Anxiety seemed to be the theme of 2020. It was a year of adjusting, pivoting, uncertainty, grieving and coping (and this is the abridged list!), and with life now kicking back into full gear, we see high levels of stress, exhaustion and anxiety resurfacing, especially for women navigating midlife. And it’s no wonder really. With so many dreams and plans put on hold by the pandemic, the natural seeking and forward momentum of midlife was interrupted.
A variety of transitions take place during this life phase, including changes in the parental and marital role, caring for ageing parents, and the potential loss of a spouse through death or divorce. This makes it a natural time to take stock, reassess and reevaluate things, and with this may come the discovery that some aspects of life are no longer satisfying or fulfilling. Many women feel that somewhere along the way, while they were getting their promotion or having their kids or managing their households, they put something important aside that they now want to retrieve – their guitar, their novel, a law degree.
Why does midlife make us anxious?
The middle years, as described by Jungian analyst James Hollis, are a rite of passage between the extended adolescence of early adulthood and the second half of life. They present an opportunity to become more conscious, but can also raise challenging issues. These may include:
- Deconstructing messages we learned as children about ourselves and the world.
- Dealing with issues that have been long-buried or unresolved in our life.
- Questioning our identity outside the roles we have played.
If we couple these emotionally charged issues with life’s simultaneous stressors, fluctuating hormones and physical changes we begin to understand why this period can feel overwhelming. Wrestling with what isn’t working and searching for life satisfaction can create high levels of dissatisfaction and anxiety about the future.
Common sources of stress and anxiety include:
- Unhappiness with life and the lifestyle you had been building for many years.
- Discontent and/or boredom with people and activities that had previously been of interest.
- Feeling restless and wanting to do something different with your life.
- Questioning the life choices you have made and the validity of decisions made years before.
- Confusion about who you are and where you are going.
- Anger at your spouse and resentment over your marriage.
- Increased use of alcohol, drugs, food or other compulsions.
- Concerns about status and point reached in your career.
- Ageing and physical changes.
How to make a healthy midlife transition
This pivotal life stage offers us the opportunity to evolve, grow, and experience transformation. The psychoanalyst Carl Jung described middle age as a time when we tend to drop the roles we have been playing and outgrow pretences. We become less driven by social norms and ‘correctness’ and begin to trust our own inner knowing. Less concern about what others think can also create space for greater risk taking and for new opportunities to bloom. Women who lost a part of their identity while raising children may feel a sense of liberation once they are older. Even the death of a parent, while painful, can free women from the burden of expectations, as they ask, Who am I doing all this for anyway?
Midlife is typically the time you finally get to drop your guard, stop pleasing others, reclaim your identity and step into your power. It’s a time of reflection, reassessment and planning for the next life chapter.
As we grow, we learn to trust in our own experience and discover a freedom in being who we truly are. We may find that past strategies and attitudes no longer work. In learning to let go of the old and liberate the new we may experience a period that lacks familiarity and causes a great deal of anxiety, however this powerful opportunity for renewal is essential in achieving wisdom, maturity and authenticity in adulthood.
So for many women the opportunity to create a more authentic and satisfying life was put on hold in 2020. The pandemic struck as we were planning to change careers, engage in further studies, start a business, move house, travel or even move on from unhealthy relationships. It may feel as though your moment to shine and live life on your own terms was stolen from you by the year that was. So now is the time to pick up your vision where you left off. Reconnect with your bigger dreams, deep desires and personal values and shed the ‘shoulds’ that might be holding you back. This will enable you to make a healthy transition through midlife and achieve a more authentic, and ultimately more fulfilling, next part of your life.
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Which path are you taking through midlife?
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