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Saturday, April 13, 2024

Midlife Mental Health: Navigating the Challenges and Opportunities

By Nicole McCray

“Having a midlife crisis” has become an expression people dread. The main reason is the lack of knowledge on the topic and the inability to understand the deep changes that can take place during that time. 

Men and women who are anywhere from 35–65 years old and actively questioning every aspect of their life are the ones marked with a fluorescent “going through a midlife crisis” sign. The term is used lightly, sometimes mockingly, even though it’s a deeply personal and transformative process. 

Even the term “midlife crisis” is lacking because it casts a negative light on a whole period of life that should be about living it on your own terms. But change isn’t easy and our mental health can take the brunt of the blow. That’s why it’s essential to take good care of it every step of the way and keep both the positives and the negatives in your purview at all times. 

Why does a midlife crisis happen?

A midlife crisis is usually triggered by an important event (trauma) like the death of a loved one, health issues, losing a job, getting a divorce, kids moving out, etc. It’s something that shakes us to our core and leaves us wondering where we are, what we’re doing, and whether this is all we are. 

These are big questions that can crop up any day of the week, but as we get older, they echo and demand our attention. Often people going through a midlife crisis see the traumatic event that triggered it as an “eye-opening moment” that shook their perspective and turned the world upside down. In truth, all the questions that come have been in you all along, only now, they’ve got your undivided attention.

The midlife crisis is a powerful signal that something in your life isn’t working for you and you’re done tolerating it. In a lot of aspects, it’s similar to chronic burnout and even depression, both of which can be the result of the crisis. That’s why it’s recommended to find a mental health professional to help you navigate these unknown waters.

Stages of a Midlife Crisis

A lot of people go through the motions of life “because that’s how things are supposed to be done,” without taking the time to truly understand their own desires. Those are the individuals that have the most life-altering experiences during their midlife crisis because they look within and realize there’s a lot they want to change. 

This part of life usually has six stages:

  1. Denial
  2. Anger
  3. Replay
  4. Depression
  5. Withdrawal
  6. Acceptance

The process isn’t straightforward for everyone, and you could go back and forth between the stages, so follow how the process develops for you. Each of the stages brings something new with it, some new knowledge that should be seen and accepted before you can move on.

As the first stage starts, so do the challenges, but also the opportunities. Contrary to popular belief, there are many opportunities to be seized during this transitional period, and it’s important to try and see them side by side.

Mental Health Challenges and Opportunities in a Midlife Crisis

There are many different challenges you could come across during your midlife crisis, and they’ll be custom-made for you. Some of these hurdles are common for most people, as well as the opportunities that come with them.

Challenge: Feeling Lost and Overwhelmed

No matter your age, when questions like: 

“Who am I?”

 “What makes me happy?” 

“What do I want to do with my life?” 

come to the forefront of your mind, you’re bound to feel shaky. It can get downright overwhelming to wrestle with them when you thought you had your life together and were comfortable in it. Change is always scary and rarely gentle, so you feeling lost in the midst of it is perfectly human.

Opportunity: Take the Time to Assess Where You Are

What’s the opportunity in feeling lost in your own life? 

First of all, acknowledge how you’re feeling. Understand that if this question is coming to you, it demands a truthful answer, and the truth is always liberating. 

Sit down, take stock, and write down everything you’ve accomplished so far, everything you did that made you happy and fulfilled. The list could be very short or very long, but its length is not the point. The point is to put in front of you everything you’ve done that got you to that moment. After that, you can make another list – a list of things you’ve always wanted to do. Put those lists next to each and figure out one small step that you could take that will put you on the path you want.

Challenge: Not Feeling Comfortable in Your Body

Unfortunately, this feeling is all too familiar to a lot of people, but it can become very pronounced as you’re going through your midlife years. It can happen for a huge variety of reasons, but the end result is the same – your body feels more like a prison than a temple and this feeling causes a downward spiral every time you look in the mirror. 

Opportunity: Prioritize Your Health and Well-Being

Self-care will mean something different for everyone, but the first step to it is always the same – accept that taking care of your body means a better quality of life. Feeling stronger and more agile will give you the confidence to be like that in all areas of your life.

Prioritizing your well-being can take on many forms. Whether you sign up for yoga or trail running, whether you take a cooking class or give intermittent fasting for autophagy a try, as long as it feels good, that is what well-being is for you. There’s no wrong answer here, as long as you find ways to feel comfortable and confident in your body again.

Challenge: You’re Unhappy in Your Relationships

One of the biggest hurdles of the midlife crisis is navigating your relationships while you’re trying to navigate your own growth. This can mean a serious re-evaluation of all the relationships that are nearest and dearest to you. It’s crucial to understand how you’re feeling, what’s serving you, what you’ve outgrown, and communicating that clearly to the people you love.

It can be a long and messy process, and you may experience push-back as you’re trying to change, but this is natural. It’s up to you to stay mindful and true to yourself, even if that self is very different from what other people are used to.

Opportunity: Figuring out What’s Important to You in a Relationship

Whether it’s with your spouse, child, family member, or friend, figuring out what makes you happy in a relationship is incredibly powerful. Not only do you understand yourself better, but through meaningful conversations, you also get to see the people you love in a new light. And sometimes you knowing what you don’t want is enough to help you move on from a relationship that no longer serves you.

As you change, so will the people change the way they see and treat you, and not all of it will be easy to accept. Remember how we talked about messy? However, the end result will be stronger relationships with people who love and accept you for who you are and who can support you when the tidings get rough. Which is all you want while you’re going through the midlife crisis, and after you’ve come out of it.

Through all of these changes, taking great care of your mental health and having a professional therapist to talk to could make all the difference. Having an unbiased person in your life who can guide you through rough times will make the process easier and shorter.

Even though it can be extremely difficult, a midlife crisis is usually a blessing in disguise. Sometimes it will take time to figure out what the blessing is, but the journey will be worth it. That’s why renaming it to “midlife lessons” might be more appropriate. 

Remember that behind every challenge hides an opportunity to make your life better and richer in every possible way. That attitude will help you through every stage of your midlife lessons.

Read more Health and Wellness articles on Green Living.

Photo credit: Ben White on Unsplash

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