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Published on February 26, 2019

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

Midlife Crisis for Women: How a Midlife Crisis 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 Actually 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 Resources About 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 March 12, 2019

Feeling Stuck in Life? How to Never Get Stuck Again

Feeling Stuck in Life? How to Never Get Stuck Again

The statistics are dismal. A recent study has found that 69% of people feel trapped in the same old routine, and only 3 out of 10 people are happy with their lives.[1] People are feeling stuck.

Some are feeling stuck in their careers, feeling like they’re too far along one path to make a change. Some are feeling stuck in their personal lives. The toll of the daily grind sucks most of their time and energy. So their relationships, self-care, and personal goals get lost in the shuffle of the treadmill existence.

When people come across these challenges of feeling stuck, the feeling sometimes doesn’t go away. It often intensifies as time goes on. As the stuck feeling intensifies, some people choose to settle. Subconsciously, without even realizing it, they end up pushing their dreams and goals further and further down.

Others, if the feeling of being stuck intensifies to an unbearable point, choose to make changes. They may choose to pivot in their careers, even after years at a successful job. They may end up making big changes in their relationships, or start putting their fitness at a higher priority. They may make drastic changes to finally feel free. These changes can be incredibly difficult to make, especially if a person has lived many years in a certain lifestyle.

Feeling stuck is NOT fun. I’ve been there. I get it.

Why Are You Feeling Stuck?

People feel stuck once in a while. There are many causes of feeling stuck. Many people work toward goals that don’t actually align with who they are at the core or what they truly desire. I call these “False Objectives”.

Living a life of False Objectives can cause people to feel very stuck and frustrated. People can build lives that are very “successful” according to society; but if you’ve built your life based on False Objectives, you’re not going to feel fulfilled. You’ll end up feeling stuck.

Another cause of feeling stuck is not knowing who you are. If you don’t understand how you’re innately wired – your strengths, your gifts, your talents, your passions – it’s tough to make decisions that enable you to maximize those. It’s tough to reach your full potential if you don’t know who you are.

You can feel stuck if you’re doing work that doesn’t allow you to maximize your innate strengths. If you’re doing work that doesn’t bring out the best in who you are at the core, you’ll likely feel some dissatisfaction and you won’t reach your full potential.

Other people feel stuck because they haven’t surrounded themselves with mentors or peers who have achieved what they want to achieve. They stay in certain routines while craving to do life differently. As Jim Rohn says,

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“You are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with.”

If your goal is to run a marathon and you’re spending most evenings and weekends drinking beer with your coworkers, you’re probably not going to run that marathon. If your goal is to live a location-independent lifestyle and work anytime from anywhere, but everyone in your social circle is at traditional jobs; it’ll be tough to break free from the 9-5 mentality.

How Feeling Stuck Screws You up Secretly

Feeling stuck screws up people’s lives. The consequences of feeling stuck can range from mild to severe. People may feel a mild discontentment with life and end up succumbing to the idea that life is “okay,” and settle. (Nancy’s story will resonate with you.) They may never reach their full potential, their highest levels of happiness and satisfaction. And they may not make the impact on the world that they could make, and have a looming sense that there could be “more” to life.

Often, though, the feeling of being stuck comes with much larger consequences. Feeling stuck can hinder career growth and contribute to disrupted marriages. It can lead to huge midlife crises.

The feeling can (and frequently does) increase as the years go on, leading to significant regrets about unfulfilled dreams. In fact, the number one regret of the dying, according to Bronnie Ware, a palliative care nurse, is, “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.” She writes:[2]

“This was the most common regret of all. When people realize that their life is almost over and look back clearly on it, it is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled. Many people had not honored even a half of their dreams, and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made.”

    How to Approach Life Differently

    Thankfully, some highly effective strategies can prevent you from feeling stuck. Using these strategies can help you avoid significant problems in your life. It’s different than conventional living, and it works.

    Commonly, people live with many set routines. While certain routines are helpful, becoming stuck in the daily grind routine can get frustrating. Many people eat roughly the same foods each week, go to the same place each day, talk to the same people, keep the same commitments, and end up living life on autopilot.

    It’s tough to feel like you’re progressing forward when each day is spent doing the same uninspiring routine. In order to avoid feeling stuck, it’s important to live intentionally. It’s crucial to live in the driver’s seat of your life and get out of autopilot mode.

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    First, ditch the False Objectives. Just because everyone in your family are doctors doesn’t mean that’s the best path for you. Just because all your friends are married with a big house, a white picket fence, and 2 kids doesn’t mean that’s the best path for you. Just because everyone you know works 9-5 doesn’t mean that’s the best path for you. It’s not easy to design your life intentionally, but it’s critical in order to avoid feeling stuck.

    Remember, the majority of people feel stuck. So, if you’re doing things like the majority of people, you’ll likely feel stuck, too. You’ll need to think differently and create your life differently.

    Two Questions to Ask Yourself Every Day

    In order to intentionally design your life, avoid falling prey to False Objectives, and prevent feeling stuck, there are questions to ask yourself every day. These questions can help you stay focused on what matters most to you, help you avoid feeling stuck and frustrated, and create the best life possible.

    1. Why am I going to do what I’m going to do today?

    If you’re showing up to work each day and giving your years to your job, it’s important that your “why” is deeper than “to pay the bills.” Knowing why you’re doing what you’re doing can help you make choices that inspire and motivate you.

    By asking yourself why you’re going to do what you’re going to do today, you will be living intentionally. In today’s incredibly busy, easily distracted world, living intentionally and focusing every day on what matters most is unique.

    When you choose to ask yourself why you’re doing what you’re doing every day, it will help you stay focused on what’s truly important to you. This can prevent you from getting stuck.

    2. What would future want me to do today?

    Imagine yourself, in the future, as the best version of you. What would that version of you want you to do today? Making decisions from the viewpoint of the future you can help you move forward and prevent the stuck and frustrated feeling.

    When you make decisions from the viewpoint of future you, you will develop perseverance and reap the benefits of delayed gratification. Today’s society is very focused on instant gratification, but a lot of great things in life take time and effort. Learning to take small steps forward by making decisions from the future you’s standpoint can help you progress toward your biggest goals and dreams.

    How to Get Unstuck

    After asking yourself the two questions, work on the plan to get unstuck. I’ve personally tried these strategies and they work for me.

    1. Choose goals you truly desire to accomplish

    This might sound obvious but we all get sucked into False Objectives at times. When you’re setting goals in your career and your personal life, make sure they are goals that matter to you.

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    Working hard toward big achievements that don’t align with your values, priorities, and who you are at the core is a fast-track toward feeling stuck.

    Learn about your strengths, your gifts, and your passions. Choose goals that align with who you are at the core, and work toward goals that align with your inner strengths and gifts. This will help you maximize your potential and minimize the stuck and frustrated feelings.

    2. Watch your mindset

    Often, we think we’re stuck, but the problem is our mindset. Being mindful of our mindset and self-talk is important to living a life of freedom and fulfillment. Work on rephrasing your self-talk in order to improve your mindset.

    For example, if you tell yourself, “I could never start a business,” rephrase it to, “I don’t know how to start a business YET, but I can learn.” If you find yourself saying, “I don’t have enough money to travel,” tell yourself, “I don’t have the money right now, but I can make a plan to save money to travel. Rephrasing your self-talk can help you see opportunities and possibilities instead of feeling stuck.

    Occasionally, even the most driven people have days where they feel unmotivated. Check out this article for tips to get motivated when you feel like doing nothing:

    What Motivates You And How to Always Stay Motivated

    Those tips can help you break free from the rut.

    3. Get out of your comfort zone and add some excitement to your day

    Shaking up your daily routine and adding some excitement to your days can help you get unstuck.

    While breaking out of your daily routine can be uncomfortable, it can be a great way to invigorate your life. You can start by getting out of your comfort zone in small ways. Here are 10 ways to step out of your comfort zone and overcome your fear. As Brian Tracy says,

    “Move out of your comfort zone. You can only grow if you are willing to feel awkward and uncomfortable when you try something new.”

    Getting out of your comfort zone and experiencing growth can help you to continue to move forward and prevent you from getting stuck.

    4. Surround yourself with people who have done what you aspire to do

    It’s easy to get stuck if you’re trying to accomplish something and you’re struggling to believe it’s possible to accomplish it.

    Instead of letting yourself be isolated and stuck, commit to learning from people who have done what you aspire to do. This can help you believe it’s possible to achieve the same goals. It can also help you to be inspired to progress forward instead of staying in stuck-land.

    You can seek out a mentor, or even read inspiring books or listen to motivating podcasts by the people who have achieved your biggest goals and dreams.

    Final Thoughts

    It’s frustrating to feel stuck. But you don’t need to stay stuck if you know the right ways to break free from the rut.

    Practice living intentionally by asking yourself the 2 critical questions:

    • Why am I going to do what I’m going to do today?
    • What would future want me to do today?

    When you constantly reflect about what you truly want and whether you’re doing the things that lead you to what you desire, you’ll feel less stuck gradually.

    Featured photo credit: Krists Luhaers via unsplash.com

    Reference

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