It’s not unusual for a patient to start our session by announcing, “I think I’m having a midlife crisis.” Especially my female patients.
I don’t think the term midlife crisis was ever only reserved for men, they were just part of the cliché. The reality is that middle age can be difficult because the pressures of adulthood start to weigh you down.
There are financial issues to deal with like having debt, or wondering how and if you’ll ever have enough money to retire. There are work issues too, such as job stability, lack of work, or excessive stress. It’s also a time when health issues start popping up.
Women in particular often have the added burden of caring for aging parents, and some do this while also taking care of their own kids. And for those women, they sometimes start to fear that they’ll become irrelevant once their kids leave home. Oh, and let’s not forget about perimenopause and menopause!
Life is certainly more complicated in your 40s through your 50s. If you’ve focused on taking care of others and haven’t put much thought into what you really want out of life, you’re more likely to experience a crisis now. Adding to your anxiety can be regrets like wondering if you made the right choices, and self-doubt like thinking that it’s too late to change. (It’s not.)
I believe the turbulence you start to feel in midlife is your heart rumbling. This midlife crisis you’re experiencing is your heart making itself known. The discomfort you feel is your heart reminding you of what you want in life. What you really want in your life right now.
And I don’t mean your anatomical heart. I’m talking about Heart the way I’ve come to understand the collection of longings and abilities that don’t come from your brain.
I tell my patients that middle age is a time of renaissance. It’s similar to what life was like in your teens, although society dismisses this fact. And that needs to change because midlife is a time to discover who you are and what you want now. It’s a time to try new things, be optimistic, create new goals, and truly embrace change. Midlife is a time to start thinking like a teenager but this time with a fully developed frontal lobe and an open Heart.
In your teens, being curious, trying new things and engaging with the world is normal –and expected. Teenagers are also allowed to have a change of Heart, so if you major in accounting but decide to go into public relations, that’s okay. It’s no big deal to change.
But later in life, women especially don’t often give themselves permission to change or try something new. And that doesn’t make sense! Just because you’re 42 or 50 or (insert your age), it doesn’t mean that everything has to the stay the same. I’m not saying it’s going to be easy, but if you want to get through this midlife crisis, my advice is to give yourself permission to change.
For those of you rolling your eyes, I get it, because it can feel weird to want to shake things up or make changes at this point in your life. You might also feel uncomfortable wanting something more out of your life. But that’s just your brain trying to protect you and keep the status quo.
When you only think with brain you decide to stay in a job you despise or a relationship that is crushing you. That’s what you know, and brain says it’s better to choose misery over change.
But when you start tapping into Heart, you allow yourself to envision new possibilities for yourself and experience new courage to move forward. You might ask yourself what you can do to improve your job, or maybe consider trying to do something else. Or you may bravely look at yourself and ask why you’re staying with a partner who is distant, controlling with money and critical?
It’s an opportunity to evaluate what’s not working, and then bring in the people, places and things that will be more useful to you. What do you want that you don’t have? Have you been living someone else’s dream? Are you bored with your typical routines? Is it time to admit that you’ve been stuck in a rut?
Excitement and joy can happen at any age, but in middle age it often requires thinking with Heart instead of relying so much on brain alone.
Heart urges you to see yourself anew and is informed by the you right now—not the you in the past. Many people get stuck in the trap of assuming they have to keep being the way they were. But Heart wants what is right for you right now. How could what used to be right for you 20-years ago still be right for you now? You don’t stop changing just because you’re no longer 30.
So when you feel the rumblings of your heart, pay attention to the discomfort. Bring Heart into your thought process and ask yourself what you really want. You’ll discover that Heart is fine with trying something different, making mistakes, or making new decisions about your life. It’s your brain that’s going to put up a fight because it wants to stick to your old ideas from the past. But Heart is about deep self-knowledge, and urges you to unlearn the old and try something brand new.
Now that you’re aware of what your brain is trying to do, you don’t have to fear the present or the future. So the next time you start to say “no” to something, try taking that step into uncertainty and ask yourself if “why not” is the better choice. Why not sign up for a graphic design class? Why not train for a half marathon? Why not let your hair grow longer? Why not learn how to ice skate? Why not look for a new job?
Heart is invested in growth, expansion and positive change—not change just for the sake of change. Heart wants change that is good for you. But change isn’t easy for most people, so I recommend starting small and taking tiny steps. If you want to make more friends, start with deciding to smile at two strangers today. If you want to be more creative, decide to sit in a different seat at your family dinner.
No matter how unsure you feel about what to do next, next will be fresh, interesting, and worthwhile. Heart is where you feel sure that your smaller self, perhaps unsure about its value, is capable of growth, expansion and purpose.
If you’re having a midlife crisis, it doesn’t mean you have to totally change your life, quit your job, get divorced, or take off to India on a spiritual quest. It’s not the time to make rash decisions. It also doesn’t mean that you’re completely neurotic. A midlife crisis is your heart rumbling, and tuning in and listening to your heart is not a catastrophic event.
So the next time you feel discomfort, slow down and notice what you’re feeling and what you’re resisting. Those feelings – anger, sadness, fear, shame – are rumblings, which are a message from Heart. Instead of ignoring them, make the choice to stop and figure out what’s out of balance in your life.
Heart tells the truth, no matter how inconvenient. But in Heart, the truth isn’t scary or threatening. When you think with Heart, you don’t have to keep protecting yourself from all possible outcomes because Heart knows you can handle whatever comes up.