What Is a Midlife Crisis For a Woman

photo of woman driving a sports car with the top down

If you do a search for the phrase “midlife crisis for a woman” and read a few articles, you’ll find quite a few alternatives for the term. Some call it a midlife transition, while others deny its very existence.

A midlife crisis for a woman can occur between the ages of 40-55. It is most common in the forty-something age group.

Depression may also be present, which can make this stage of life more challenging to navigate. As we leave our thirties behind, we begin to face our own mortality and realize that life is short.

Men are not the only ones who go through a rocky period. Women also go through difficult changes, maybe even more so. Our children begin to leave the nest, and our parents are aging, our hormones are shifting. It can be uncomfortable and overwhelming.

Middle-aged women in perimenopause, the period before menopause, may be dealing with significant changes in hormone levels. 

After I turned forty, I started to exhibit some of the symptoms of a midlife crisis, yet I did not recognize it for what it was. If I could go back, I would do things differently. 

If you suspect you are experiencing these changes, it can be useful to look to an older woman who has gone through some of these life events for inspiration and guidance.

A word of warning, friends going through these changes in life alongside you may not always steer you in the right direction. This is especially true if one or both of you are making radical decisions and choices that are “out of character.”

Divorce rates go up during midlife. It isn’t easy to see your divorced friends start over, whether with a new home, dating again, or getting back into the workforce. Being witness to these fresh starts may cause you to feel dissatisfied with your marriage or lifestyle. This isn’t always the case, but if you have been reasonably happily married and suddenly find yourself wishing you were single, this may be a factor.

A woman who has been around older women who have gone through midlife experiences may recognize when they start to have these feelings. Others may not recognize what they are going through because of a lack of knowledge or exposure to others’ changes. 

Someone concerned for your well-being can help you get through this period in life without too much damage. Although, if you are in denial that what you are feeling is a mid-life crisis, you may not be receptive.

What is a Midlife Crisis for a woman?

Hollywood typically portrays the midlife crisis as a man buying a sports car and taking up new hobbies or having an affair. Is this an accurate portrayal? Does everyone undergo a midlife crisis?

According to research, only about 10-20% of Americans report experiencing a midlife crisis. (1) So what does it look like when a woman endures these changes in her life? 

People experience life differently, have varying levels of hormones, unique circumstances, etc., which impact how they handle these feelings. A sudden desire to be someone completely different from who you’ve been for the past forty-something years could be a tip-off.

Radical, spontaneous decisions that no one would have ever imagined. A woman may completely change her outward appearance, wear a different style of clothes, get a tattoo, dye her hair hot pink. She may feel an increased interest in new relationships.

Don’t get me wrong; you may decide to cut and color your hair or have a complete makeover without it being an indication of a midlife crisis. Buying a sporty new car or taking up a new hobby in and of itself is not a sign you’re in trouble. 

Just because a woman starts taking better care of herself, loses weight, or starts working out does not mean that she is having a midlife crisis. Midlife can be an excellent time to pour back into yourself

You don’t have to have empty nest syndrome because your children have grown up and don’t need you as much as before. Maybe this is a time in your adult life when you can focus on your whole body wellness.

Furthermore, the midlife crisis in women is invisible because it does not manifest itself in our eyes, but in the intimate spaces of the minds and hearts of women. Many of them are totally isolated, struggling with their feelings, without the proper support to complete this transition, this may be due to a midlife crisis or anxiety about growing older. 2

What are the signs of a midlife crisis?

Below are some signs, although this is not an exhaustive list. Having one or all of these feelings does not necessarily mean you are experiencing a midlife crisis. However, they can be signs of a midlife crisis and indicate that professional help could be beneficial. 

  • An overwhelming feeling of regret and wistfulness about the past
  • Feeling that life has been unfulfilling paired with an intense desire to make the future drastically different
  • Out of character actions, impulse decisions, or purchases
  • Pendulum swing in style, appearance, or behaviors
  • Nostalgic feeling about the past – what was or what could have been
  • A perpetual sense of wanting something new and different
  • The temptation towards infidelity or attention-seeking
  • Discontent with life as it is or feeling less than others
  • Strong desire for something, anything more exciting than life as you know it
  • The overriding feeling of life being meaningless 
  • Apathy towards prior interests or life in general
  • Adventure-seeking or daydreaming about a more exciting life, or intense boredom with the life you currently live
  • Strong desire to change appearance (get extensions or cut hair very short, drastic change in color of hair, change in clothing style, or just getting a new look)
  • Frustration and anxiety over finances, particularly the lack of preparation for the future.
  • Change in sex drive
  • Frantic energy and restlessness
  • Persistent feeling or desire for things to be different, but not sure how
  • Weight gain or even weight loss

If you are grappling with some of these feelings, it can help to seek a professional who can help you work through them. Family members are often the first people we turn to and can be a source of guidance. Loved ones experience midlife crises too, and may have some words of wisdom to encourage and inspire you.

Midlife challenges but not a crisis

Not all of the challenges a woman faces during middle age are part of a crisis. Middle-aged people, in general, tend to meet a lot of stressors. We’re standing on the bridge between generations, still guiding our children, but beginning to care for aging parents. 

Women tend to experience shorter midlife crises than men, with the average being 2-5 years. This can often be brought on by losing a loved one (such as in my case) or other significant events. Divorce and job loss are other triggers.

Let others think what they want. What matters is that you know this slump is perfectly normal. Like Jules at the end of Pulp Fiction, you’re in a transitional period. Your job is to simply stay the course for now. Take care of yourself. Get better at getting older. 3

During the midlife crisis, women may believe if they change their job, career, or relationships, they’ll feel better. Often, changes are made, and the satisfaction does not follow. 

So, how can I get through midlife without the crisis?

If you are single, it can help to meet with a therapist to help you take care of your mental health during any challenging times in your life. Perhaps what you are facing is an awakening about life. You’re feeling the challenge to enjoy and not waste the years you have left. 

You can use these feelings to turn things around. If you have a job you hate, maybe it’s time to find a job you love? Think about and analyze your feelings and work through them.

No one can force you to go to therapy or do anything else you don’t want to do. Keep in mind, however, that seeking help from an outside source can be incredibly helpful. 

While you might not be optimistic about it, wouldn’t you want to try everything possible to get help in understanding and processing your feelings; especially when another person is involved. For example, in the case of a marriage. 

Going to therapy can help you break some of the old unhealthy habits that both of you have been stuck in for years. 

Emotionally focused therapy is an incredibly beneficial type of treatment for couples. EFT helps couples understand their partner and themselves better, which leads to a stronger relationship and more positive interaction.

Marital Relationship During a Woman’s Midlife Crisis

It is not uncommon for a middle-aged woman to begin taking self-care a bit more seriously. During this time in life, she may have more time and inclination to focus on herself. These actions may appear to others as selfish. 

In truth, women may experience more mood swings and feel irritable and grumpy one moment, lonely the next. At the same time, women reportedly feel more motivated and willing to work for changes they want to see.

In the case of time and inclination to begin focusing on herself, she may lose weight or build muscle, start tanning, change her hair, learn to perfect her makeup routine, etc. These changes can be alarming or intriguing to her partner, who may become either more attracted to her or uncertain about her motives.

In the latter case, this uncertainty may lead to jealousy, anger, pouting, or clinginess from her partner. Depending on how he responds, his actions can either push her away or draw her in. Typically, a man who becomes clingy and jealous will be unattractive to a woman. 

However, if he plays his cards right, he can become the recipient of her continued affection!

(For the man whose partner is experiencing a midlife crisis, it’s important to remember, it’s not about you! The doubts, regrets, and questioning may relate to you, but they aren’t centered on you. The best path you can choose is to be supportive without taking her actions too personally.)

Strategies for coping with overwhelming midlife feelings

A turbulent midlife transition can be excruciating. I know many women who liken it to a mix between stir-crazy and cabin fever. The best thing a woman can do is to keep trying to hit on something that brings relief.

Midlife is about recognizing that the journey not only continues; it’s likely the better half of the trip (once you get through the 40-something angst). It’s also about living life on your terms, with your own definition of what success looks like. 4

Try these strategies to cope with those overwhelming feelings:

  1. Exercise – Find a form of movement that you truly enjoy and do it often.
  2. Support – Lean on friends, family, physicians.
  3. Honesty – Be open with those you trust about how you are feeling.
  4. Nurture – Take better care of yourself than ever before.
  5. Sleep – Continue getting the right amount of sleep for your body.
  6. Safety – Spend time with people you trust and avoid connections with those who would encourage you to take risks that are out of character for you.
  7. Realize – Could it be that you are not experiencing a crisis, but instead realize that you haven’t fully embraced your life and are now ready to?
  8. Space – If your relationship is causing turmoil and therapy is out of the question, consider Living Apart Together for a while to give yourself time to figure out what you want and need. 

Check out these Midlife Crisis Quotes for Every Emotion for more help coping.

Midlife Without the Crisis

No matter what you choose to call this period of life, the truth is, for many women, it is a difficult time. Even though it may be tempting, it might be better to avoid extremes during this time. Reduce the pendulum swing by aiming for the middle ground. Doing so will help ensure a smooth transition.

The midlife slump isn’t primarily a ‘me’ problem,” he says, “it’s a ‘we’ problem, exacerbated by the stereotype of midlife crisis and the shame and isolation it causes. The key is to become — individually and as a society — better at guiding and supporting each other in middle age. Each of us can start doing that for our own friends and loved ones right now. 5

If you find that you are feeling depressed, it’s essential to see a medical professional. Antidepressants can be useful if a person is genuinely depressed, but fluctuations in estrogen levels alone do not mean depression.

Seeing a psychologist can help you figure out where you are in relation to your past. That can be very helpful if you are trying to avoid repeating patterns that seem to be a recuring theme in your life. However, if you are looking to set goals or seeking direction for your future, it might be better to hire a life coach.

A coach looks at your present to help you create the future you desire, while a therapist looks at your past to help you manage your present,” explains Tess Brigham, a licensed psychotherapist and board-certified coach (BCC). “So while coaching is action-oriented, therapy is insight-oriented.”

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