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Last Updated on November 24, 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 had recently crossed the north side of forty-five, had a teenage son, a good job, a steady marriage, and comfortable living. That is, your perfect epitome of a “normal life.” However, that didn’t stop a midlife crisis in women from appearing.

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.

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

To 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 so that she could feel young again for a while.

Well, this didn’t happen (to some people’s disappointment perhaps), but the stereotype prevailed. Why go through such a sudden transformation and life crisis if you don’t want to prove that forty-five is the new thirty, and that you still “got it”?

This is the typical way of thinking, indeed—the midlife crisis narrative fueled by the image of a guy buying a luxury sports car and driving into the sunset with his 20-something new girlfriend. Or a middle-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 time. And all this is presumably fueled by a bubbling frustration the person feels underneath—because of dreams unmet, goals unrealized and life, and feeling unable 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?

What Is a Female Midlife Crisis?

A midlife crisis in women is basically a period of transition of identity and usually occurs between the ages of about 45 and 65. It’s often thought of a psychological crisis triggered by an awareness of age and mortality.

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 that seems more of a catastrophe than a catharsis.

An interesting thing to note is that one study shows[1] that it manifests during different times for middle aged women and men. 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 in Women

As described in the common literature, the “typical” symptoms of midlife crisis are:[2]

  • Feelings of depression and disappointment
  • Anger at oneself for not being as successful as others
  • 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 in a 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.

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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.On 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. In a sometimes-desperate attempt to summon back youth, some may embark on, as shown in the movies, rather reckless behavior, such as overspending, excessive working out, or a fling with the young hot gardener in the style of Desperate Housewives.Most importantly, however, a midlife crisis has come 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.[3]

Under 50? You still haven't hit rock bottom, happiness-wise. - The Washington Post
    Using data from 500,000 people from the U.S. and Europe, they found that the lowest point of subjective well-being happens around the age of 46[4]. After this, it begins to increase. However, 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, 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.

    Why the Hype Is Untrue

    The evidence from studies has been somewhat controversial on whether a 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 aging and maturing process, which happens gradually during adulthood. It is more a hype about the hype, an expectation that creates a “reality,” which is not nearly 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 The Atlantic points out that, as more research began to come in, “most scientists abandoned the idea that the midlife crisis is biological. They regarded it mostly as a cultural construct. The same mass media that had once heralded the midlife crisis began trying to debunk it, in dozens of news stories with variations on the headline ‘Myth of the Midlife Crisis.'”

    However, the same story points out that “the idea was too delicious to be debunked. It had become part of the Western middle-class narrative, offering a fresh, self-actualizing story about how life is supposed to go”[8].

    Basically, it became a convenient way of putting a name to moments in our life that were difficult to explain.

    A U-shape of happiness may exist, but it doesn’t necessarily translate to a crisis. And there is no proof that the experiences are universal to all people.

    Decades ago, by the time aging women hit their forties, they were considered to be well into their mature, older years. They would marry in their twenties, have kids almost right away, and twenty years later, they would be sending them to college and going through the empty-nest syndrome.

    Now, we live longer, and we have kids later in life, often after thirty-five. The way our career and personal life trajectories unfold is very different.

    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” in Women Is Really About

    Although many may be bracing 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 aging process that everyone goes through—it is about the physical changes to your body.

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    Apart from the outer shell, it may also change our inner landscapes, and often in a positive way.

    Here are some of the benefits to the midlife transformation:

    It’s a Great Time to Do a Life Audit

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

    Once you reassess 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.

    It’s a Chance to Change Course

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

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

    You Learn to Let Go of 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, or time.

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

    It’s an Opportunity to Let Go of the Past

    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.

    You Can Learn Proper Self-Care

    This is more relevant for those with grown children. It is finally time to treat yourself better.

    After all the years you spent neglecting yourself to be a good mom or wife, it’s finally the time to give yourself some appreciation.

    It’s a Chance to Make a Lifestyle Change Through New Habits

    A midlife crisis for women can be a turning point where you can let go of bad habits that are holding you back. It’s high time you start going to the gym as you have always wanted—one New Year’s resolution after another.

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    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.

    It’s a Chance to Figure out 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 our lives count.

    The answer, he advises, is something called “generativity”—which is simply a “concern for establishing and guiding for the next generation”[9]. That is, what makes your life meaningful is to ensure that you care for and guide your kids into the future and raise them to become good human beings.

    If you don’t have children, there are other ways to “care” and “guide.” You can volunteer, start a charity, become a mentor, etc. Find what helps you feel that your life means something to the world.

    How a 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 reassessment, reflection, and the opportunity to become an improved version of yourself[10]. It can be a long-term silver lining when experiencing moments of regret.

    Choices women made at midlife - graph based on two long-term studies

      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, and you learn to accept the things you can not change.

      In fact, studies have shown that, as we age, responsiveness to regret decreases.[11] Therefore, our “emotional health” improves.

      2. You Have Stronger Relationships

      You become nicer with people—you let go of old grudges and are willing to overlook small disagreements. You don’t get hinged on the trivial stuff, as 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 in the past years, you can become more focused, driven, and motivated.

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      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.

      5. You Feel More Connected With Others

      As you think more about leaving a mark on Earth and doing something meaningful during a midlife crisis for women, 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.[12]

      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 rekindle your connections.

      7. You’re More Positive

      Finally, if you chose to see the positive regarding what you have achieved and what you have in your life, 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 regarding the midlife crisis for women.

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

      e should, in fact, stop calling this period “crisis”—as it is really not. It is more about midlife chances to finally summon the courage to become the person we are meant to be. If it really does feel like a crisis, it may be time to seek professional help or look into life coaching.

      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.

      More Tips on 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 November 19, 2020

      The Gentle Art of Saying No for a Less Stressful Life

      The Gentle Art of Saying No for a Less Stressful Life

      It’s a simple fact that you can never be productive if you take on too many commitments—you simply spread yourself too thin and will not be able to get anything done, at least not well or on time. That’s why the art of saying no can be a game changer for productivity.

      Requests for your time are coming in all the time—from family members, friends, children, coworkers, etc. To stay productive, minimize stress, and avoid wasting time, you have to learn the gentle art of saying no—an art that many people have problems with.

      What’s so hard about saying no? Well, to start with, it can hurt, anger, or disappoint the person you’re saying “no” to, and that’s not usually a fun task. Second, if you hope to work with that person in the future, you’ll want to continue to have a good relationship with that person, and saying “no” in the wrong way can jeopardize that.

      However, it doesn’t have to be difficult or hard on your relationship. Here’s how to stop people pleasing and master the gentle art of saying no.

      1. Value Your Time

      Know your commitments and how valuable your precious time is. Then, when someone asks you to dedicate some of your time to a new commitment, you’ll know that you simply cannot do it.

      Be honest when you tell them that: “I just can’t right now. My plate is overloaded as it is.” They’ll sympathize as they likely have a lot going on as well, and they’ll respect your openness, honesty, and attention to self-care.

      2. Know Your Priorities

      Even if you do have some extra time (which, for many of us, is rare), is this new commitment really the way you want to spend that time?

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      For example, if my wife asks me to pick up the kids from school a couple of extra days a week, I’ll likely try to make time for it as my family is my highest priority. However, if a coworker asks for help on some extra projects, I know that will mean less time with my wife and kids, so I will be more likely to say no. 

      However, for others, work is their priority, and helping on extra projects could mean the chance for a promotion or raise. It’s all about knowing your long-term goals and what you’ll need to say yes and no to in order to get there. 

      You can learn more about how to set your priorities here.

      3. Practice Saying No

      Practice makes perfect. Saying “no” as often as you can is a great way to get better at it and more comfortable with saying the word[1].

      Sometimes, repeating the word is the only way to get a message through to extremely persistent people. When they keep insisting, just keep saying no. Eventually, they’ll get the message.

      4. Don’t Apologize

      A common way to start out is “I’m sorry, but…” as people think that it sounds more polite. While politeness is important when you learn to say no, apologizing just makes it sound weaker. You need to be firm and unapologetic about guarding your time.

      When you say no, realize that you have nothing to feel bad about. You have every right to ensure you have time for the things that are important to you. 

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      5. Stop Being Nice

      Again, it’s important to be polite, but being nice by saying yes all the time only hurts you. When you make it easy for people to grab your time (or money), they will continue to do it. However, if you erect a wall or set boundaries, they will look for easier targets.

      Show them that your time is well guarded by being firm and turning down as many requests (that are not on your top priority list) as possible.

      6. Say No to Your Boss

      Sometimes we feel that we have to say yes to our boss—they’re our boss, right? And if we start saying no, then we look like we can’t handle the work—at least, that’s the common reasoning[2].

      In fact, it’s the opposite—explain to your boss that by taking on too many commitments, you are weakening your productivity and jeopardizing your existing commitments. If your boss insists that you take on the project, go over your project or task list and ask him/her to re-prioritize, explaining that there’s only so much you can take on at one time.

      7. Pre-Empting

      It’s often much easier to pre-empt requests than to say “no” to them after the request has been made. If you know that requests are likely to be made, perhaps in a meeting, just say to everyone as soon as you come into the meeting,

      “Look, everyone, just to let you know, my week is booked full with some urgent projects, and I won’t be able to take on any new requests.”

      This, of course, takes a great deal of awareness that you’ll likely only have after having worked in one place or been friends with someone for a while. However, once you get the hang of it, it can be incredibly useful.

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      8. Get Back to You

      Instead of providing an answer then and there, it’s often better to tell the person you’ll give their request some thought and get back to them. This will allow you to give it some consideration, and check your commitments and priorities. Then, if you can’t take on the request, try saying no this way:

      “After giving this some thought, and checking my commitments, I won’t be able to accommodate the request at this time.”

      At least you gave it some consideration.

      9. Maybe Later

      If this is an option that you’d like to keep open, instead of just shutting the door on the person, it’s often better to just say,

      “This sounds like an interesting opportunity, but I just don’t have the time at the moment. Perhaps you could check back with me in [give a time frame].”

      Next time, when they check back with you, you might have some free time on your hands. If you need to continue saying no, here are some other ways to do so[3]:

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      Saying no the healthy way

        10. It’s Not You, It’s Me

        This classic dating rejection can work in other situations. Don’t be insincere about it, though. Often, the person or project is a good one, but it’s just not right for you, at least not at this time.

        Simply say so—you can compliment the idea, the project, the person, the organization—but say that it’s not the right fit, or it’s not what you’re looking for at this time. Only say this if it’s true, as people can sense insincerity.

        The Bottom Line

        Saying no isn’t an easy thing to do, but once you master it, you’ll find that you’re less stressed and more focused on the things that really matter to you. There’s no need to feel guilty about organizing your personal life and mental health in a way that feels good to you.

        Remember that when you learn to say no, isn’t about being mean. It’s about taking care of your time, energy, and sanity. Once you learn how to say no in a good way, people will respect your willingness to practice self-care and prioritization. 

        More Tips for a Less Stressful Life

        Featured photo credit: Kyle Glenn via unsplash.com

        Reference

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