We all experience transitions throughout our lives. We graduate from college and enter the workforce, start and end relationships, change jobs and careers, have children, send our children off to school, and even watch our children change as they grow older, go to school, and start relationships, careers, and families of their own. In fact, if there is one constant in life, it is change.
Unfortunately, while many of life’s transitions can be handled gracefully and without much effort, specific changes at certain times can be more difficult to handle than others. And it is not uncommon for both men and women to experience may dramatic changes during mid-life.
This isn’t to say the nature of the transitions is more dramatic during this time of life. The loss of a job or a divorce can be just as difficult to deal with for a 30-something or someone who’s in their 60s as it is for a person in the their 40s.
That having been said, while the nature and onset of such transitions is unique to each individual, there are specific reasons why mid-life transitions can be more difficult than those at other life stages.
Fortunately, mid-life transitions, no matter how challenging, need not turn into mid-life crises.
What Makes Mid-Life Transitions So Challenging?
There is no shortage of reasons why transitions occurring during mid-life are often more challenging than when the same transitions occur during other periods.
For example, one factor that compounds the difficulty of any transition during mid-life is hormonal. Women in their mid to late forties often experience erratic amounts of estrogen in their bodies or a sharp drop in estrogen production and menopause is likely to be at its onset, or just around the corner. While the effects of our bodies’ estrogen production are too complex to be fully understood, estrogen levels do play a significant role in regulating women’s moods and emotions. Similarly, men experience a decrease in testosterone production during this same period, although the effects and changes they produce tend to be less pronounced and more gradual.
Another major reason that mid-life transitions tend to be more difficult is because our emotional and psychological investments in maintaining the status quo tend to be stronger during this stage of life.
Someone in their 20s is likely to have only been in the same job, career, or relationship for a few years, hence their emotional and psychological attachment is less likely to be as strong as someone in their mid-40s who’s been in the same job, career, or relationship for a decade or two. Consequently, when people in mid-life face a job loss or divorce such an event is more likely to challenge their assumptions about who they are and the life they’ve worked so hard and for so long to build.
Similarly, it is common for people in their 20s to still be exploring who they are and what they want out of life. Changing priorities and goals during this period is normal and transitions more routine. However, when a man or woman in their 40s begins to second guess their priorities it often leads to discomforting questions related to their personal identity, self-confidence, and self-esteem. Questions about what one values most in life, what is most meaningful, what do we want out of our relationships with others and out of our relationship with ourselves are natural for adolescents and young adults. But for people in mid-life to discover they have the same questions even though they thought they already had the answers can lead to a lot of anxiety and self-doubt.
Career changes, job loss, and divorce are not only more difficult in mid-life for psychological and emotional reasons. They can be just as upending for very physical ones.
When someone loses their job or contemplates a career change in their mid-40s, chances are much greater they have house payments and a family for which they’re financially responsible. Similarly, if a couple decides to separate or divorce in their mid-40s, chances are much greater that their financial assets are intertwined and they have children to consider. Parenting concerns and financial responsibilities and obligations often compound the difficulties of mid-life transitions and, while these concerns are firmly grounded in external reality, the additional anxiety and stress they can cause are no less real for the person experiencing them.
Preventing Mid-Life Crisis
While the reasons listed above, as well as many others, can cause mid-life transitions to be far more difficult than transitions at other points in our lives, this does not mean transitions during mid-life are destined to become mid-life crises.
The first step in successfully navigating mid-life transitions is simply acknowledging the likelihood that they may be more difficult.
Secondly, know you’re not alone. Millions upon millions of men and women are coping with and navigating mid-life transitions everyday. Make sure you have a support network with whom to discuss your challenges, frustrations, and concerns, as well as share your successes. If you don’t already have a solid support network among family members and friends, be proactive and find a support group in your area for men or women facing the same problems you’re experiencing.
Third, take care of yourself. Make sure you eat right, exercise regularly, and make time to relax and unwind. It may seem trite, but simple self-care such as this can go a long way to maintaining your mental and emotional health and resilience during difficult periods.
Lastly, if you’re taking care of yourself and you have a strong support network and find you’re still struggling, consider seeking the help of a professional counselor or therapist.
Thinking clearly and making sound decisions can be extremely difficult when we’re under a lot of anxiety and stress, and being objective about choices is always most difficult when the focus of our need to be objective is ourselves.
A professional counselor can help you objectively evaluate your situation and choices as well as make sure you’re asking yourself the right questions. Additionally, a professional counselor can help you learn relaxation techniques and coping strategies that can help you navigate the transitions you’re facing.
Ultimately, change is a constant. We need to learn to be comfortable with change and that can only happen when we understand and are comfortable with ourselves. There are few better means of achieving this type of self-understanding and self-acceptance outside of professional counseling and psychotherapy. However, whether you decide to seek out the help of a professional or not, know that you’re not alone and help is available in many forms. All you need to do is start asking for it. No matter how difficult the transition may seem, you can navigate it successfully and come through it with greater understanding, confidence, and optimism about the future.
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