. That is when we get to the other side of the tunnel. Now, the key is that I’m not talking about here, going into your feelings, releasing them, crying, catharting. That’s actually not necessary. Sometimes it will happen for sure. If I turn towards my feelings, I might have an emotional response.
But Feelings are not something that we have to get out of our body to resolve. It’s more that if we can turn towards them with love and kindness, then the tension that surrounds the feelings, that sort of holds them in place, starts to dissolve. And then they will move into their next natural life cycle, right?
Because feelings are impermanent. They don’t stay around forever as much as we’re afraid that they will with the difficult ones. They do not. They will go through their life cycle. They will resolve and transform into something else. So turning towards feelings.
And moving our body are very, very important for completing stress cycles, actually at any stage of our life. But very particularly, as you know, I’m really passionate about what we can do to support ourselves in midlife. And I find these tools and lenses and ways of looking at stress to be really, really helpful for myself and for clients in midlife.
And Just to complete, I’ll bring up this point, is we are fed a lot of marketing, there’s a lot of commercialization around self care, and the thing is that self care on its own, by itself, in its isolated state, is not going to cut it for you. It’s not going to do what you want it to do over the long term.
What we actually need is connection. and connected care. We need that sharing support and our society is not really set up for that. So, we actually have to break down barriers within our family, within our friendships, within our connections, and open up and allow ourselves to be vulnerable, allow ourselves to ask for help, allow ourselves to reach out and make that connection, because That solo self care that is marketed to us so, so much. It’s not going to do what it says it will do, and it’s not going to do what we want it to do. The solution is connected care with others. And I understand that that can be difficult if we feel like we’re isolated, but that’s why I offer my course.
That’s why I You know, do this podcast. That’s why we have these conversations. And I tell you what, if you reach out to a friend and you allow yourself to be a little bit more raw, a little bit more honest, a little bit more vulnerable than you normally would and actually open the doorway to those
deeper conversations. There is so much connected care that can happen in those, that it can actually help our, our nervous system to repair and heal and feel like we’re part of something. So the three points I will leave you with in summary are,
in terms of stress cycles, With the beginning, the middle, and the end, to complete a stress cycle, we need to do something with our body and we might not necessarily deal with the stressor, but we can deal with the stress by moving our body. The second piece is that We can soothe and unwind stress by turning towards our feelings with kindness and compassion. Making contact with our feelings just by turning our awareness to them creates a lot more regulation in the body. And the third piece that I think is really important is that it is essential for us to move from solo self care to connected care, even if it’s with only one other person, that we forge those connections of honesty, authenticity, and vulnerability, and we allow ourselves to be seen.
These three points are really, really useful and important. In terms of stress in midlife, in terms of completing stress cycles, and actually through any stage of life. And it is something that I do teach on the midlife upgrade course.
So I hope that’s been really helpful for you in terms of looking at our stress response and stress cycles. And that it’s given you ideas for how you can navigate. Stress as it shows up in your life, because we know that it is going to show up, because it does, because that is life.
It’s how we meet it, how we navigate it, and how we complete those stress cycles, that is key. Alright my friend. If you liked what you heard and we’re not connected on Instagram, jump on over and give my account a follow. My handle is MeganCares on Instagram and I really love hearing from people that listen to the podcast or follow me on Instagram.
It does feel like we’re building a community there. Okay, talk to you next week. Have an amazing, amazing day.