It’s a classic trope: the middle-aged man with a new sports car or even a new romantic partner. But men don’t have the midlife crisis market cornered.
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A recent study shows that midlife, the age range that spans between 40 and 65, can be quite tumultuous for women. During this time, women are not only dealing with biological changes, but they’re also dealing with work problems, family issues, death, securing finances and reaching personal goals. It can be a really stressful time as women can find themselves up against heart problems and even sleep deprivation.
“The words ‘midlife crisis’ can put a negative spin on this period. But it doesn’t have to be bad. It can be an opportunity to reevaluate your life,” says psychologist Susan Albers, PsyD. “It’s the chance to pause and spend time and energy figuring out what’s meaningful to you.”
Dr. Albers gives six ways women can do just that — and become happier and more fulfilled in the process.
Men going through midlife crises often feel “trapped” in their current lifestyle as they face time’s relentless march forward. But women often experience them during times of transition, such as during a relationship or hormonal change.
“Hormonal changes are one of the biggest differences in these situations,” says Dr. Albers. “As women enter menopause, estrogen and progesterone decrease and cause physiological changes, including fluctuations in sleep, mood and sex drive. Hormone disruption and the resulting feelings can make a woman tune in to herself. And because women are usually tending to everyone else’s feelings and needs, this self-reflection can be eye-opening.”
Dr. Albers says how women age also influences their experience. “As mothers, they may be more visible in the community or have a stronger connection with their kids,” she explains. “But then their children start needing them less. And when women are no longer giving all their attention to their kids, they have time to reflect on their own needs and how those needs aren’t being fulfilled.”
Women can also start to feel more invisible in society. This feeling can also occur when women experience the loss of a parent or a change in their career.
How do you know it’s something deeper rather than a moment of frustration? Dr. Albers says you may experience:
Dr. Albers recommends these six ways to master a midlife crisis:
Be honest with yourself if you’re feeling depressed or anxious about your life. You can’t overcome what you don’t acknowledge.
Take a deep dive into your feelings to find out what’s meaningful to you. Think about where you spend your time and energy and what’s working for you.
“Find out what your energy vampires are. What’s sucking out your energy instead of energizing your life? That may mean realigning relationships: letting go of toxic ones, finding new friend groups, or doing more hobbies or things for yourself,” notes Albers.
Don’t feel bad about your self-exploration. “Recognize that this is a necessity and not an indulgence. Give yourself permission to explore these life questions.”
Write down what you feel grateful for. Look back at your entries to see what experiences you want to increase. “It’s finding the meaning behind the choices you’ve made and what choices you want to continue to make in the future.”
Dr. Albers suggests reaching out to your primary care doctor or gynecologist so they can help you understand what’s normal and what might be depression or anxiety. Consulting with a therapist can help you navigate your emotions as well.
“If you’re experiencing severe depression, you feel unmotivated, and it’s affecting your daily activities or you’re having suicidal thoughts, then it’s definitely time to get professional help from a counselor, psychologist or therapist,” says Dr. Albers.
It’s important to know you’re not the only one who has experienced a midlife crisis. “Talking with other women about what you’re feeling supports you,” notes Dr. Albers. “Women who have been through it before can share ideas or tips to help provide meaning in your life.”
While intense self-reflection can have you ready to make drastic changes, Dr. Albers urges caution: “Don’t make any extreme or impulsive ones. Be thoughtful about the changes you’d like to make and implement them slowly — you don’t have to do them all at once.”