How to Survive A Midlife Crisis
All of us have heard the phrase “midlife crisis,” and many of us may have experienced it. Regardless, there’s a lot of negativity surrounding this time in our lives. And less chatter about how we can survive a midlife crisis, whether it’s related to a divorce, empty nest, change in a job, or loss of a parent. Yet the good news is with a few key strategies, we can turn what appears to be a crisis into an opportunity.
But first, 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)
So by definition, an event (or multiple events) can trigger a midlife crisis–whether it’s a change in our health, or a move to a new state/new job, or we begin to question our life’s contributions. And because it’s an event(s) affecting our roles, relationships, situations and/or beliefs, it’s also a life transition. To be clear, there is the change event or non-event itself, but it’s that psychological crisis affecting our well-being that places much of what we go through in life into the category of life transitions.
Midlife Crisis = Midlife Transition = Possibility
Here’s the good news about life transitions.
Transitions, regardless of when they happen or how painful they might be, are also opportunities for personal growth, deep reflection, and personal development. We could say that to survive a midlife crisis is to, therefore, survive a midlife transition by discovering what midlife opportunities are available to us. And now, this is never easy, nor is it meant to be. We get to remake ourselves. We get to discover what’s possible during this new time in our lives.
Still, perhaps a good initial strategy in surviving a midlife crisis–whatever the cause–is to shift our perspective from calling it a crisis to renaming it a transition. And we’ve all been through transitions, some good, some not so good, sometimes a combination of both. How we name what we’re in the midst of matters because words matter. Calling it a crisis is popular; calling it a transition, less popular, but perhaps more realistic.
Because if it is a transition….whew. It’s manageable and survivable “psychological” crisis.
Here’s how one woman survived a midlife crisis: the empty nest
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 while raising her daughters as a single parent. In the midst of her life transition, she disocvered an opportunity to return to an activity that at one time had given her great joy.
Survive a Midlife Crisis, er… Midlife Transition with these tips
- Get to know yourself. Spend time alone with just you. Go to a museum, coffee shop, the park. 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? Remembering who you are and who you are not is key.
- 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 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. What do you notice?
Strengthen Midlife Crisis/Transition Muscles 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 exactly how we might manage them–like needing to care for an aging parent, or job change–we can begin to build the resilience now to help better navigate them when they inevitably arrive.
And if you’re experiencing a transition of any kind, I hope you’ll join my Caterpillar to Butterfly: The Power of Writing Through Change eCourse starting September 10, 2018. Hop on over to my website for full details.
Ginny Taylor is a life transition coach at Women of Wonder where she guides women in life-changing transitions towards a new beginning. Journaling and creative expression are some of the practices she helps women utilize on their transition journey. She is a certified Transition Writing Specialist, certified Journal to the Self instructor, and holds an MFA in creative writing. Read more about Ginny here.
In a life transition? Begin discovering your own survival techniques. Click here to receive your Free Transition Survival Guide: 5 Strategies to a Stronger You.