Mellowing out: how to be healthier in your 50s & beyond

Our bodies are aging without a doubt, but if we can make a few small changes to increase our chances of being healthier in our 50s and beyond AND decrease our odds of contracting diseases, it’s definitely worth looking into!

One way we can be healthier overall in our 50s (midlife and beyond) is to become less reactive to things that normally trigger us. 

We often hear that people mellow out with age and stop caring so much about things that don’t really matter.

But, do we really? Do we let things roll off of our backs most of the time? Maybe…

But, sometimes we can put up a good front and make it seem like things don’t bother us. When deep down, a lot of us, even in midlife, still struggle with triggers. 

Even though we “know” that some things just don’t matter; even though we want to be more mellow, and that’s what we strive for, we can still get “wound up” and react to things that we find emotionally difficult or stressful.

We might also be on an emotional roller coaster due to perimenopause or menopause.

Besides the fact that society says we should be ashamed to flip out, break down, or otherwise show our BIG emotions (insert eye rolling emoji), why does it actually matter that we get triggered and react? 

How does being less reactive help our overall well-being and lead to being healthier in our 50s and beyond?

The Thought-Feeling Connection

A lot happens in our brains/bodies when we feel triggered.

It’s the thought-feeling / brain-body connection.

When a situation occurs, we have a thought about it. And that thought will lead to a feeling. 

If the situation or occurrence is difficult or negative, our thoughts about it cause various hormones or chemicals to begin running through our bodies so that we become defensive or “on guard.” (It’s one of those survival mechanisms of our freaking amazing bodies!)

And, then all of the feelings bubble up. It happens really quickly. 

We immediately feel a tightness in our throat or chest. Our shoulders or stomach muscles tense up. We might feel our face flush and get hot. 

After that, we start to feel emotions that match our thoughts. 

And a cycle happens. 

When we feel angry, anxious, or stressed out, we think more thoughts that match the feelings. And it continues.

infographic showing the cycle of thoughts and feelings

The chemicals that our bodies produce get us ready for “fighting or fleeing” depending on what we need to “survive” the situation.

“Adrenaline makes the heart beat faster, causes blood pressure to go up and gives you more energy. Cortisol, the primary stress hormone, increases sugar/glucose, in the bloodstream, enhances the brain’s use of glucose and increases the availability of substances in the body that repair tissues” (Mayo Clinic).  

All good – when necessary.

But, your body doesn’t need to produce these hormones (get ready to fight or flee) when you get pissed off about an email you read, a flippant comment that your partner made, or being stuck behind a slow driver.

Forgetting to get all of the ingredients you needed for dinner, not getting all of your to-do list items done, or oversleeping and missing a meeting are not “do or die” situations. 

But, hormones are produced in these situations too. 

Mellowing Out & Reducing Reactions 

If we can reduce the number of instances that we get triggered by an email or comment or when we’re late or forget something, we really can improve our overall well-being.

Because, as explained in the article on the Mayo Clinic website, too much cortisol production (when our stress response system is activated regularly) can cause our body’s processes to be disrupted and put us at risk of health problems, including:

  • Anxiety.
  • Depression.
  • Digestive problems.
  • Headaches.
  • Muscle tension and pain.
  • Heart disease, heart attack, high blood pressure and stroke.
  • Sleep problems.
  • Weight gain.
  • Problems with memory and focus.

Think back to a time when you were stressed out a lot or dealing with something extremely difficult. Were any of these things going on with you? 

I can certainly remember that, when I was feeling a lot of stress (much of which was internal), I struggled with several of these issues. 

One thing I remember is being exhausted much of the time. And, one of the main reasons that people are exhausted is because they are in a constant state of “fight or flight.”

Now is the time to make some changes, because aging in itself can result in our bodies breaking down. We do not want to speed up aging by allowing ourselves to react to triggers.   

In midlife, the last thing we want to do is to CAUSE MORE health issues. 

But, sometimes we think that making a change or starting a new habit will be hard, time consuming, or take a lot of energy and effort. 

Actually, one of the best habits you can start doesn’t take much time or effort at all.

Mindfulness: a key to being healthier in your 50s & beyond

What is it? Mindfulness, as explained by the Greater Good Science Center, “means maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment, through a gentle, nurturing lens.”

The founder of Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction, Jon Kabat Zinn, defines it this way:

Paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, without judgment

Why does mindfulness lead to being healthier in midlife?

Practicing mindfulness helps you develop a more relaxed state which makes it less likely that you get triggered by something that would normally be anxiety-, anger-, or stress-producing. 

It also helps you become aware of your thoughts and feelings which makes it more likely that you can manage your feelings rather than become overwhelmed by them. Because, we will FEEL things. And, that’s perfectly ok. 

The body’s stress response system is usually self-limiting. Once a perceived “threat” has passed, hormones return to typical levels. We want to get back to that state, rather than stay stressed. Or, even avert the stress to begin with!

Mindfulness Techniques to Stop the Thought-Feeling Stress Cycle

There are different mindfulness techniques you can do to remember to take a few moments and get back into the present moment and stop the thought-feeling stress cycle.

The RAIN Technique

R –  Recognize: For this first step, you’ll acknowledge what’s happening and that you’re feeling a certain way, putting it into words or a statement. For example, you might say to yourself, “I’m feeling incompetent because my co-worker explained something in the email that I should have known.” Or, “When my partner assumes this is no big deal, I feel dismissed.” It might not always be easy to recognize what is actually going on, but you’ll get the hang of it. 

A – Allow: Allow the thoughts and feelings to be there without judging them and don’t try to stop them from happening or being there. You might wonder why you would want to allow these thoughts and feelings if they’re causing your stress, but avoiding them can lead to everything building up and just feeling worse next time you get triggered. You might just acknowledge the thoughts and feelings by repeating, “it’s ok” or “I feel this.”

I – Investigate: With some self-compassion, explore the experience a bit further and ask yourself some questions. “Why do I feel this way?” or “What can I learn about myself from this experience?” Is there anything else going on that might be contributing to these thoughts or feelings? Maybe you’ve been sick and just not feeling 100% or maybe you have a lot on your plate. Notice all of this without judgment.

N – Nurture & Non-identification: Again, with self-compassion and some nurturing, practice non-identification, which means acknowledging that these feelings and thoughts aren’t YOU. They are just what’s happening right now. Just because you feel angry doesn’t mean you are resentful or a hot-tempered person. You don’t have to be stuck with these feelings and thoughts either. They are temporary. 

The STOP Method

The STOP Method is a bit simpler, but can be very powerful.

S – Stop: Stop. Take a brief pause.

T – Take a Breath: Take a deliberate and mindful breath, focusing on inhalation and exhalation.

O – Observe: Acknowledge your thoughts, feelings, and the environment without judgment.

P – Proceed Mindfully: Proceed with intentionality, choosing a response consciously.

These days, when something happens that really upsets me – makes me feel angry or super frustrated – I may get a twinge of a reaction. I may even have a full-on reaction once in a while.

But, since I’ve been practicing mindfulness, I am so much better able to step back and look at the situation, recognize that this is triggering me, and respond in a way that is better for me overall.

Practicing mindfulness won’t stop us from being triggered 100% of the time, but it will help us to become aware of when we do get triggered, allowing us to pause and respond rather than react. 

Mindfulness really can help us mellow out and not let things bother us as much. We become more resilient. 

And, this will lead to us being healthier in our 50s and as we continue to age.

Check out the Resources page for more information about bringing mindfulness into your life and sign up here to get on the email list and I’ll send you more helpful tips and life hacks that can help you love the life you are living!

~Lisa

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