Our forties and beyond can be fabulous, but it can also be the point we get pulled in one direction too many, says counsellor and psychotherapist Lynette Evans, otherwise known as The Listening Helper.
Whilst completing a general form recently I had to tick my sex and my age group. This made me take a step back and think about what it means to be a middle-aged woman today. It’s said that life begins at 40, but what ‘life’ is for each of us at this time can be very different. Women over 45 often find their lives in a state of flux; feeling fabulous and living life to the max one day and like everything is crashing down around you the next. While many will simply put these fluctuations in mood down to the menopause, this is a time of significant emotional as well as physical change.
You have so much going on in your life at the moment. The kids may be going off to university and leaving you with empty nest syndrome, or they may be moving back in and bringing financial pressures that you’d hoped would be easing by now. Challenges or changes in your career can be stressful and you might be dealing with parents’ health issues – or becoming aware of health issues of your own.
This is a time when many of us also find our relationships coming to an end, or we’re beginning new ones or deciding to be single. The modern dating landscape is very different to the one you may have known in your twenties and the nature of internet dating – with its superficial judgement of appearance and personality – can leave many of us questioning our self-worth. We can also find ourselves considering existential questions like “what have I achieved?” and “where do I go from here?” – issues that did not trouble our minds as much when we were younger.
As women today in our 40s, 50s and beyond, we are juggling all of the roles and challenges that society is sending in our direction and trying to navigate a way through it all. With even the good things in life bringing their own pressures, no wonder we find our stress levels soaring! We are now well used to taking care with diet and exercise to maintain our physical wellbeing but often find it challenging to take time out of life to manage our emotional needs.
The combination of financial pressures, relationship challenges, career demands, managing a family and caring for elderly parents can lead women to experience mental health issues such as depression, anxiety and stress. This can quickly lead to burnout, but observing changes in mood and prioritising small acts of self-care a part can help keep your emotions happily on track:
- We all have our mood swings and down days, but if you notice that these feelings are lasting for more than a few days or impacting on your quality of life, consider speaking to your GP or to a suitably qualified therapist. You may require medication, therapy or a combination of the two and the right healthcare professional will be able to help you find the right path.
- Consider making some small lifestyle changes. For example, regular exercise can improve mood and reduce the risk of depression as well as improving your physical wellbeing. You don’t have to start running marathons – a 15-minute walk in the fresh air every day can do wonders.
- Social contact can be really beneficial, as supportive relationships can help those at risk of depression to improve their quality of life. Try to be honest with friends; it’s easy to automatically reply “I’m fine” when asked how we are, but talking through your worries with a friend over a cuppa can restore perspective and remind you you’re not alone.
- Remember that it’s ok to say ‘no’. Try not to overburden yourself by squeezing in too many social commitments and instead block out the time in your diary to have a long bath or read your book.
- Unplug regularly. Switch those phones off, whether for an hour every evening or all day Sunday – it’s ok to be unavailable.
If you can focus on just one thing, I’d ask that you pay as much care and attention to your emotional wellbeing as your physical health, and seek support if you notice your ‘down days’ becoming more persistent. This is a time in our lives of transformational change and we should be free to embrace it and enjoy life to its fullest extent.
Psychotherapist and counsellor Lynette Evans – The Listening Helper – is based in south Wales and works with individual and corporate clients. She has appeared on BBC Radio and in leading online business magazine Business News Wales.Last modified: December 28, 2020