MidLife Crisis: Can You Prepare For It?
All of us have heard the phrase midlife crisis, and many of us may have experienced it. In fact, we tend to hear more negativity about it than we hear about women who might fall into depression when the children begin to leave home, or a career has grown unfulfilling.
But what exactly is a midlife crisis?
Coined in 1965, a midlife crisis is:
…a transition of identity and self-confidence that can occur in middle-aged individuals, typically 45–64 years old. The phenomenon is described as a psychological crisis brought about by events that highlight a person’s growing age, inevitable mortality, and possibly shortcomings of accomplishments in life. This may produce feelings of depression, remorse, and anxiety, or the desire to achieve youthfulness or make drastic changes to current lifestyle. (Wikipedia)
By definition, whatever event might be triggering our midlife crisis–whether a divorce, a child leaving the nest, a question of our life’s contributions–it’s a time of midlife transition. Because, a transition is any change that effects our roles, relationships, situations, and/or beliefs regardless of whether it happens at age 45 or 72.
Is a midlife crisis inevitable?
When I began to experience the first pangs of the empty nest in 2002, I ran smack into an identity crisis. Who was I without my children? What would I do without their lives to keep me busy and occupied? About what would my husband and I communicate if not their schedules, friends, dramas? At every one of their graduations, I was a puddle. Worse, I quickly spiraled into a depression that took years to navigate beyond.
Yet, I also knew women who looked at their children’s departure from the nest with bitter-sweetness. Sorry to see them go, but happy for them.And–this was the kicker for me–these women also seemed even excited for the lives that were now opening up to them as women no longer in primary care-giving roles.
Thinking about this now, I realize these women had a special quality about them–resilience. While I was struggling to know who I was, they had a strong sense of who they were. In fact, these resilient women had dreams and goals they wanted to get started on. At the time, I had none of these things.
Another woman’s empty nest/midlife crisis
In her book Braiding Sweetgrass, author Robin Wall Kimmerer talks about her empty nest moment. This was the moment of dropping off her daughter at college, when the last words her worried daughter said to her were, “Mom, if you break down in uncontrollable sobs on the highway, please pull over!”
Yet, Kimmerer had been preparing for this difficult transition that could have easily led her into a downward spiraling midlife crisis. She writes:
I did not need Kleenex or the breakdown lane. After all, I wasn’t going home. I could manage leaving her at college, but I did not want to go home to an empty house….I had planned for this with my special grief-containment system strapped on top of my car….I was going to celebrate my freedom rather than mourn my loss….I drove down the road to Labrador Pond and slipped my new red kayak into the water. (pg 100)
Kayaking had been something she loved to do but never had time for while raising her daughters. She now had plans to get back to what had once given her joy.
Which brings us back to the opening question.
Can we prepare for a midlife crisis?
Certain things in life are inevitable. Our parents will age and die. Our children will leave our homes to make new homes of their own. Changes are happening in our world that only seem to accelerate how miserable we may feel with our current jobs, lives, accomplishments.
Yet, despite all the life changes swirling within and around us, there are steps we can take to become more resilient when a significant life change happens in our lives.
Steps to prepare for a midlife crisis
- Get to know yourself. Spend time alone with just you. Bring along a journal and a few prompts like, Who am I? What do I want from my life? Where would I like to be 1-5 years from now? What brings me joy?
- Think back to other moments of significant life transition: maybe graduation from college and the first job, marriage, birth, moving to a new city, even travel. What helped you make the transition? Write about your thoughts as best you can remember during that time, and how you knew you when or when not you were going to be OK. Map out your major event timeline. Spend some time thinking about what supported you at each transition, helped you get through it. Maybe, like Kimmerer, you realize that a former hobby created joy in your life back then, and could possibly do so again in the future. Write that gem down.
- Cultivate mindfulness. This may take the form of just sitting in silence, with your awareness focused on your breath for five minutes most days of the week. Or, maybe you begin to practice lovingkindness on a more regular basis. Experiment with yoga, or tai-chi, or pilates, all practices that can help you cultivate awareness of your body and reduce stress.
- Build healthy relationships. When it comes to the number of friends, quality matters over quantity. Who do you trust, and who trusts you? Who do you know drains you emotionally or mentally? Who will listen to you, and not give advice until asked for it? Who is more interested in superficial conversations and who is interested in the deeper ones? Be aware of the people you can turn to and those folks you may need to establish boundaries around.
- Establish a journaling practice now. Even if you may only write weekly, or once a month, discover how journaling can boost your mental health and well-being. Pick up a few new journaling techniques by attending a journaling workshop. Take your journal to a coffee shop, turn your phone off, and just write for 10-20 minutes. Read through your writing with an eye for what you notice, or discover. Then write that reflection down as well. (Saundra Goldman over at The Creative Mix runs a year long Facebook community of people committed to 20 minutes of continuous practice like journaling on a daily basis. It’s not a rigid program and completely voluntary. Yet the community support without judgement is priceless.)
Build the life transition resilience now
We never know what the future will hold for us, except this: There will be transitions in our lives. And while we can’t prepare for the emotions that may accompany transitions–like a midlife crisis or empty nest–we can begin to build the resilience now needed to navigate through them when they do arrive.
Strengthen your self-awareness through practices like journaling, mindfulness, healthy relationship building, and getting comfortable spending time with yourself in solitude. These practices can make all the difference between spiraling downward when the midlife crisis or other life transition hits and moving upward with joy.
Begin discovering your own transition survival techniques. Click here to receive your Free Transition Survival Guide: 5 Strategies to a Stronger You.