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Last Updated on February 6, 2020

Midlife Crisis for Women: How It Makes You a Better Person

Midlife Crisis for Women: How It Makes You a Better Person

A couple of years ago, the wife of my cousin “snapped.” She recently crossed the north side of forty-five, had a teenage son, a good job, steady marriage, comfortable living. That is, your perfect epitome of a “normal life.”

Yet, something was “off” with her, a common friend told me. And indeed—because they live abroad, when I saw her, I barely recognized her. She looked great, no doubt—courtesy of the combination of a fitness instructor, a tanning bed and regular visits to an aesthetic clinic. She could always better-quality things too but that’s not what the “shocking” change was.

“I feel different,” she told me. “I have more self-respect now and want to take a better care of myself. I refuse to feel gloomy that my life is over.”

To the outsiders, though, it looked like she was having a midlife crisis and entering menopause. Everyone in the family expected her to run off with a hunky barista next, so that she can feel young again for a bit.

Well, this didn’t happen (to some people’s disappointment perhaps) but the stereotype prevailed. If it wasn’t this year, may be next she will have an affair, I was told by her “friend.” Otherwise, why go through such a sudden transformation if you don’t want to prove that forty-five is the new thirty, and that you still “got it”?

It is the typical way of thinking indeed—the midlife crisis narrative fueled by the image of a guy buying a luxury yacht all of the sudden one day and sailing into the sunset with his 20-something new girlfriend. Or a mid-aged woman finding a younger fling, so that she can feel wanted and sexy again.

This social cliché paints a picture of a reckless behavior—of overspending, unfaithfulness and an uncontrollable desire to turn back the clock of time. And all this is presumably fueled by a bubbling frustration the person feels underneath—because of dreams unmet, goals unrealized and life insignificant enough to leave a dent in the universe.

But all this begs the question: Just because something is a decades-old stereotype, does it make it true today? Does midlife foster more carelessness or thoughtfulness?

Let’s look under the hood, shall we?

What is Midlife Crisis Exactly?

The most widespread definition of “midlife crisis” is:[1]

“A transition of identity and self-confidence that can occur in middle-aged individuals, typically 45–64 years old. The phenomenon is described as a psychological crisis brought about by events that highlight a person’s growing age, inevitable mortality, and possibly shortcomings of accomplishments in life. This may produce feelings of depression, remorse, and anxiety, or the desire to achieve youthfulness or make drastic changes to their current lifestyle.”

First coined in an article by the Canadian psychoanalyst Elliott Jaques in 1965, the term has quickly become a mainstream explanation for anyone who “snaps” after they pass forty. “Must-be-the-midlife-crisis” adage makes it all easier for us to understand and label this transitional period as something which seems more of a catastrophe than a catharsis.

An interesting thing to note is that this stage in our lives is actually not experienced at the big four-oh point. It’s at a bit later. According to the research published on The Conversation,[2] it manifests during different times for men and women. For the former group, it is between thirty-five and forty-five, and for the latter—it’s between forty-five and fifty-four. Other studies place lock-bottom around fifty for both genders.

Symptoms of a Midlife Crisis

As described in the common literature, the “typical” symptoms of midlife crisis are:[3]

  • Feelings as depression and disappointment
  • Anger at oneself for not being as successful as the Joneses
  • Nostalgia about the younger years
  • Dissatisfaction with one’s life in general
  • A sense of pressure that there is much you still want to do and shrinking timespan
  • A heightened need for a change or “something different.”
  • Doubts about your achievements and the choices you have made so far
  • A desire for passion, intimacy and to feel wanted again

Simply put, you may feel progressively but somewhat unfoundedly unhappy. Life appears to be hollowed out of meaning.

It is not a sunny place, that’s for sure.

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Why Is the Midlife Crisis Getting Such a Bad Reputation?

Going through the typical manifestations of a midlife crisis, it is easy to understand why it is not a time one should excitedly anticipate or cheer for.

On the top of the above-mentioned signs, there are deeper and darker waters running underneath your sense of unhappiness.

The period marks the beginning of the sunset of your life. It’s the stage where you start to notice more vividly the streaks of grey hair, the wrinkles, the sagging skin, or your feeling out of place amongst younger crowds. The realization of old age creeping slowly on you is positively not an occasion to sing “Hakuna Matata.”

So, in a sometimes-desperate attempt to summon back Youth, some may embark on, as shown in the movies, a rather reckless behavior—such as overspending, excessive working out, or a fling with the young hot gardener in a “Desperate Housewives”-style.

In this vain, remember also the character of Diane Lane in “Unfaithful” where she starts an affair with a sexy Oliver Martinez—out of boredom perhaps, being the wife of a well-off businessman, or because of something else maybe. Yes, you guessed it—it is called midlife crisis. Say no more. Ah, the stereotypes of the Hollywood movies!

Most importantly, however, midlife crisis came about to be associated with a dip in happiness, as described by the famed “U-shape” of Happiness. One of the first pieces of research supporting this idea is from 2008 by two economics professors—David Blanchflower and Andrew Oswald.[4]

Using data from five hundred thousand people from the U.S. and Europe, they evidenced that the lowest point of subjective well-being is around the 46 mark. After this, it begins to increase. But it’s unclear what exactly causes this—there seem to be different explanations floating around.

The prevailing rationale seems to be that it’s due to “unmet expectations” —which are, naturally, accompanied by the gloomy feeling of depression and a sense that we have wasted our lives without achieving anything truly remarkable.

Therefore, looking in totality at the above, a rather joyless picture emerges—a period which feels more like the Dark Ages—to be dreaded rather than celebrated as the new chapter of one’s life.

But again—is it really all grey?

Why the Hype is Not True

The evidence from studies has been somewhat controversial on whether midlife crisis really exists.

Some research has shown that midlife transitional period does exist but not at a specific point in time.[5] It’s more part of the ageing and maturing process which happens gradually during adulthood. It is more a hype about the hype, an expectation that creates a “reality,” which is far not as dramatic as we have been led to believe.[6]

Other recent tests also chime in with a similar tone—two Canadian longitudinal studies found that, when accounting for variables as health, employment and martial status, our happiness tends to rise, not fall, during adulthood. That is, people in their 40s are generally more joyful and satisfied than people in their 20s or 30s.[7]

A piece in Psychology Today magazine says:[8]

“There is virtually no data to support the assertion that the midlife crisis is a universal experience. Those who conduct research in this area continue to wonder why this myth lingers when we keep failing to find evidence for it in our data.”

A U-shape of happiness may exist, but it doesn’t necessarily translate to a crisis.

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And there is no proof that the experiences are universal to all people too.

Decades ago, by the time women hit their forties, they were considered to be well into their mature, older years even. They would marry in their twenties, have kids almost right away and twenty years later, they will be sending them to college and going through the empty-nest syndrome. Now, we live longer, we have kids later in life, often after thirty-five. The way our career and personal life trajectories unfold is very different.

So, science is not always right. Do not fall a victim to a self-fulfilling prophecy. Just because we are told to expect something dreadful, it doesn’t mean it will happen.

What Midlife “Crisis” is Really About

Although many may be embracing themselves for the dark times that are coming, it’s important not to develop tunnel-vision and to only focus on the bad.

Midlife transition is part of the natural ageing process that everyone goes through—it is about the physical changes to your body.

Apart from the outer shell, it may also change our inner landscapes—in a positive way, I believe.

Here are some of the benefits to the midlife transformation:

A great time to take stock or go through a life audit

You can reflect on what has worked, what has not.

Once you re-assess the past, you can have a better idea of your strengths and how to put them to work in the most efficient way in the future.

A chance to change course.

When you feel the imminence of old age and realise that time is limited, you learn to appreciate it more.

There is no deluding yourself that you have unlimited number of years left—so, it is a sort of “Now-or-Never” moment in your life.

Realize that there is no point to sweat over the petty stuff

You can see the bigger picture now and are able to figure out that some things are just not worth your energy, anger and time.

Therefore, you can really focus on achieving your goals with less distractions.

An opportunity to let go of the past and everything that affected you negatively

You have lived long enough now to fully recognize that the past is not a predictor of the future. Leave it where it belongs.

Therefore, midlife is also a time for a mental cleanse.

A chance to give yourself some proper self-care

This is more relevant for those with grown children. It is finally You time.

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All the years you have been neglecting yourself to be a good mom, wife, housewife—it’s finally the time to give yourself some appreciation.

A chance to seek out new opportunities, to break the old habits and patterns and to make a lifestyle change

It is high time you start going to the gym as you have always wanted—one New Year’s resolution after another.

It is also the period to attempt quitting smoking, eating better or reading more. Whatever it is that you want to improve—use the midlife years as a “wake-up” call to do so.

An opportunity to ask yourself how to make your life count

Finally, according to the developmental psychologist Erik Erikson, between ages of 40 and 65, we start asking ourselves how to make your life count.

The answer, he advises, is something called “generativity”—which is simply a “concern for establishing and guiding for the next generation.” That is, what makes your life meaningful is to ensure that you care for, guide your kids into the future and raise them to become good human beings.

This is how you leave your mark after you are gone.

Why Midlife “Crisis” Can Make You a Better Person

The midlife years do not have to feel like a stone around your neck. They are not about depression and mood swings, or about feeling stuck in a rut and having an existential crisis.

They are about re-assessment, reflection and the opportunity to become an improved version of yourself.

Here are some ways in which this period can also make you a better person in the process:

1. Your Mental Health Improves

Faced with the transience of your existence, you realize that some things are not worth stressing about. You become calmer and wiser, learn to accept the things you can not change.

In fact, studies have shown that, as we age, responsiveness to regret decreases.[9] Therefore, our “emotional health” improves.

2. You Have Stronger Relationships

You become nicer with people as a result too—you let go of old grudges, are willing to overlook small disagreements. You don’t get hinged on the trivial stuff—you start looking at the bigger picture.

In fact, you may become more appreciative of your relationships and spend more time with those who matter in your life.

3. You Are More Motivated

As you have gone through some ups and downs, trials and errors in the past years, you can become more focused, driven and motivated.

You can craft new goals, use your lessons learned and find better ways of going after what you want.

4. You Take Better Care of Yourself—Both Physically and Mentally

You will seek balance, will stray away from extreme emotions and may adopt a more philosophical way of life—more in line with the Eastern philosophy of focusing on the Now.

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5. You Feel More Connected with Others

As you think more about leaving a mark on Earth and doing something meaningful, you may look for ways to make the world a better place. You will want to have a positive legacy, so you may start helping others more, donate to charity or volunteer.

You will come to realize that the good life is more about connectedness and less about social competition.[10]

6. You’re More Grateful

In this vein, you also start appreciating more what you have—i.e. there is a spike in gratitude as we age, studies tell us.

You may shift focus from career to personal relationships and start nurturing them more. You will spend more time with family and friends and re-kindle your bonds.

7. You’re More Positive

Finally, if you chose to see the positive—what you have achieved, what you have in your life, and feel grateful, you will adopt a more optimistic outlook too.

You will be proud of our life unfolding the way it has, rather than feeling miserable that it has not taken another direction.

Summing It All Up

In the end, there are few take-aways for all who going through their midlife years.

Remember that it is more about an opportunity for a re-assessment, improving your life and relationships, not about going haywire in your behavior.

We should, in fact, stop calling this period “crisis”—as it is really not. It is more of midlife chances to finally summon the courage to become the person we are meant to be.

It is also about starting to write a new chapter of your book, really. Nothing scary about this—similar to the other chapters, there will be stories of ups and downs, of surprises awaiting around the corner, of laughs and cries. It is called life.

Rather than being scared, you can anticipate it with excitement—it is finally the time to “put your ducks in order” and focus on what truly matters to you.

The wife of my cousin gave me a good piece of advice few years ago:

“I was down for while—it felt like I was nearing my life’s finish line. My son was grown up, I had a decent career, good marriage. I hit a plateau. It felt like there was nothing exciting around the corner. Until you learn to let go and shift your priorities. Now I started doing the things I’ve postponed for years.

In your thirties, you have different priorities than your twenties, same when you look at your forties and fifties compared to a decade ago. It can not be the same and this is a good thing. Imagine staying up all night clubbing and drinking all night when you are forty-five. It doesn’t suit you.”

Listening to this, a question popped in my mind: But where is the crisis in this, really?

More Tips About Surviving a Midlife Crisis

Featured photo credit: Christian Gertenbach via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Evelyn Marinoff

A wellness advocate who writes about the psychology behind confidence, happiness and well-being.

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Last Updated on September 18, 2020

13 Helping Points When Things Don’t Go Your Way

13 Helping Points When Things Don’t Go Your Way

For the original article by Celestine: 13 Helping Points When Things Don’t Go Your Way

“We all have problems. The way we solve them is what makes us different.” ~Unknown

“It’s not stress that kills us, it is our reaction to it.” – Hans Selye

Have you ever experienced moments when things just don’t go your way? For example, losing your keys, accidentally spilling your drink, waking up late, missing your buses/trains, forgetting to bring your things, and so on?

You’re not alone. All of us, myself included, experience times when things don’t go as we expect.

Here is my guide on how to deal with daily setbacks.

1. Take a step back and evaluate

When something bad happens, take a step back and evaluate the situation. Some questions to ask yourself:

  1. What is the problem?
  2. Are you the only person facing this problem in the world today?
  3. How does this problem look like at an individual level? A national level? On a global scale?
  4. What’s the worst possible thing that can happen to you as a result of this?
  5. How is it going to impact your life in the next 1 year? 5 years? 10 years?

Doing this exercise is not to undermine the problem or disclaiming responsibility, but to consider different perspectives, so you can adopt the best approach for it. Most problems we encounter daily may seem like huge issues when they crop up, but most, if not all, don’t have much impact in our life beyond that day.

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2. Vent if you have to, but don’t linger on the problem

If you feel very frustrated and need to let off some steam, go ahead and do that. Talk to a friend, complain, crib about it, or scream at the top of your lungs if it makes you happy.

At the same time, don’t get caught up with venting. While venting may temporarily relieve yourself, it’s not going to solve the problem ultimately. You don’t want to be an energy vampire.

Vent if there’s a need to, but do it for 15 to 20 minutes. Then move on.

3. Realize there are others out there facing this too

Even though the situation may be frustrating, you’re not alone. Remember there are almost 7 billion people in the world today, and chances are that other people have faced the same thing before too. Knowing it’s not just you helps you to get out of a self-victimizing mindset.

4. Process your thoughts/emotions

Process your thoughts/emotions with any of the four methods:

  1. Journal. Write your unhappiness in a private diary or in your blog. It doesn’t have to be formal at all – it can be a brain dump on rough paper or new word document. Delete after you are done.
  2. Audio taping. Record yourself as you talk out what’s on your mind. Tools include tape recorder, your PC (Audacity is a freeware for recording/editing audio) and your mobile (most mobiles today have audio recording functions). You can even use your voice mail for this. Just talking helps you to gain awareness of your emotions. After recording, play back and listen to what you said. You might find it quite revealing.
  3. Meditation. At its simplest form, meditation is just sitting/lying still and observing your reality as it is – including your thoughts and emotions. Some think that it involves some complex mambo-jumbo, but it doesn’t.
  4. Talking to someone. Talking about it with someone helps you work through the issue. It also gets you an alternate viewpoint and consider it from a different angle.

5. Acknowledge your thoughts

Don’t resist your thoughts, but acknowledge them. This includes both positive and negative thoughts.

By acknowledging, I mean recognizing these thoughts exist. So if say, you have a thought that says, “Wow, I’m so stupid!”, acknowledge that. If you have a thought that says, “I can’t believe this is happening to me again”, acknowledge that as well.

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Know that acknowledging the thoughts doesn’t mean you agree with them. It’s simply recognizing the existence of said thoughts so that you can stop resisting yourself and focus on the situation on hand.

6. Give yourself a break

If you’re very stressed out by the situation, and the problem is not time sensitive, then give yourself a break. Take a walk, listen to some music, watch a movie, or get some sleep. When you’re done, you should feel a lot more revitalized to deal with the situation.

7. Uncover what you’re really upset about

A lot of times, the anger we feel isn’t about the world. You may start off feeling angry at someone or something, but at the depth of it, it’s anger toward yourself.

Uncover the root of your anger. I have written a five part anger management series on how to permanently overcome anger.

After that, ask yourself: How can you improve the situation? Go to Step #9, where you define your actionable steps. Our anger comes from not having control on the situation. Sitting there and feeling infuriated is not going to change the situation. The more action we take, the more we will regain control over the situation, the better we will feel.

8. See this as an obstacle to be overcome

As Helen Keller once said,

“Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experiences of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, vision cleared, ambition inspired and success achieved.”

Whatever you’re facing right now, see it as an obstacle to be overcome. In every worthy endeavor, there’ll always be countless obstacles that emerge along the way. These obstacles are what separate the people who make it, and those who don’t. If you’re able to push through and overcome them, you’ll emerge a stronger person than before. It’ll be harder for anything to get you down in the future.

9. Analyze the situation – Focus on actionable steps

In every setback, there are going to be things that can’t be reversed since they have already occurred. You want to focus on things that can still be changed (salvageable) vs. things that have already happened and can’t be changed. The only time the situation changes is when you take steps to improve it. Rather than cry over spilt milk, work through your situation:

  1. What’s the situation?
  2. What’s stressing you about this situation?
  3. What are the next steps that’ll help you resolve them?
  4. Take action on your next steps!

After you have identified your next steps, act on them. The key here is to focus on the actionable steps, not the inactionable steps. It’s about regaining control over the situation through direct action.

10. Identify how it occurred (so it won’t occur again next time)

A lot of times we react to our problems. The problem occurs, and we try to make the best out of what has happened within the context. While developing a healthy coping mechanism is important (which is what the other helping points are on), it’s also equally important, if not more, to understand how the problem arose. This way, you can work on preventing it from taking place next time, vs. dealing reactively with it.

Most of us probably think the problem is outside of our control, but reality is most of the times it’s fully preventable. It’s just a matter of how much responsibility you take over the problem.

For example, for someone who can’t get a cab for work in the morning, he/she may see the problem as a lack of cabs in the country, or bad luck. However, if you trace to the root of the problem, it’s probably more to do with (a) Having unrealistic expectations of the length of time to get a cab. He/she should budget more time for waiting for a cab next time. (b) Oversleeping, because he/she was too tired from working late the previous day. He/she should allocate enough time for rest next time. He/she should also pick up better time management skills, so as to finish work in lesser time.

11. Realize the situation can be a lot worse

No matter how bad the situation is, it can always be much worse. A plus point vs. negative point analysis will help you realize that.

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12. Do your best, but don’t kill yourself over it

No matter how bad your situation may seem, do your best, but don’t kill yourself over it. Life is too beautiful to worry so much over daily issues. Take a step back (#1), give yourself a break if you need to (#6), and do what you can within your means (#9). Everything else will unfold accordingly. Worrying too much about the outcome isn’t going to change things or make your life any better.

13. Pick out the learning points from the encounter

There’s something to learn from every encounter. What have you learned from this situation? What lessons have you taken away?

After you identify your learning points, think about how you’re going to apply them moving forward. With this, you’ve clearly gained something from this encounter. You’ve walked away a stronger, wiser, better person, with more life lessons to draw from in the future.

Get the manifesto version of this article: [Manifesto] What To Do When Things Don’t Go Your Way

Featured photo credit: Alice Donovan Rouse via unsplash.com

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