Spurred on by peri-menopausal symptoms this week, I found myself typing 'middle-aged women' and 'mid-life women' into Google.
I have to say it made for some pretty grim reading. Multiple articles popped up about how invisible we are, how our body betrays us, and how exhausted, grief-ridden and anxious we may feel. There was a lot of mention about the infamous Midlife Crisis.
One of my hero's, the psychoanalyst Carl Jung, first defined this period in midlife. He describes it as a time when we use enormous mental energy to continually balance our persona with fundamental preferences and desires.
According to Wikipedia, it's:
A transition of identity and self-confidence that can occur in middle-aged individuals, typically 45 to 65 years old.
When I delved deeper, these are some of the symptoms of such a crisis:
- Feeling unfulfilled in life
- Intense feelings of nostalgia, chronic reminiscence about the past
- Feelings of boredom, emptiness and meaninglessness
- Impulsive, often rash actions
- Dramatic changes in behaviour and appearance
- Marital infidelity or constant thoughts about infidelity
- Constantly comparing oneself to others, who seem happier or more fulfilled
- Intense feelings of regret
This all sounded very familiar. I experienced all of the above and more ten years ago. Did I have an early midlife crisis? I think I did.
I left my partner, retrained and changed careers, ended many friendships that were no longer in alignment. I moved abroad and invested in myself heavily to find out who I really was and what was important to me - my core values. I changed my diet (now vegan and gluten-free), I stopped drinking alcohol and taking antidepressants. I started meditating, journaling, practising yoga, and spent as much time as possible in nature - these wondrous (and all free!) things became my new pleasures and medicine. Self-investment and self-care became my new way of living, and it paid off.
I never saw it as a crisis; I certainly was in trouble and was close to having a complete emotional and psychological breakdown, but I saw it as a journey on a path to the truth, and it became a beautiful awakening.
A life crisis/awakening can happen at any time - it happens more so when we reach midlife because we become increasingly aware of our mortality. There has to be a reckoning and a search for the truth of who we really are so we can live the remainder of our lives in peace and harmony and experience joy. If you look at it this way, it's an incredible opportunity for growth. There will be pain along the way, but we can't avoid that.
Anyway, being the geek I am, I wanted to know more about my fellow women's experiences than from unregulated blogs and people's opinions on YouTube. I found a brilliant study from 2018 - The challenges of midlife women: themes from the Seattle midlife Women's health study. 81 women took part in the study over 23 years.
It's a fascinating read. What stood out the most, besides just how powerful, strong and resilient women are, was that only 5% of women in the study cited menopause as a significant factor in the challenges they faced, even though they reported experiencing hot flushes, sleepless nights and depression.
This puzzled me. But when we look at the challenges that midlife women are facing...
Family problems included:
- Death of parents
- Caring for parents
- Challenges with adolescent children
- Domestic violence
- Divorce or separation from a spouse
- Spouse's growing alcohol use
- The ending of other relationships
Work problems included:
- Difficulty finding work
- Workplace conflicts
- Unable to complete an academic program
- Lack of personal time while working
- Financial stresses such as the inability to pay college tuition for a child
- History of sexual abuse
- Depressed mood
- Negative appraisal of ageing changes
- Frustrated goal attainment
- Poorer perceived health
Re-discovering the self challenges:
- Existential issues
- Returning to school
And I haven't even listed the physical health problems because I don't want to depress us all.
It paints a bleak picture, but we have to remember this is a study specifically looking at challenges - not the good stuff.
As is my experience, several women remarked about the newly found comfort with whom they were and self-acceptance. Also, a re-discovering of the self was very important to many of them. Too right.
And personally, I have to mention freedom. From partners, young children, domestic responsibilities and the opinions of others. It's bliss.
But is it any wonder that the women in this study deemed menopause insignificant considering the many other challenging situations they had to juggle as they aged?
And so the conclusion of the study? The biggest challenge women face?
"Searching for balance amid multiple co-occurring stressors while coping with losses and transitions, for some in a context of limited resources."
Searching for balance… the holy grail.
In my experience, there is ONLY one way to find balance in life - prioritising and investing in yourself - over and above anyone and everything else.
You must come first. You deserve to go first; it's your natural born right to put yourself first.
The sooner you start to put yourself first, the sooner life starts to work for you rather than against you.
Please click here to find out more about Life Coaching.
Hannah Anstee is a former British Wellness Journalist turned Women’s Midlife & Wellbeing Coach.
You may know her from her work as Beauty Editor at YOGA Magazine or her contributions to The Independent or Psychologies Magazine.
Hannah uses a kind and candid approach to help women rewrite their stories.