When Ada Calhoun wrote about the new midlife crisis for women, an outpouring of agreement and relief flowed from women who were living vastly different lives, yet felt a similar way.
These women were generally in their 40s and experiencing stress, anger, regret, pressure and fear. Some women were single and without children, wishing they had built a family life earlier. Some women were in loveless marriages and longed to leave, but worried about how they would support themselves and their families. Some women felt stuck in a job they didn’t enjoy and wondered why they couldn’t make themselves quit in order to follow their passions.
People are so surrounded by different opportunities that they feel like they’ve missed out, even when they’re successful with something. The more social media weaves its way into everyday life, the more people are faced with all the objects, homes, holidays and families they don’t have. According to digital marketing experts, the average American is exposed to between 4,000 and 10,000 advertisements each day– further persuading people that they need more.
How can people be happy and content when they’re constantly encouraged to feel not good enough?
And how is this impacting middle-aged women, who are often already facing multi-faceted challenges, such as work stress, family life, financial responsibilities, or caring for aging parents (perhaps, even all of the above!)?
Further compounding the tumultuous time for women experiencing midlife crises can be the diagnosis of perimenopause; the transition into menopause which can last between several months to 13 years. Women experiencing perimenopause may have irregular menstrual cycles, nausea, hot flushes, low energy, night sweats, weight gain and decreased fertility.
While there are a number of ways women can support their bodies through these physical changes by making healthy food choices and engaging in regular exercise, there can be a sense of frustration about the inevitability of aging at this stage in life. There may also be a grieving process to navigate as the ovaries wind down and the possibility of future children fades away.
Social lives shift and evolve over our lifespans, but it may be the middle years which are hardest for a woman’s connectedness with others. With the busy-ness of daily life, friendships can become harder to maintain and there are often fewer opportunities to meet new people. As social creatures, human beings can suffer as a result of loneliness and isolation, with various studies showing an increased risk of depression, chronic stress and poor sleep quality.
And with 42.9 years of age being the median age of divorce for women, there can be major social changes within family life, too. A divorce can mean becoming a solo parent, re-discovering what it means to be single and perhaps, navigating the regularly changing dating scene. It may also signify the end of friendships and relationships with in-laws.
Mood swings and emotional instability are also potential signs of perimenopause, sometimes appearing between the ages of 35 and 50. Impatience, anger, stress, sensitivity and irritability are a few emotions which may become more prominent for women experiencing perimenopause.
The physical, social and emotional changes might seem overwhelming or even frightening, but it’s important to remember that you are not the only woman going through it. Middle age is just another stage in life with its own challenges, changes and opportunities for growth. It may be hard, it may seem unfair and, at times, it may appear like everyone else is happier and more “successful” than you. But it’s just not true.
However, middle age isn’t necessarily about the end of youth- it can also be the start of something new. As the U-bend of life depicts, self-reported psychological wellbeing tends to decline between the mid-30s until the late 40s, then rapidly increases from the age of 50 onwards. In fact, it continues to rise through the later years until it reaches a higher point than any other stage of life (and then, it keeps going!). For all the challenges middle-age may have to offer, the best is yet to come.
As the poet, John Andrew Holmes, wrote “At middle age, the soul should be opening up like a rose, not closing up like a cabbage.” This is your time to choose how your life will unfold, using all the knowledge, skills and experience you’ve garnered along the journey so far.