The Mindful Midlife Crisis

Episode 104--What Triggers Your Anxiety?

June 28, 2023 Billy Lahr
The Mindful Midlife Crisis
Episode 104--What Triggers Your Anxiety?
Show Notes Transcript

This week, Billy dives deeper into the topic of anxiety and the importance of a mindful approach. This mindful approach enables us to process our thoughts and emotions in a healthier manner, ultimately helping us to navigate life with grace. He explores the differences between fear, rumination, and anxiety and how to identify their sources and triggers. And for those feeling particularly lost, his "Mindfulness for Anxiety" course could serve as your compass for navigating your own midlife quandaries. 

If you liked this episode, check out these episodes as well:

  • Episode 19--Compassionate Communication for Deeper, More Meaningful Relationships with Dr. Yvette Erasmus
  • Episode 80--Avoid Toxic Self-Help Advice with Jordan Harbinger
  • Episode 103--What Does Anxiety Look and Feel Like?
  • Episode 10--Top 20 Strategies for a Happier Life with Tom Cody
  • Episode 35--Rebalanced Thinking, Rebalanced Living with Tom Cody

All of our episodes are available at

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Billy: Coming up on The Mindful Midlife Crisis

Now with mindfulness, what we're hoping to do is a long gait, the time between stimulus and behavior. In order to do that, we need to be aware of what our present emotional state is. In doing so, we then understand how a situation or stimulus is making us feel. Once we're aware of those feelings and emotions, the thoughts that we create lead us to whatever the appropriate response needs to be.

Welcome to The Mindful Midlife Crisis, a podcast for people navigating the complexities and possibilities of life's second half. I'm your host, Billy Long, an educator, personal trainer, meditation teacher and Overthinker who talks to experts who specialize in social and emotional learning. Mindfulness, physical and emotional wellness, cultural awareness, finances, communication, relationships, dating and parenting all in an effort to help us better reflect, learn and grow so we can live a more purpose-filled life.

Take a deep breath, embrace the present and journey with me through The Mindful Midlife Crisis. Welcome to The Mindful Midlife Crisis. I'm your host, Billy La. Thank you for tuning in wherever you are. The purpose of the show is to help others navigate the complexities and possibilities of life's second half. One way I do that is by providing a platform that gives people the space and permission to share their expertise and life experiences so you can use that information to enhance your life with whatever you find relatable and practical.

I also share how cultivating my own daily mindfulness practice over the last ten years has helped me navigate the trials and tribulations and successes of my own midlife crisis. And I'm teaching you how to navigate life more mindfully through my virtual mindfulness sessions. My mindfulness practice has helped me process my ruminating thoughts, anxiety and stress in a much healthier and productive way by reducing my emotional reactivity and impulsive behavior, which in turn has helped me improve my relationships and communication with others. 

And listen, as someone who's in the thick of a major midlife pivot right now. I also use these skills and resources to help me reflect, learn, and grow, because trust me, there are still days I am a hot mess. So just know that you are not alone in your experience. 

So if you're looking for a community to help you better navigate whatever you've got going on these days so you can take inspired and intentional action to jumpstart your life.

Join our mindful midlife community at I also just released my first course called, Mindfulness for Anxiety. For those of you out there who struggle with having an overactive mind and anxious thoughts, something I definitely know a thing or two about because the whole reason I started practicing mindfulness in the first place is because I had allowed my anxiety to spiral out of control.

So I put together this course to teach you many of the same skills I've used over the years to help me manage those anxious thoughts and feelings in a much healthier way. 

In this course, we define what anxiety is and what it looks like for each of us who identify the difference between fear, rumination and anxiety, which is what we're going to do in today's episode; we identify the sources of our anxiety as well as what triggers our anxiety. Something else we're going to do in this episode, and we tap into the somatic experience of what anxiety feels like in the body, which is what has helped me manage my anxiety the most.

So if you or someone you know has been struggling with anxious thoughts, feelings and emotions visit www.mindfulmidlifecrisis.comand click the courses tab to get started. If you're a member of the mindful midlife community, you get 20% off this course as well as all future courses. I'm also offering 1 to 1 coaching sessions at a screaming good deal for anyone who purchases this course because I just want to make sure that you're getting the most out of the skills and strategies I'm sharing with you.

I am down to my final 12 days in Seoul, which also means this two year odyssey that I've been on is also about to come to a close. So as you can imagine, that's triggering some anxious thoughts, feelings and emotions for me this week, which is fitting since last week we wrote down what anxiety looks like, and I gave you some strategies around how to manage anxious thoughts, feelings and emotions.

So this week I want to take a look at what triggers anxious thoughts, feelings and emotions. But in order to do that, we first need to break down the difference between anxiety, fear and everyday worry. So as I mentioned last week, anxiety is a general term for a heightened state of apprehension or unease and is often accompanied by physical symptoms like increased heart rate sweating and a sense of impending doom.

Anxiety tends to be future oriented, with individuals worrying about what might happen and dwelling on potential negative outcomes. And when we're feeling anxious about something that happened in the past that stems from rumination, which is essentially replaying an event or series of events from the past that you feel a certain way about, and it's usually an event that leads to some feeling of shame or guilt or embarrassment or regret.

Mind you, all of those emotions are normal emotions. So we shouldn't be pushing them away. As I mentioned last week, we should be leaning into those emotions, experience them for what they are, process them and then let them go so you can move forward. So the more we do that, the better we get at processing difficult emotions. And if you're like, that doesn't make any sense.

Why would I want to sit with uncomfortable emotions? Check out episode 19 of the Jordan Harbinger Show with Denise Shull, who talks about how to turn bad emotions and the good decisions. And if you're a fan of the show, Billions. Denise Shull is actually the character Wendy is based on, and she and Jordan have a fascinating conversation. And if you're like, Who the hell is Jordan Harbinger?

Why do you always talk about them? Go back to episode 80 of this podcast where Jordan and I have a conversation about how to avoid toxic self-help advice. Now, when it comes to fear, we're talking about an immediate emotional response to a perceived threat. In the present moment, fear triggers our amygdala, which controls the fight, fight or flight response in our brain.

That response prepares us to react and protect ourselves. If you're walking through the woods and suddenly you see a bear, that's some scary shit right there. So naturally you're going to feel fear kick in because your life may be in danger. On the other end of that, you have everyday worry, and everyday worry is more focused on specific concerns or situations often related to daily life.

Stressors like work, relationships or finances is typically less intense than anxiety or fear, but it can still cause some distress. Here's the thing, though that everyday worry that we experience can gradually escalate into anxiety when it becomes excessive and begins to interfere with our daily functioning. It's normal to have concerns and worries about various aspects of life, but when these worries become persistent, irrational and uncontrollable, they can develop into an anxiety disorder.

And when we don't have the tools to keep everyday worry at bay, those everyday worries may become more intense, leading to heightened levels of anxiety, even in situations that don't warrant such a response. And if you're curious what that looks like, you can listen to last week's episode or listen to episode 87 where I rented a scooter. Check out episode 96 where I discuss how I have been managing these overwhelming thoughts lately.

Now, one way to combat this is by breaking these everyday worries into the possible and the probable. This is something that we cover in the Mindfulness for Anxiety course because the thing is, yeah, anything is possible, sure, but not all possibilities are likely. What happens though, is anxiety likes to keep us ruminating about every possible future outcome, and in doing so, we end up catastrophizing our everyday worries by making mountains out of molehills.

If we can instead bring the attention back to the probable, we're able to bring ourselves out of that rumination and put those catastrophic thoughts into perspective live. Here's an example from one of my one on one clients. I have a client who is a mom, and she worries that her son's quote-unquote poor academic performance means he will never get a good job.

Now I'm seeing quote-unquote, poor academic performance. I'm putting that in air quotes because me having worked in education for over 20 years, I know that sometimes A B is seen as a success and sometimes a B is seen as a failure. I don't know what her son's grades are, but based on our conversations, I think she and I have different interpretations of what poor grades look like.

So here's how we reframed that. Yes, it's possible that his quote unquote poor academic performance may mean he doesn't get a good job. But considering the current unemployment rate in the United States is around 3.5%, that means 96.5% of people are working. Now, the question is always there will he find a job that will allow him to support himself?

I mean, that's a fair question. That's a good question. But again, the probability of finding a job that allows him to support himself, even though he has, quote unquote, poor grades as a teenager, as a teen ager, is higher than the possibility of him going jobless or being jobless and having to live on her mom's roof for the rest of his life.

Not only that, but I recently met this young man and he is, without a doubt one of the most charismatic and engaging people I've ever met. And I don't mean one of the most charismatic and engaging teenagers I have ever met. I mean one of the most engaging and charismatic people. He has this natural ability to start a conversation with people, and he asks questions in a very curious and genuine way.

He's extremely self-reflective and based on some of the stories his mom tells me about him. He is incredibly self-aware and his emotional intelligence is off the charts for a teenager, even more so than some adults. And in fact, it doesn't surprise me the school isn't the priority for him because he's already thinking bigger. It's almost as if school is getting in his way.

But you know what? That's a part of life. And as our friend Tom Cody from episodes ten and 35 likes to say, if you can't get out of it, get into it. So her son is making the most of his time at school by making connections and learning from his experiences, both the good and the bad. But he's processing those in a very self-aware, self-reflective manner.

So together I was able to help her reframe her anxiety around her son's academic performance to see the probability rather than linger in the negative possibilities. Another useful separation when it comes to what triggers our anxieties is this Our thoughts are not the same as our feelings. They seem so similar that we confuse them for each other, but feeling things are emotional states aligned with physical responses in the body, whereas thoughts are interpretations and ideas.

You may feel upset because you got into an argument with your partner or your child this morning, which might generate the thought of We never get along anymore, which then creates this emotion, it creates this feeling within you, and then you start having more thoughts and those begin to spiral. Those begin to escalate. So it becomes this vicious cycle.

Maybe you feel nervous about your son or daughter getting to a specific school, which generates a thought of my child's future depends on this outcome. Now, with mindfulness, what we're hoping to do is a long gate the time between stimulus and behavior. In order to do that, we need to be aware of what our present emotional state is.

In doing so, we then understand how a situation or stimulus is making us feel. Once we're aware of those feelings and emotions, the thoughts that we create lead us to whatever the appropriate response needs to be. So what you're doing is this First, you experience the stimulus. Before you react, you pause and ask yourself, What am I feeling in this moment?

And then you ask yourself, How are these feelings affecting the way I'm seeing or thinking about this situation? Then you move to, based on this, what's my best course of action to ensure the best possible result. Then you respond with your action and you're like, Well, that sounds like it's taken a really long time. Sometimes I need to make a quick decision like that, a snap decision.

The thing is, the brain is pretty efficient, especially if we've taken time to train the brain to respond in this way. It will certainly take time to reprogram our brain. But the more time we spend in awareness around what our current emotional state is, especially if we're proactive in doing this before going into some potentially stress inducing stimuli, then we're able to track how that stimuli is impacting the way we think, which in turn determines if we're being impulsive, reactive or responsive with the goal being more responsive.

Let me give you a perfect example from back in the day when I was a dean. So there was a student. I can't remember if I've told this story before. I tell a lot of stories, but maybe you haven't heard this story before, so I'm going to tell it again. And if you have heard the story, it's a good refresher for you.

So remember, I had a student and he was skipping class and he definitely should not have been skipping class because he was failing a lot of his classes. I think he was either a junior or senior. He was in jeopardy of not graduating. And I was out kind of just doing rounds or whatever. And I saw him sitting in this open space and having a conversation with one of his friends.

He wasn't anywhere near his class, anywhere near his class. And I was like, come with me to my office right now. And I was fuming, fuming because I've had this conversation with him a dozen times, fuming. So we go up to the office and he's kind of muttering under his breath and I'm muttering in my mind. I'm just losing all patience with this young man.

And I like this kid. I like this kid. He's very likable. But some of that, it's just one of those things, right? So we get into my office and I go, You're going to sit there and I'm going to sit here, and we're not going to say anything to each other until I've calmed down. Maybe you've calmed down because if I start talking to you right now, I'm going to start yelling.

And he said, If you start yelling, I'm going to start yelling. I said, I know. That's why we're going to just sit here for a little bit and that then kind of reoriented us that walk from way over by the auditorium all the way up to my office. It gave me a little bit of space to just like, process how to move forward from this, because I'm not going to yell at him and scream at him while I'm walking down the hall and ruin everybody's class time, Right?

I'm not going to make a scene in that way. So I'm like, We need to just walk up here. We need to sit in the office. We just need to cool down. I don't care if it's awkward. We're just sitting here in my office in silence. We're going to sit here and then we can have a conversation rather than a scream match.

And listen, I was still upset. I knew I was upset, but because I knew I was bringing that emotion into it, I had the opportunity to see how do you want to respond even though you are angry? I was not suppressing my anger. I was still livid. But how that anger showed up was different and it was more productive and we were actually able to have a conversation rather than a screaming match.

Did it change his behavior? No, not necessarily. It did it it maybe changed it for a short period of time. But in a sense, I was able to keep my day and keep my sanity. And had I screamed at him and we screamed at each other, that might have completely ruined that relationship. So it was good that we were able just to take a space, recognize that we're both pretty heated, so let's just let it simmer a little bit.

Doesn't mean that we're suppressing that anger, but it just means that we're letting it simmer. We're aware that we're angry, and so now we can have a conversation. And the thing is, you can have conversations when you're feeling emotional, but the thing is, creating that space allows us to respond and it allows us to actually hear what the other person is saying.

So now we have a better understanding of how anxiety differs from fear. And every day we worry not only that, but I've given you a few tools to use when it comes to separating anxious thoughts into the possible and the probable so you're able to reduce the amount of catastrophizing you're doing. And I've shared with you this five step process to use.

They go from stimulus to response, not stimulus to reaction, but stimulus to processing, to response. So now it's time for us to explore what your anxiety triggers might be. So you might want to write these down. You might want to write down your responses in a notebook, or maybe you want to type them out, or maybe you just want to reflect on them in your head.

Right now, maybe you're driving, you can't write things down, but you can come back to this too, if you want. So we're going to take some time here to really dig into what triggers those anxious thoughts, feelings and emotions so we can strengthen our ability to stop the worry and anxiety before they even start. Here's what I want you to do.

Question one I want you to think about this. Consider any patterns or themes to your anxieties. I mean, right now for me, if I'm processing this, obviously traveling back to the states and thinking about what I'm going to do when I get back to the states where I'm going to stay, what what I'm going to do for work, that kind of stuff.

All of that are reoccurring themes for me. You've heard me talk about it. You're probably exhausted of hearing me talk about it, and I'm sorry to an extent, but it is what's going on with me. Are they mostly about a certain person, these thoughts that you're having, these patterns, these themes that are reoccurring, do they sit around your role as a partner or an employee or as a parent, as a sibling?

Are they about a particular issue like finances, work, parenting, time, money? So what are the reoccurring themes? What do you what do you find yourself ruminating? What do you find yourself thinking about somewhere in the future? Are you traveling to the past? Just choose one. Maybe you've got a bunch. Just choose one of those significant sources of anxiety and be as specific as possible.

So for example, maybe you'd put disagreeing with my boss at work or traffic making me late, large social gatherings having to attend those. Maybe you're a teenager and you're listening to this bullies at school, maybe you got bullies at work. So what reminds you of this worry? Are there things that pop up? Other thoughts that you have? Are there scenarios?

What are the people, places, or things that remind you of this worry? And again, be as specific as possible about the objects, the words, the sounds, the memories, the places, the people who all contribute to bringing this anxiety to mind. Is there a particular time of the day when this anxiety seems to peak? Is there a particular day of the week?

I remember for me I used to have the Sunday scaries and I'm sure a lot of people can relate to that. So like ten years ago when I was really, really struggling, when I was at the bottom of the barrel, like Sundays, I just could not sleep, I could not fall asleep because I was like, Oh my God, I got five more days of this hell before the next weekend comes around.

And that's not a healthy way to live. This Sundays were absolutely the worst for me. It just crushed my soul to think about having to go back to work for another week. And then what makes this anxiety worse? So are there things that exacerbate the anxiety? And for me it was just the continued rumination where I would catastrophize things or I would allow like I would have these conversations in my head with other people and let those impact me.

I would make up these scenarios that, Oh, maybe so-and-so is mad at me for this, or maybe so-and-so is mad at me for that. And the reality is they probably weren't thinking about me at all, but because I was thinking about me and I was thinking about them, I just assumed that, well, they clearly and it's like, the world doesn't revolve around you, dude.

So I had to kind of keep an eye on what I was doing that and let go of that, too. That was hard. That was really hard. So now that I've given you these questions to contemplate, to reflect, learn and grow, if you want to process them with me, let's do this. Let's set up a free course. Some time to go over your responses.

You can schedule a call by clicking on the link in the show notes if you're ready to take the next step, come on and join the Mindful Midlife community for access to our weekly virtual meditation sessions, as well as 20% off all programs, including our Mindfulness for Anxiety course. A lot of what we talked about today is in that mindfulness for anxiety course, you also will get 50% off your first month of 1 to 1 coaching.

When you sign up for that mindfulness for anxiety course. And if you're looking to do that just go to and look under courses for more details. If you're wondering what it's like to be a part of the mindful midlife community Young from South Korea writes I've been fortunate enough to be a member of Billy's mindfulness community here in Seoul and what a gift to have found a place to slow down and reset in an otherwise fast paced city.

I appreciate the ease with which he settles us into the moment, as well as the care and craft put into every new meditation. Because he is such a natural leader. I've made a meditation practice for some time yet Billy continually prompts a new awareness with each new session. Well, thank you for those kind words. Young And I think Yong makes a good point by saying that even though he's had a mindfulness practice for some time, he's still growing and our growth looks more like the stock market.

Some days were up, some days were down and we may not reap the benefits for a while. Progress is not linear, but if we play the long game and stay consistent, disciplined and patient, you'll see that the stock market always bounces back and so can you. If this episode inspired you to take a deeper look at your relationship with anxiety, please do me a favor and subscribe to the show wherever you get your podcasts.

I would also greatly appreciate it if you would share this episode with the people in your life who may find some value in what I shared today. Remember, the purpose of the show is to help you navigate the complexities and possibilities of life's second half. And I hope this free and useful information provides some insight that will help you reflect, learn and grow.

So with that, this is Billy. Thank you for listening to the Mindful Midlife Crisis. May you feel happy, healthy and loved. 

Take care friends.