It’s 3 am, and you are wide awake. Frustration, anxiety, and confusion flood your thoughts, making you feel old and uncertain. The same questions keep echoing through your mind:
Am I having a midlife crisis?
Or even worse, is this as good as it gets?
You Need To Get Curious About Your Midlife Crisis
Would you believe me if I told you I used to feel the same way? Lying awake at night, wrestling with the anxiety machine for hours.
Eyes wide open, staring at the dark, I would wonder what happened to my dreams and goals.
Was I a good mom? Why does my marriage feel boring? And now that my kids were gone, what was I going to do with my life?
Waking up the following day, I would be exhausted and feel guilty for having negative feelings. All this unresolved emotion kept me in a “stuck cycle.”
I bet you can relate to my experience.
Overcoming a midlife crisis takes work, but it is possible to experience self-growth and redirect your life in a way that feels satisfying and authentic. One of the fastest ways to navigate a midlife crisis is to work with a coach. As a coach, I help clients identify the reasons for their confusing feelings. Then we work together to solve the sense of anxiety while designing a new, confident, and energetic approach to their life.
What Is A Midlife Crisis?
In a paper published in 1965, Elliott Jaques, then 48 and a relatively unknown Canadian psychoanalyst and organizational consultant, coined the term “midlife crisis.” Jaques wrote that during this period, we come face-to-face with our limitations, our restricted possibilities, and our mortality.
As the term became popular in our culture, it generally meant a man who was struggling with the loss of his youth. As a result, he would compensate by purchasing a new flashy vehicle or having an affair with his secretary.
But like all things patriarchal, the midlife crisis is no longer just for men. The term now includes women acknowledging their struggles with identity and lost dreams. A broad definition might include anyone over the age of 40 who is wrestling with regrets, and a sense of lost youth might be experiencing a midlife crisis.
There Are Different Types Of Midlife Crisis
It is vital to let go of the typical idea that a midlife crisis means an affair or a new vehicle. As unique individuals, we experience distress differently. Acknowledging the sense of grief that can take place during midlife is important while remembering that there is no textbook expression of a midlife crisis.
Every midlife crisis is different. Some common sources of midlife crises include:
- Societal messages about aging, such as the idea that middle-aged people and elders are less attractive.
- Changes in the body, such as weight gain, pain, or less energy. Fear of the aging process itself.
- Fear of death.
- Divorce or other changes in a person’s relationship.
- Changes in a person’s relationship with their children. This may include having children, watching children move out, or even becoming a grandparent. Some people experience a midlife crisis due to empty nest syndrome..
- Career changes, such as work being more or less demanding than it once was.
- Financial challenges, especially related to retirement.
- Grappling with trauma from earlier in life.
- Feeling that life hasn’t turned out the way one envisioned or hoped it would.
Overcoming A Midlife Crisis Will Force You To Be Open To Change
Midlife can be a time of grief, realizing that, most likely, you have lived the majority of your days. It can be frightening and sorrowful. A midlife crisis can keep you stuck replaying regrets, living your life in “could have, should have, would have” fantasy land.
The flexibility that youth offers is so tempting when we feel trapped in a life of dry routine and boredom. Many women can get caught up in longing for our younger body and the time when we had exciting hopes and dreams.
Realizing that you might be experiencing a type of midlife crisis can be very freeing. There is no shame in taking the time to consider what is behind your sense of loss and confusion. Freedom comes when we tell the truth about our most uncomfortable thoughts, and as we do, realize that we are not alone.
My Solutions To Overcoming A Midlife Crisis
When I was faced with a midlife crisis, I took some time to explore my thoughts, emotions, and beliefs. After making some personal changes in relationships and my thought patterns, I used the following ideas to help me reframe a life that brought me joy and excited me.
Let Go Of Your Adult Children
It is common for women to feel a sense of being stuck in a mom identity. Our days are no longer filled with caring for our family. We can feel lost and agonizingly lonely when our children have left home, carrying their hopes and dreams.
Unknowingly, many moms hold on to their children even after they have left the home. This looks like being over-involved in their adult kids’ lives, including details about romantic partners, finances, and daily routines. Although It feels comforting to reach out to our kids, it may be a hidden attempt to soothe the lonely inner mom that feels discarded and rejected.
Why Are You Reaching For Connection With Your Adult Child So Frequently?
If you are talking with your independent adult child once a day, you need to consider your motives. Some women reach for their kids out of habit, while others have placed their child in a type of spousal role. It is common for moms to get the emotional connection they need from their children, especially if their husband is emotionally unavailable.
In therapy “talk”, this dynamic is called “spousification”. It simply means that one of the parents does not have a satisfying emotional connection with their partner. It results in choosing a child to help the parent with emotional validation and a sense of support. Please be clear; this is NOT a sexual dynamic between parent and child.
Seriously Consider Updating Your Appearance
I know, part of the joke about a midlife crisis is the new clothes and gym membership, along with the red sports car! But here’s the truth, if you look good, you feel better. If you are in good shape, you have better sex, more physical energy, and exude more confidence! There is nothing wrong with walking into a room and having everyone wonder how old you really are!
Yes, it’s true we live in a culture that is obsessed with youth. Tight bodies, smooth skin, and a thick mane of hair is the cultural standard for American women.
According to our marketing themes, women hit their peak of desirability before the age of 30. And once they have children, forget it! In our youth-crazed culture, evidence of childbearing disqualifies you for a trophy in the sexy sprint.
We live in bodies designed to go a marathon distance, not just a sexy sprint. If you live an average life span (81.1 years for women), you will have more days wearing support shoes than bikinis!
Building A New Sense Of Self Confidence Is Key To Overcoming a Midlife Crisis
Can we talk about your shoes for a minute?
Knowing that you are in a “life-enjoyment” marathon, take some time to update your appearance. Yes, you might need supportive shoes, but dammit, woman! find ones that have a sense of style to them! Visualize your shoe collection, and unless absolutely necessary, banish all shoes that look like you stole them from your grandma’s closet!
Work With A Professional Stylist To Help You Create A Fresh Look
If you are like me and hate shopping, find a stylist that can help you make some fresh clothing decisions. There are many midlife fashion accounts on social media; find some and begin to imitate their style. Find a friend that will either shop with you or is willing to take a look at your dressing room selfies for a second opinion.
No excuses; update your look!! You won’t believe how happy you will feel when you can reach in your closet and put on something stylish, flattering, and confidence-boosting.
Being Selfish Will Help You Navigate A Midlife Crisis
Since we have been children, women have been conditioned to be selfless. We have been taught to give up or minimize parts of ourselves to please others. We are applauded for losing ourselves in caregiving and supporting others at our workplace. When asked a question about our preferences or desires, many of us have no idea what we like or want.
When I work with clients that struggle with over-functioning ( taking responsibility for everyone else while neglecting themselves), I often tell them that they have permission to be selfish. Most of my clients need suggestions on how to “be selfish” since it can be alarming to hear that word.
Some Suggestions On How To Be Selfish In Midlife
- Set boundaries around how many nights a week you will cook. Let your partner know that you are open to eating out or enjoying his favorite dish to prepare.
- Don’t answer the phone when an energy vampire calls you. This might be your sister, your neighbor or even your adult child.
- Quit folding the following things: your underwear, camisoles, all workout shirts, sleep shorts, and sleep shirts. Your time here is limited, don’t waste days of your life folding stuff that nobody sees or cares about.
- Invest in a good robot floor vacuum. There is no reason for any middle age woman in America to spend time in her day vacuuming the floors. If you have problem spots, pet hair, or extra dust, use a powerful dust buster.
Go ahead, daydream about your own selfish choices, and if warranted, act upon them!
You own your time, it is yours to spend on people and activities that you feel are worthwhile.
Realize That You Are Allowed To Stop Doing Things You Don’t Like
To reinforce the reality that you own your time, feel free to stop doing things you don’t like. This includes tasks, committees, and people. I am sure you have heard the following saying: nature abhors a vacuum. What does that mean? It means that given the opportunity, something will fill up an empty space on your calendar.
I know it might sound radical to stop doing what you don’t like. Let me ask you, how does it make you feel when you read that sentence? Do you laugh? Feel angry? Does guilt rise inside of you? What happens inside of you when you think of freeing yourself from things you don’t like?
Admittedly, we all have things we must do as self-supporting adults that we don’t enjoy. Paying bills, doing laundry, and cleaning house all fall into the things-that-can’t-be-avoided-in-adulting category.
Overcoming a Midlife Crisis Means Saying No To Things You Don’t Want To Do
This question is for the committees you commit to but secretly hate to attend.
This is directed at the people that are difficult to enjoy, the folks that are more of habit than a friend.
The people that you outgrew decades ago but can’t figure out how to get free from the cycle of obligation. And yes, this can include family members.
In my life, this included an aunt that had a history of being critical of me. I would spend days before seeing her in an angry funk, feeling obligated to attend the family event despite the fact that I did not enjoy it. It was her pattern to remind me in front of the rest of the family of my earlier mistakes. Apparently, she was worried I would forget that I have had some notable screw-ups in my life.
I would dread those events with the darkness of a starless sky, no glimmer of enjoyment at all.
I Decided To Trust Myself To Decide Who I Wanted In My Life
And then, one day, in my 40’s, I decided to make a change. No more Aunt Bully Pants.
I decided that it no longer served me to spend time with her. It was so freeing to inform my family that I would be unavailable to attend any event in her home. Yes, it shocked some of my family, but I kept my boundaries.
It has been a decade since I have been to her home, and I have no regrets about my decision to stop seeing her and enduring her abuse.
Spend time with those that love you and support you; let go of the folks that mistreat you. There is no cosmic scorecard in the sky keeping track of how many times you made it to the family BBQ. Some people will be upset, and others won’t even know you are missing!
Commit to Trying Something New That Challenges You
Everyone woman needs a handful of hobbies, no matter what age she might be. She needs a hobby that engages her intellect, a hobby that challenges her physical body, and a hobby that allows her mind to wander.
When you are focused on overcoming a midlife crisis, you need to reach for a hobby that engages your mind. Think back to the fringe interests you had as a younger woman. Maybe you were into the possibility of time travel, or you were fantasised about being a day trader?
Challenge Your Intellect With A New Hobby
Did you want to understand how bees survive winter? Maybe you loved to read about the trek to climb Mt. Everest or imagined yourself in a silent temple observing Buddhist monks. It doesn’t matter what captivated your mind; allow yourself to retrace those paths back in time.
Pick up a former interest or hobby that takes you outside of your intellectual comfort zone, increasing your knowledge while giving yourself over to a world in which you are a beginner.
Exercise As A Hobby Can Help You Survive A Midlife Crisis
Research shows that commitment to regular exercise will extend your life and your capacity to enjoy life. I have challenged myself this year to begin a routine of “ruking”: walking/hiking with a weighted backpack ( a minimum of 20 pounds is considered a beginner). I have had an interest in ruking for a decade now. Feeling a bit bored in my workout routines, I gave myself permission to purchase the gear and begin challenging my body in a new way.
Weight-bearing exercises help women prevent osteoporosis and help midlife folks increase cardio capacity and improve balance. Connecting with your body by asking it to meet new challenges helps increase positivity around aging well. Research also indicates that regular heart rate elevation in the form of a workout helps manage stress.
One Final Hobby: Let Your Mind Wander
Find a hobby that you can do mindlessly. I knit socks. Knitting keeps my hands busy while my brain roams around my mental universe.
Midlife is a time of sorting, categorizing, and discarding ideas, messages, and beliefs. Time spent engaging in a satisfying but fairly mindless task will set the stage for your brain to process your unresolved issues. Try this list of hobbies that allow your mind to wander.
- Adult Coloring Books
- Cross Stitch
Keeping your hands busy while letting your brain roam will help your buried thoughts rise to the surface. Again, research shows that engaging both sides of our brain relaxes our emotional defenses. When busy in an activity, we have a greater chance of personal insight or a eureka! moment.
Overcoming a midlife crisis requires curiosity and a willingness, to be honest about your feelings. When we find ourselves in circumstances causing us pain, it is time to truthfully explore how we became this uncomfortable.
The fastest way to overcome a midlife crisis is to take an authentic look at your beliefs that are creating your behavior. As adults, we are all responsible for our happiness. Yes, spouses, jobs, kids, and finances can impact our satisfaction, but ultimately, it is up to us to create a life we love.
Give yourself permission to stop doing things you don’t enjoy. Feel free to remove people from your life that mistreat you; at minimum, reduce time spent with them. Challenge yourself to find some new engaging hobbies, replacing the time that you have spent nurturing your family. Update your appearance, and unless it is your dream vehicle, skip buying the red sports car!
Most importantly, begin to create a life that you love, surrounded by those that are excited to see you change and grow into the next best version of you.
Melane Ann is a writer, blogger, and life coach. In 2020, she turned her experience in midlife divorce and creating a new life for herself into midlifeismagical. With a master's in Marriage and Family Therapy, Melane focuses on helping women over 50 navigate their relationships and commit to healthy aging. She and her new husband share 7 children between them. Melane jokes that she has a black belt in blended families! In addition to her writing, Melane works virtually with her coaching clients from her home office.