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7 ways to stay positive in the middle of a midlife meltdown

Everything may be changing, but that's OK.

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We’ve all heard the term “mid-life crisis” but as a Life Coach and someone who has been there, done that, I prefer to think of it as more of a  meltdown because it ultimately leads to a transformation and reformation that’s both beautiful and empowering. That said, it can definitely feel like a crisis because suddenly it’s like all the rules start changing without any damn warning. The meltdown happens in our heads and in our bodies and can be triggered by anything ranging from the overwhelming mind f*ckery of how many candles will be on your birthday cake to recurring hot flashes that make you feel like you’re actually melting. Add in the regular pressures of simply showing up for daily life in a world full of political turmoil, traffic jams and the pressure to look like a 27 year-old yogini and the result can be a host of companions kind of like the 7 Dwarves except much less loyal and productive. Cranky, Frazzled, Angry, Weepy, Testy, Irritable and Grouchy can make life feel like anything but a bowl of cherries. Fortunately there are plenty of things we can do to help send these characters back to the mines and replace them with ones who can keep us calmer, cooler and way more congenial. Here are some ways to find your inner allies on the path to a more positive transformation.

1. KISS (Keep it Simple, Sweetheart)

When you feel like chaos is reigning inside your body and/or all around you the best possible solution is to slow things way down. You can’t fix everything right this minute! Deep breaths, small moves instead of large ones, planning ahead for the next 10 minutes instead of the next 10 years and basically giving yourself permission to keep things as simple as possible in the moment is calming and can be a game changer. It also helps when you allow yourself to actually feel and name whatever feeling is trying to bubble up. The more we resist and tell ourselves to “suck it up,” the more persistent the feeling can become. When you acknowledge the feeling and let it happen, it often retreats way faster. Melting down feels uncomfortable in the moment but it’s the way to transformation.

2. Flip your focus (and your inner script)

Where your attention goes is where your energy flows so start redirecting that energy by changing the lens you’re looking through. There is a LOT of negative cultural programming out there about life for women over 45 and it can start to mess with your head. Newsflash: you are the author of your own story and you get to control your narrative. You may be aging (which beats the alternative) but that doesn’t mean you have to get “old.” Stop “should-ing” all over yourself and start looking for some of the negative thought clusters that are bringing you down. When you find them, reframe them to more positive thoughts that feel just as true or truer instead of ones that make you feel like you’re in some version of a shame spiral. “I’m over the effing hill” can be remade into something like “I wouldn’t trade my life’s experience for all the tea in China.”

3. Smile a little smile

It turns out that every time you smile, you get a hit of feel-good hormones like dopamine and serotonin. Yay!  This can improve your mood, reduce your stress, bump up your immune system and more. Basically, just the act of smiling can trick your brain into believing that you’re actually happy, which can lead to feeling happier.  Go ahead and try it. It’s ok. I’ll wait… 

Pretty cool, right? Even better, find some ways to have a laugh. Comedy podcasts, joke of the day emails, cartoons from the New Yorker and clips from old episodes of SNL are all valid options. This is one of my personal faves. It gives new meaning to the phrase “fake it til you make it.”

4. Go for the gratitude 

You may roll your eyes at this one, but when was the last time you sat down and tried counting your blessings? Channeling some gratitude on a regular basis can be a terrific way to get back to positive. According to the Harvard Mental Health Letter, “gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness.” Things like keeping a gratitude journal, writing down 3 things you’re grateful for at the beginning or end of each day, praying, and even just noticing the things you encounter throughout the day that make you feel  happy can all help you get to grateful. Mindfulness meditations for gratitude are also really powerful and there are plenty of free apps out there with guided ones, including my favorite, Insight Timer, which has over 300 of them, ranging from 5 – 30 minutes. 

5. Get your hormones checked 

A huge contributor to the shifting tides of midlife can be hormones. Getting your levels of estrogen, progesterone and testosterone checked can provide a ton of information about what’s going on with your body. Same with cortisol and all the thyroid hormones as well. Hormone imbalances can contribute to everything from depression and overall exhaustion to insomnia and more, not to mention hot flashes  and night sweats. Talk to your medical provider about getting this kind of blood work done and see what comes back. It could be very enlightening. 

6. Go deeper

The dawning existential realization that our lives here on earth have actual expiration dates can create a yearning for more meaning and purpose in our middle years. We start to question relationships, career choices,  decisions we made in the past and more. Things like becoming an empty nester or going through a divorce can leave us feeling devoid of direction and full of sadness or resentment. This can be a clear invitation to explore ways of going deeper through spirituality, meditation and other activities that can give us a renewed sense of purpose. Even practicing random acts of kindness and regularly “paying it forward” can help. Oh, and a good therapist or life coach doesn’t hurt either. Shining a light on the stuff that’s keeping us “stuck” can help resolve it in ways that leave you with a greater sense of connection to yourself and to the bigger picture.

7. Remember how to play

As adults, the majority of us have forgotten how to play. I’m not just talking about sports or board games here. I’m talking about the little, almost frivolous things that contribute to having a more positive outlook and better wellbeing. I’m talking about just having fun. Listening to music again and singing along at the top of your lungs, petting some animals – yours or someone else’s, taking up a new hobby (the list here is endless), learning how to play bridge or mahjong, making jam, blowing bubbles, bowling, belly dancing, synchronized swimming – you get the picture. Enlist a friend or do it on your own and make some new ones. Keep in mind that the primary goal here is pleasure. Have a good time and let the rest be gravy. 

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