While each of us makes a unique transition through midlife, the challenges women face during this time often raise the big life questions around meaning and purpose. This can be an intense life passage to navigate, so how do we know when this natural crossroad is becoming a crisis, and when it’s time to seek support?
More than 200 midlife women were interviewed by author Ada Calhoun for her book Why We Can’t Sleep, and all were found to be slightly — sometimes desperately — disappointed in themselves and their life despite how it looked from the outside.
It can be confronting recognising you have built a life around values you no longer feel aligned with, wishing you had chosen a different life path or partner, or living with a sense of loss around unfulfilled dreams and hopes. You may find yourself questioning your deepest beliefs and most confident choices and get caught in a downward spiral, however this is not inevitable.
How do I know if this is a crossroad or a crisis?
Many studies have documented that happiness and life satisfaction reach their low point in midlife, before rebounding as we age. These middle years see us juggling a range of responsibilities – working, raising children, managing a home, looking after elderly parents, etc. – making it hard to find time for the things that make us happy.
Perhaps it’s the overload of simultaneous life demands, or maybe it’s a single triggering life event – such as children leaving home or divorce – that calls us to re-evaluate our priorities and decide how we want to live our lives as we move forward. This crossroad can be enlightening for some, providing the opportunity for growth and a deeper understanding of ourselves, whilst for others existential concerns around meaning and life purpose can result in feeling lost, depressed, or stagnant and lead to crisis.
The midlife crossroad is therefore a pivotal period in the life course. It can inspire us to choose a new way forward, or leave us feeling stuck in the face of an insurmountable obstacle.
The symptoms of midlife crisis vary widely from person to person.
Some signs that you may be experiencing a midlife crisis include:
- Feeling unfulfilled in life
- Intense feelings of nostalgia, chronic reminiscence about the past
- Pervasive feelings of boredom, emptiness and meaninglessness
- Impulsive, often rash actions
- Dramatic changes in behaviour and appearance
- Marital infidelity or constant thoughts about infidelity
- Feeling jealous or envious of others who seem happier or more fulfilled
- Intense feelings of regret and rumination about past decisions
- Feeling trapped in your life
- Career dissatisfaction
- Lack of motivation to engage in usual hobbies or relationships
- Excess indecisiveness (which can result in procrastination)
- Excessive thoughts about death
- Depression and anxiety about life choices or direction
Midlife transition is a major episode of life change that typically occurs between 30 and 60 years old, and represents an important turning point. We are developing new perceptions of ourselves and our lives that can create restlessness and a need for change that can feel highly disruptive and stressful.
It simultaneously presents an opportunity of great possibility. We have the chance to free ourselves from restrictive roles we have outgrown or a lifestyle built around outdated values. When we do not act on what we have come to understand about ourself or our life, that is, when the opportunity for personal growth is thwarted for any reason, we are more likely to end up in crisis.
What signs indicate that it’s time to seek support?
Midlife transition can raise feelings of depression, remorse, and anxiety, as well as concerns about ageing and mortality. Bringing greater self-awareness and self-compassion to the midlife crossroad can turn a crisis into an opportunity for growth and generativity. With support we can better understand our struggle, learn healthy coping strategies, build confidence, gain control over our emotions, and take meaningful steps toward goals that restore a sense of purpose and fulfilment.
Counselling offers a safe space to closely examine your life, and supports you in identifying and managing aspects of your life that no longer feel right. It can help you address feelings of anxiety, depression, or emptiness during midlife transition. If you’re thinking of making any major life changes during midlife that are driven by inner turmoil or restlessness – like ending a long-term relationship, changing careers, or relocating- it can be helpful to seek professional help before taking the leap.
It’s also important to note that you don’t need to know exactly what the problem is before seeking help. Nor do you need to feel you have hit rock bottom. It’s enough to feel lost or “stuck,” or to be worried about a feeling, thought, behavior, or situation.
Midlife counselling can support you to:
- Improve relationships with others
- Decide whether to stay in a marriage
- Talk about the disappointments and challenges faced in life
- Decide what you want the future to look like
- Find meaning in life’s changes
- Identify new goals
- Resolve feelings of depression and anxiety
- Manage stress that impacts sleep and appetite
A counsellor can be a valuable travelling partner as you navigate the natural midlife crossroad or work to resolve a midlife crisis.
Michelle Seelig is a Midlife Transition Counsellor and Coach working with clients to help them get unstuck, rediscover the joy and meaning in their lives and ultimately grow into the person they were truly meant to become. Learn more about these specialised services over here.
Take the midlife quiz….
Which path are you taking through midlife?
The middle part of our life can be the most challenging, but we all move through it in different ways. Let's learn a bit about your own approach....
Take this 4 minute quiz to gain clarity about your own transition.