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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.

How to Get Unstuck in Life and Live a More Fulfilling Life How to Define Your Personal Values and Live By Them for a Fulfilling Life What Is External Motivation And How to Make Good Use of It? Is There a True Measure of Success? How to Define Your Own Why Is Internal Motivation So Powerful (And How to Find It)

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Last Updated on March 30, 2020

What Does Self-Conscious Mean? (And How to Stop Being It)

What Does Self-Conscious Mean? (And How to Stop Being It)

Have you ever walked into a room and felt like your nerves simply couldn’t handle it? Your heart beats fast, you start to sweat, and you feel like all eyes are on you (even if they’re really not). This is just one of the many ways that being self-conscious can rear its ugly head.

You may not even realize you’re self-conscious, and you may be wondering, “What does self-conscious mean?” That’s a good place to start.

This article will define self-consciousness, show how practically everyone has faced it at one point or another, and give you tips to avoid it.

What Does Self-Conscious Mean?

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, self-conscious is defined as “conscious of one’s own acts or states as belonging to or originating in oneself.”[1]

Not so bad, right? There’s another definition, though — one that speaks more to what you’re going through: “feeling uncomfortably conscious of oneself as an object of the observation of others.” For those of us who regularly deal with extreme self-consciousness, that second definition sounds about right.

There are many different ways self-consciousness can spring up. You may feel self-conscious around people you know, like your family members or closest friends. You may feel self-conscious at work, even though you spend hours every week around your co-workers. Or you may feel self-conscious when out in public and surrounded by strangers. However, you probably don’t feel self-conscious when you’re home alone.

How to Stop Being Too Self-Conscious

When you’re in the throes of self-consciousness, it’s nearly impossible to remember how to stop feeling that way. That’s why it’s so important to prepare ahead of time, when you’re feeling ready to tackle the problem instead of succumbing to it.

Here are a variety of ways to feel better about yourself and stop thinking about how others see you.

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1. Ask Yourself, “So What?”

One way to banish negative, self-conscious thoughts is to do just that: banish them.

The next time you walk into a room and feel your face getting red, think to yourself, “So what?” How much does it really matter if people don’t like how you look or act? What’s the worst that could happen?

Most of the time, you’ll find that you don’t have a good answer to this question. Then, you can immediately start assigning such thoughts less importance. With self-awareness, you can acknowledge that your negative thoughts are present and realize that you don’t agree with them.[2] They’re just thoughts, after all.

2. Be Honest

A lie that self-consciousness might tell is that there’s one way to act or feel. Honestly, though, everyone else is just figuring life out as well. There isn’t a preferred way to show up to an event, gathering, or public place. What you can do is be honest with your feelings and thoughts.[3]

If you feel offended by something someone says, you don’t have to smile to be polite or laugh to fit in with the crowd. Instead, you can politely say why you disagree or excuse yourself and find a group of people who you relate to better. If you’re nervous, don’t overcompensate by trying to look relaxed and casual — it’ll be obvious you’re putting on a front. Instead, nothing is more endearing than saying, “I’m a little nervous!” to a room of people who probably feel the exact same way.

On the same note, if you don’t understand why someone wants you to do something, question it. You can do this at work, at home, or even with people you don’t know well. Nobody should force you to do something you don’t want to do.

Also, even if you’re willing to do what’s asked of you, there’s nothing wrong with asking for more clarification. People will realize that you’re not a person to be bossed around.

3. Understand Why You’re Struggling at Work

Being self-conscious at work can get in the way of your daily responsibilities, your relationships with co-workers, and even your career as a whole. If you’re facing some sort of conflict but you’re too nervous to speak up, you may be at the whim of what happens to you instead of taking some control.

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If you’re usually confident at work, you may be wondering where this new self-consciousness is coming from. It’s possible that you’re dealing with burnout.[4] Common signs are anxiety, fatigue and distraction, all of which can leave you feeling under-confident.

4. Succeed at Something

When you create success in your life, it’s easier to feel confident[5] and less self-conscious. If you feel self-conscious at work, finish the project that’s been looming over your head. If you feel self-conscious in the gym, complete an advanced workout class.

Exposing yourself to what you’re scared of and then succeeding at it in some way (even just by finishing it) can do wonders for your self-esteem. The more confidence you build, the more likely you are to have more success in the future, which will create a cycle of confidence-building.

5. Treat All of You — Not Just Your Self-Consciousness

Trying to solve your self-consciousness alone may not treat the root of the problem. Instead, take a well-rounded approach to lower your self-consciousness and build confidence in areas where you may struggle.

Even professional counselors are embracing this holistic type of treatment[6] because they feel that the health of the mind and body are inextricably linked. This approach combines physical, spiritual, and psychological components. Common activities and treatments include meditation, yoga, massage, and healthy changes to diet and exercise.

If much of this is new to you, it will pay to give it a try. You never know how it will impact you.

If you’re feeling self-conscious about how your body looks, a massage that makes you feel great could boost your confidence. If you try a new workout, you could have something exciting to talk about the next time you’re in a group setting.

Putting yourself in a new situation and learning that you can get through it with grace can give you the confidence to get through all sorts of events and nerve-wracking moments.

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6. Make the Changes That Are Within Your Control

Let’s say you walk into a room and you’re self-conscious about how you look. However, you may have put a lot of time and effort into your outfit. Even though it may stand out, this is how you have chosen to express yourself.

You have to work on your internal confidence, not your external appearance. There’s nothing to change other than your outlook.

On the other hand, maybe there’s something that you don’t like about yourself that you can change. For example, maybe you hate how a birthmark on your face looks or have varicose veins that you think are unsightly. If you can do something about these things, do it! There’s nothing wrong with changing your appearance (or skills, education, etc.) if it’s going to make you more confident.

You don’t have to accept your current situation for acceptance’s sake. There’s no award for putting up with something you hate. Confidence is also required to make changes that are scary, even if they’re for the better. Plus, it may be an easier fix than you thought. For example, treating varicose veins doesn’t have to involve surgery — sometimes simple compression stockings will take care of the problem.[7]

7. Realize That Everyone Has Awkward Moments

Everyone has said something awkward to someone else and lived to tell the tale. We’ve all forgotten somebody’s name or said, “You too!” when the concession stand girl says to enjoy our movie. Not only are these things uber-common, but they’re not nearly as embarrassing as you feel they are.

Think about how you react when someone else does something awkward. Do you think, “Wow, that person’s such a loser!” or do you think, “What a relief, I’m not the only one who does that.” Chances are good that’s the same reaction others have to you when you stumble.

Remember, self-consciousness is a state of mind that you have control over. You don’t have to feel this way. Do what you need to in order to build your confidence, put your self-consciousness in perspective, and start exercising your “I feel awesome about myself” muscle. It’ll get easier with time.

When Is Being Self-Conscious a Good Thing?

Self-consciousness can sometimes be a good thing[8], but you have to take the awkwardness and nerves out of it.

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In this case, “self-aware” is a much better term. Knowing how you come off to people is an excellent trait; you’ll be able to read a room and understand how what you do and say affects others. These are fantastic skills for people work and personal relationships.

Self-awareness helps you dress appropriately for the occasion, tells you that you’re talking too loud or not loud enough, and guides a conversation so you don’t offend or bore anyone.

It’s not about being someone you’re not — that can actually have adverse effects, just like self-consciousness. Instead, it’s about turning up certain aspects of yourself to perform well in the situation.

Final Thoughts

When you’re self-conscious, you’re constantly battling with yourself in an effort to control how other people view you. You try to change yourself to suit what you think other people want to see.

The truth, though, is that you can’t actually control how other people view you — and you may not even be correct about how they view you in the first place.

Being confident doesn’t happen overnight. Instead, it happens in small steps as you slowly build your confidence and say “no” to your self-consciousness. It also requires accepting that you’re going to feel self-conscious sometimes, and that’s okay.

Sometimes worrying that there is a problem can be more stressful than the problem itself. Feeling bad for feeling self-conscious can be more troublesome than simply feeling it and getting on with the day.

Forgive yourself for being human and make the small changes that will lead to better confidence in the future.

More Tips for Improving Your Self-Esteem

Featured photo credit: Cata via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Merriam-Webster: Self-conscious
[2] Bustle: 7 Tips On How To Stop Feeling Self-Conscious
[3] Marc and Angel: 10 Things to Remember When You Feel Unsure of Yourself
[4] Bostitch: How to Protect Small Businesses From Burnout
[5] Psychology Today: Self-conscious? Get Over It
[6] Wake Forest University: Embracing Holistic Medicine
[7] Center for Vein Restoration: What Causes Venous Ulcers, and How Are They Treated?
[8] Scientific American: The Pros and Cons of Being Self-Aware

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