Middle life crisis

Solutions, causes, symptoms

Female midlife crisis


Female midlife crisis

Women experience middle life crisis differently

Midlife crisis is a transitional stage in a life of an individual. It marks a point where a person reflects on his or her life while anticipating the future, often this brings up unresolved issues and triggers realisations.

Women experience midlife crisis differently to men, partly due to the female physiology and partly due to societal pressure. Life stages may also be a factor, as a woman is commonly the de facto the core of the family. 

Women are quite different to men, their life stages vary, physiology, life cycles, most of these differences are apparent and some are less well known. When it comes to midlife crisis, women experience it differently as well. Women's midlife crisis is often caused by different stressors and they display different symptoms of midlife crisis to that of men.

The causes and symptoms of middle life crisis also vary depending on the individual, sometimes one is able to make generalizations depending on the age and sex of the individual but otherwise it depends on the person's character and his or her environment and lifestyle. The core values and deep held beliefs of the individual also make a difference.

Men's unresolved issues and realisations in midlife that lead to a crisis are usually based on status and work, women's midlife crisis is often caused by family life issues and relationship problems.

Moreover a woman's physical appearance and how she percieves this is often very important, whilst for men it is mostly the receding hairline and greying hair that is important, for a woman it is a whole spectre of physical features.

Middle life crises lasts for a period up to about 3–10 years in men and 2–5 years in women. A midlife crisis could be caused by aging itself, or aging in combination with changes, problems, or regrets, guilt or grief over recent events.

 

What is at the core of middle life crisis for women?

At the core of middle life crisis is the concept of congruence for both men and women.

Psychologist Carl Rogers considers that for a person to achieve self-actualization they must be in a state of congruence. This means that self-actualization occurs when a person's “ideal self” (i.e. who they would like to be) is congruent with their actual behavior (self-image).

Middle life crisis often occurs  when congruence gap grows, when a person recognises that self-actualization is hindered or unlikely. When a person strongly feels about unresolved issues. The gaps in congruence are identifiable by the following stressors, some of which are more important for women. These stressors trigger dissatisfaction with the state of affairs in a person's life:

Shifts in family balance (especially important for women)

Family is naturally a big part of life. In midlife, some major changes are happening and a person may be unprepared for them. Inability to cope with changes may lead to a mid life crisis.

Lack of children (the most stressful realisation, as the female body has a limited egg reserve)

Maturation of children, children leaving home (inability to fill the gaps left by family members)

Death or illness of a family member (hits both sexes the same)

 

Relationships (also very important for women)

Whilst functioning relationships are a blessing, it is not uncommon for relationships to be breaking down. Some may not be involved in a functioning relationship at all in mid life. Relationship crisises may lead to a full blown midlife crisis.

Boredom in a relationship (women just like men start stressing over routine)

Lack of meaningful relationships (for the single ladies, going through scenes from Bridget Jones' Diary)

Looming divorce (divorce could be a relief or a disaster)

Loneliness (similar to boredom but just on one's own)

Attention towards and from younger peers

Cheating and being cheated on

 

Association with peers

Friends like family complete the social circle of an individual, for women having ladies nights out and enjoying functioning friendships is a good way to destress.

Lack of close friends (especially when one has been preoccupied with family)

Widening association gap with friends (again, this is often due to different priorities in previous stages of life)

Lack of accomplishment in comparison to peers (as above)

Lack of freedom in comparison to peers (or lack of experience in getting out of the comfort zone)

 

Shifts in work and career

Midlife is commonly filled with responsibility which may feel like a burden, finding a balance between work and other parts of life is tricky. A mid life crisis may be a result of such imbalance.

Dead end career ( a constant source of stress, especially when one has to pay mortgage)

Feeling lack of self-worth (especially when self-worth is tied to physical attractiveness)

Frustrating routine

Threat of emergent technology (as a danger of being replaced by something more modern in some professions)

Pressure from younger, more energetic colleagues (recent generations have enjoyed the fruits of research and are often more able to adapt to changing lifestyles)

Frustration with salary

 

Life goals

Aspirations and life goals in life change in mid life. Unattainable goals may lead to frustration and dissatisfaction with what the individual has achieved.

Unresolved issues

Accomplished points

Shift in focus and priorities

 

Age

Aging does not affect the self-image of men as it does women, it may be a large factor in combination with everything above and may lead to a midlife crisis.

Impending mortality

Losing physical shape

Visually apparent aging (super important for women)

 

Symptoms of midlife crisis in women

Symptoms for both men and women are rather similar, they can be separated into physical, psychological, realisations and significant life events. Physical attractiveness, youthfullness is very important for women in particular.

 

Physical symptoms of aging and overcoming them

Physical appearance

Middle life crisis could be a result of a woman's physical signs of aging, the sudden realization by women that they are not as physically fit and healthy as they used to be, could come as a big shock. Feeling less attractive then before is also a big stress and a shock, especially in relationships - particularly in the eyes of a loved one.

When combined with being overweight, these signs are hard to ignore and come to reflect on a person's well being.

Cognitive function and mental signs of aging

Other physical signs that are often ignored or not openly discussed are that of cognitive function deterioration, such as forgetfulness and inability to focus. Yet the person experiencing these may become upset and aggravated, stressed to the point of experiencing a middle life crisis.

Mental signs of aging may include chronic fatigue (often combined with physical signs), bad sleep, inertness and lower cognitive functions, which are although expected at a certain stage in life, they are often correlated with a badly kept physical shape and therefore a combination of poor diet, poor circulation, free radical damage or even reduced levels of neurotransmitters are the result of lack of exercise.

Change in metabolism in mid life

If one can get away with little exercise when young, it is much more dangerous in middle life, as the body cannot recover as quickly as before and therefore a person will need more discipline to work on his or her physical shape.

Mind like body needs exercise and whilst an untrained body will lag behind better trained bodies, a poorly mentally trained brain will lag behind better minds.

Bad sleep as another example of a physical/mental strain common during midlife, be it from pressure of a busy work schedule, relationship problems or health problems it will likely to affect the mental state of a person. For men, they will likely appear grumpy and women moody.

 

Physical signs of aging in mid life, which may have an effect on mid life crisis

Finding it difficult to keep up - with buddies, on drinking, partying, physical activities. 

Increased weight and greater effort to keep in shape

Mental fatigue and decrease in cognitive abilities

Increased tolerance to dopamine realising activities such as sex and alcohol

Decreased libido

Decreased personal attractiveness (both real and imaginary)

 

Unhealthy ways to compensate for physical symptoms of aging include:

 

Overdoing certain activities to keep up with peers

Alcoholism, workoholism and other addictions

Shutting out the outside world to get rest and sleep, often in excess

Ridiculous and demanding diets and rigorous damaging exercise

Reliance on pills, medicine and other ways of maintaining hormonal balance

Overdoing make up, obsession over receding hairline, plastic surgery and other invasive methods of looking younger

Psychological symptoms of aging

  • Decreased tolerance of routine
  • Decreased tolerance of bad company
  • Increased irritability
  • Self-doubt
  • Self-criticism
  • Lack of focus
  • Lack of drive

 

Unhealthy ways to compensate for the psychological symptoms of aging

  • Sudden, unchecked decisions to remove routine from life
  • Sudden, unchecked decisions to shut out  peers
  • Build up of frustration and irritation
  • Constant questioning of self and others
  • Incessant self-criticism
  • Inability to concentrate on important tasks and decision, running away from problems
  • Inability to continue certain tasks which can create subsequent problems

 

Realisations

  • Realisation that one could have done much better by now
  • Realisation that the life is going nowhere
  • Realisation of forthcoming certain mortality

 

Unhealthy ways to compensate for realisations in midlife

  • Depression, sudden rush to complete things
  • Jumping on bandwagons in terms of life quests and goals
  • Overuse of medication and becoming a health freak

Symptoms of aging are completely natural, sometimes barely noticeable, but if one pays them too much attention and obsesses over covering for them - this leads to midlife crisis.

 

Finding it difficult to keep up - with buddies, on drinking, partying, physical activities

Physical symptoms of aging are stressful to accept and it is difficult to compensate for them.  It is a very stressful realisation for women that they are not as physically fit and healthy as they used to be, it could come as a big shock.

Feeling less attractive then before, and feeling less attractive then younger peers is also a big stress and a shock, especially in relationships. In particular in relationships that were or still are based on physical attractiveness. It may lead to jealousy, self-doubt and loss of confidence.

Poor sleep as another example of a physical/mental strain common during midlife, be it from pressure of a busy work schedule, relationship problems or health problems it will likely to affect the mental state of a person. For men, they will likely appear grumpy and women moody.

Being realistic about own physical prospects is important.

 

Increased weight and greater effort to keep in shape

A common sign of aging is becoming overweight, as with age it becomes more difficult to contain one's appetite and to burn through calories than before it is even more stressful. The logical conclusion is to diet and to exercise. Dieting and exercise are is necessary and doable but one may become jealous of younger women for not requiring either. Doing both in moderation is the key to counter the effects of aging.

 

Mental fatigue and decrease  in cognitive  abilities

Mental signs of aging may include chronic fatigue (often combined with physical signs), bad sleep, inertness and lower cognitive functions, which are although expected at a certain stage in life, they are often correlated with a badly kept physical shape and therefore a combination of poor diet, poor circulation, free radical damage or even reduced levels of neurotransmitters are the result of lack of exercise.

If one can get away with little exercise when young, it is much more dangerous in middle life, as the body cannot recover as quickly as before and therefore a person will need more discipline to work on his or her physical shape.

Mind like body needs exercise and whilst an untrained body will lag behind better trained bodies, a poorly mentally trained brain will lag behind better minds.

The way to overcome this would be to accept that the body is unable to keep up but to counter it one would require regular both physical and mental exercise, in moderation.

 

Increased tolerance to dopamine realising activities and substances, such as sex and alcohol

Both men and women, with regular intake of dopamine releasing substances and activities such as alcohol and sex respectively may become physically more tolerant to them. In addition to the desire to break off routine it often leads to overdoing both. Men and women are likely to slip into alcohol addition and sex addiction, which makes the life difficult for all around you. Often this is a result of the need to channel frustration from work and relationships into something destructive.

 

Substance abuse

Whilst often unnoticed, this symptom is quite apparent, most types of substance abuse are attempts to ignore and to escape reality, a middle life crisis is a sad reality which most people attempt to escape from. Smoking whether from the perspective of seeking attention or seeking calm is often abused by women who lack energy, activity or productivity. Dealing with stress on their own is very difficult and some women find the best way to deal with midlife problems through drinking or smoking. There are no defining statistic on how many women drink alone in midlife, but a midlife crisis may devastate a person who finds no one to be interested in their problems. Perhaps they are too busy drinking or smoking or so exhausted from routine that a moment of blissful indifference to the rest of the world through alcohol or drugs is not only a symptom but also a silent cry for help.

 

Workaholism

When work gets in the way of personal life or health most people are wise enough to brush work aside, when it comes to workaholics they brush aside personal life and health, female workaholics are not that much different to men workaholics. Often workaholics have to compensate personal happiness for activity, the more unproductive and under-appreciated the activity the larger are the signs of a middle life crisis.

Whilst a busy work schedule may postpone a woman's middle life crisis, it is also quite likely to be a massive stressor. A woman burdened with a busy schedule is forced to take time away from other activities that are directly correlated to her well being. A lack of social life, a lack of deep meaningful relationships are all a result of a busy work schedule.

Middle life crisis hits women that had a busy work schedule as a stressor often when they face a substantial life change such as a break from work when they realize that they ARE their work. Seeing colleagues getting married whilst they themselves lack any degree of private life brings out natural envy.

A later midlife crisis when approaching retirement will also be lead to self pity, resentment, disappointment or distress. Another realization that may bring about a work related middle life crisis is seeing their product, their campaign, their project collapse or being themselves removed from their position and being replaces by someone less able and least deserving, and often none of the aforementioned but just someone younger and/or prettier. Which is of course unfair.

The way to overcome substance and activity overdoing would be to deal with the cause of the frustration which result in that excess activities and substance use. It is also recommended to keep activities and substance intake to  a moderate level.

 

Decreased libido

On the other hand, this is a part of life when men and women often experience a decrease in libido, the sexual drive, both as a result of feeling less attractive and becoming more frustrated with life.

Clearly sex is a good thing, good sex even more so, so one ought to keep it up, maybe spicing it up or joining the gym to feel sexy and energetic again.

 

Decreased personal attractiveness (both real and imaginary)

When it comes to the signs of middle life crisis for women, none are as prevalent or as blatant as the realization of the loss of youth and beauty. Women, in western society are bombarded with media messages about the need to be beautiful or at least try to be pretty.

This stressor bears insecurities, sometimes bringing cost to the physical health and the mental state of women as they attempt to fight these changes.

An interest in plastic surgery could be regarded as a symptom of insecurities that are experienced during midlife crisis, most clients of plastic surgeries are middle aged women.

Men, in comparison, are nowhere near as attuned to their looks, but for women, of course, it remains a point of massive importance. If a particular woman believes she has lost her youth and in effect is burdened by lack of self-confidence and faces a loss of self value.

Especially prone to this are the women who have been told their entire life that they are pretty, middle life crisis hits them hardest because often their self image is based entirely on looks.

Keeping in shape with physical exercise and proper dieting could help one to look and feel younger. Positive mental attitude and novelty in life, surprises and so on is also important. Invasive surgery such as liposuction is also an option, however it is costly.

 

Low self esteem

When it comes to ego and self assurance middle life crisis presents itself in form of low self esteem, typical signs of a low self esteem are apparent insecurities, for example over own physical looks a woman that spends two hours putting on make up and making her hair at the expense of sleep and social life.

A step further would be a woman that consider plastic surgery, whether it be to appear more youthful or to appear more attractive. Whilst it is not all about looks, some women will seek to emotionalize everything and resort to being a drama queen, to seek care and attention.

Whilst being overly dramatic clear attention seeking behavior usually reserved for slightly tipsy 16 year olds, such a display for a middle aged woman is a clear sign of low self esteem.

 

Children being born and additions to the family

New family members require a lot of energy, time and financial resources and in return they bring about a lot of happiness and a lot of stress. There is also a risk of postnatal depression, or post childbirth depression, a condition which shares common characteristics with middle life crisis. Childbirth, especially the first child it is a massive shift in a parent's' life and women as mothers, spend much of the time with a child and therefore they are the most likely to suffer from postnatal depression. There are symptoms a middle life crisis shares with postnatal depression such as substance abuse mostly referring to smoking, especially when child is formula fed and not breastfed. Smoking itself is associated with stress related issues. Low self esteem, feeling unattractive and other emotional issues are common whilst mothers attempt to handle a newborn and career, are all often triggered by birth of a child. Mood swings and hormonal changes are also common.

Children leaving home as a cause of middle life crisis

Children leaving home as a stress factor and cause of midlife problems in women is not rare. Mothers tend to be more attached then fathers to their children, especially women whom spent much of their time with their children as their were growing up, housewives in particular, since much of their life was based around parenting and being a mother, which in effect triggered their self identity to shift towards a notion of an image of being a parent, or being a mother. When the opportunity to be a parent and to able to be close to their children decreases, it is often followed by decrease in levels of happiness, as it is hard to fill the void of being a full time mother with something else and that is when middle life crisis becomes apparent. A parent will have to find other functions to do and other roles to fulfill. Housewives and women whom spent a lot of time on their children will find the task odious and challenging, often it is ignored how deeply unhappy they are to lose close relationships with the people they have nurtured and love.

Divorce as a cause of middle life crisis in women

Divorce when it is caused by the other side, i.e. husband is another major stress which could by itself cause a middle life crisis. Typically in a normal divorce, even when there are children present, the two major causes are:

1. Irreconcilable differences, meaning that the two parties expected something different from one another
2. A substitute of some sorts to a fulfilling relationship on one or both parties' sides, for example too much work, substance abuse or a need of a younger partner or better looking partner.

Whilst midlife crisis in women whom experience divorce cannot be blamed entirely on the divorce, it brings forward other issues which may trigger the midlife crisis. Low self esteem, feeling rejected or unattractive, combined with the stress of seeking new partner and facing the world cut off from the person who was by her shoulder ready to assist and motivate previously is a difficult task. Midlife crisis becomes apparent when this task becomes too much to bear.

It may cause apart from a middle life crisis a feeling of emptiness and misdirection. A spouse could have been an sail or the anchor of a relationship and regarding of the way divorce is handled, it will expose reasons for divorce, usually the reasons are not flattering and therefore unwelcome. Divorce may also bring about a divide of friends, and if not, might still inflict division over friends and family.

If a splitting marriage has produced children this will also cause discomfort for all the parties involved, including the children themselves, it is better perhaps to minimize the impact on children, to protect them from falling out between two adults. Women on the whole are more attached to their children and therefore likely to suffer more. A lot of stress may be caused by the inability to see children regularly, especially if one of the former spouses moves away. The loneliness that may result from division of friends, losing a spouse and inability to see children regularly may naturally lead to depression and middle life crisis for both women and men.

Death of parents and other grief

Death of parent or a permanent loss of someone very close, as any of the emotional stressors mentioned above gives a massive change to the life of a human being whilst being, arguably the hardest one because if the children are born, despite the stress at first they will grow up, the divorce opens opportunities for novel relationships, but losing parents or someone close is irreversible and brings sadness and often a sense of guilt that is hard to let go. For some people their parents are their best friends, for most their parents hold a valuable opinion and loss of such friends and such authority is in itself a tragedy, when it is a close family member it is a personal catastrophe, recovering from which is an ordeal. A middle life crisis that has a loss of a parent at the core is one of the most common types of crisis, one that may take a while to overcome but it will leave marks for the rest of the life.