Though some may think of it as a male issue, a woman’s midlife crisis is a very real occurrence, though less frequently acknowledged or discussed. A woman’s midlife can be a period of transition in which she may grapple with existential issues, hormonal and physiological changes, and shifts in relationships and family life roles.
What Is a Midlife Crisis?
A midlife crisis is characterized by the realization that one’s lifespan is likely halfway complete, which can bring on existential questions related to one’s identity, purpose, as well as deep reflection regarding the life that one has chosen and may wish to have, moving forward.
Is a Midlife Crisis a Myth?
Midlife crises are not a myth, and many experience crises through various parts of their life and milestone ages, not just in the middle of their life (quarter life crises are also common). At least a quarter of adults have experienced a midlife crisis. While a midlife crisis is not a diagnosable condition, the experiences of emotional overwhelm and crisis can be considered part of other mental health mood and adjustment disorders. Some of the signs include changes in weight, sleep and eating habits, and changes in relationships, work, and personal hygiene.
Do Women Go Through a Midlife Crisis?
Studies have shown that women are not immune to going through a midlife crisis, and yet the experience is markedly different for a woman than for a man. A midlife crisis for a woman may occur anytime in midlife, with age 40 being the start of this developmental period.
Women’s midlife crises, however, are often the culmination of a multitude of co-occurring stressors, including health or medical issues, holding caregiving roles both for children and for aging parents, and losses related to death or divorce.1
“Like men, women can experience a midlife crisis as early as their mid to late 30s. However, the likelihood of a midlife crisis increases for women as they progress into their late 40s and early 50s where they enter a new phase of life that encourages reflection. In this stage, we are prone to explore our life’s purpose thus far as well as the impact we will have during our time on earth. Naturally, if we don’t feel we have lived up to our potential, we are inclined to experience a midlife crisis of some kind.” – James Killian, LPC, Principal Therapist & Owner of Arcadian Counseling
13 Signs of a Midlife Crisis In Women
Interestingly, of all of the life stages studied across the human lifespan, middle age is the least researched period of life. Further study will be necessary to better understand the midlife period of adulthood.2 Signs of a midlife crisis in women can range from changes in body image or sexual satisfaction (often due to factors such as perimenopause or menopause) to emotional struggles surrounding career issues or dissatisfaction.3
Here are thirteen signs of a female midlife crisis:
1. Depression or Increased Depressive Behaviors
Midlife for women is a time in which there can be increased menopause and depression, and this period of life is characterized as having higher levels of suicide compared to other life stages.4
2. Reflection On Deep Questions or Preoccupation With Existential Concerns
Because of the stark existential realizations (i.e., existential crises) that someone has at midlife, a woman may find herself questioning her life choices such as her romantic partner, career, or choices related to becoming (or not having become) a mother.
3. Sleep Problems
Sleep changes related to perimenopause or menopause can be a sign that a woman is entering into the midlife period. Some women report having difficulty sleeping due to restlessness or hot flashes.
4. Changes In Weight
Weight loss or weight gain is associated with emotional changes in people. When some people are stressed or going through a crisis, their appetite often becomes suppressed as a result. Others cope with emotional stress by exercising, which can lead to a decrease in weight. For some others, they may eat when they are emotional as a way to cope and find eating to be soothing.
5. Sense of Boredom or Apathy
Perhaps it’s not depression, but someone may find themselves with a general feeling of ambivalence in the midlife period which may manifest as boredom, apathy, or a lack of motivation.
6. Sense of Loss
During any crisis, there is an underlying feeling of a loss of stability. It can be hard to identify why we may be feeling loss, but the loss of stability and security can really showcase how much a midlife crisis impacts us.
7. Contemplating a Big Change
If you find yourself contemplating making big changes in your personal or professional life, this could be a sign that you are approaching a midlife crisis.
8. Fixating On “Days Gone By”
A preoccupation with the experiences you had during your younger years or wanting to relive experiences specific to other periods of your life could indicate discomfort with midlife.
9. Desire to Change Physical Appearance
Similar to longing for previous years of one’s life, a woman in a midlife crisis may find herself focusing on her appearance and finding ways to look younger, either through dress or through making physical changes to hairstyle, considering surgical procedures, or simply exploring her attitude toward making cosmetic changes.5
10. Extreme Feelings of “Overwhelm”
Though there are inevitably stressors at any time of life, the “clustering” effect of multiple role stressors can contribute to significant feelings of menopause and anxiety, stress, or overwhelm by women in midlife.6
11. Emotional Volatility
Changes in ability to handle emotions and having emotions that present as intense one moment and dull the next could indicate signs of a midlife crisis in a woman. If your previously easygoing ways have been replaced by feeling volatile or too easily triggered, you may be experiencing midlife concerns.
12. Physical Pain
Sudden unexpected or unexplained physical pain is a clear sign that your body and mind are going through stress. This can be a midlife crisis or something else, but physical pain is often a psychosomatization of emotional pain.
13. Changes In Menstrual Cycle
Signs of perimenopause can occur as early as the mid-thirties, and 12 consecutive months without a period is indicative of the full transition to menopause.7 These hormonal shifts may be a sign that a woman is fully entering the midlife period.
Causes of Mid Life Crisis In Women
Causes of a midlife crisis in women might be catalyzed by biological changes or by relational shifts that are abundant in this period of life, such as changes in professional roles, increased caregiving responsibilities, the death of a parent, and relocation of children. Many women experience loneliness due to being uncertain about their identity, or even hitting a milestone birthday and feeling the birthday blues.
Events that can bring about a midlife crisis in a woman include:8
- Increased “crossover stressors” from multiple life roles
- Hormonal changes related to perimenopause or menopause
- Feeling lonely in their marriage or relationship
- Identity changes (i.e., identity crisis)
- Loss of fertility
- Regret about not having children
- Relationship concerns like divorce
- Family changes like empty nest syndrome
- Death of loved ones
- Caregiving for aging parents
- Caregiving for children
- Adult children returning home
- Career disconnect or apathy
- Concerns about leaving behind a “legacy”
Killian advises, “A midlife crisis is often an indicator that purpose and meaning are missing in our life. Therefore, a thorough evaluation of one’s actions, behaviors, and goals to ensure they are aligned with values is a crucial aspect of managing a midlife crisis.”
13 Ways to Deal With a Midlife Crisis as a Woman
Dealing with a midlife crisis as a woman, though it may be unsettling, can be an excellent time for renewed insight and self-reflection as your true adult self. Whether engaging with others through this shared period or discovering new strengths or passions, going through a midlife crisis does not have to be a frightening experience.
Here are thirteen tips for dealing with a midlife crisis as a woman:
1. Find or Create a Community
Having a group of other women who are going through a similar situation is hugely powerful. Join a group or create your own at work or in your community to talk about the trials of being a woman in midlife. This can help you combat the loneliness that is so often part of being a midlife woman.
2. Start a Journal or Memoir
If you’re concerned about your legacy, now is the time to start documenting your life! Not only is journaling a wonderful way to chronicle your emotions, you’re also building your own legacy by committing your story to the written word. Having a tangible product that you may someday wish to share with family or friends can be therapeutic and fun.
It’s never too late to start or to change up your exercise routine. Physical movement can be helpful in alleviating the sleep issues related to biological changes in midlife, such as menopause, and it’s also an excellent way to build community and to attend to your physical health. Starting or continuing healthy habits now can only enhance your overall physical and emotional wellness.
4. Reframe “Midlife Crisis” to “Midlife Movement”
The root of the word “crisis” means “decision point,” indicating that there is room to go in a variety of directions. Choose to embrace this pivotal stage of life as a launching point into a new era that can be full of exciting possibilities.
5. Let Your Partner Join You
Though we often feel alone in our experiences, we sometimes are hesitant to share about what we’re going through for fear of upsetting or distressing loved ones. However, your partner is likely experiencing a similar transition. Inviting them into how you’re feeling can be a great way to foster greater connection. If you don’t have a partner, talk about what you’re going through with a trusted friend.
6. Start Something New
Perhaps it’s a class you’ve always wanted to take or a trip to a place that you’ve long desired to visit—now is an excellent time to learn a skill or take action on a “bucket list” item. This will keep you motivated and will provide your brain with a fresh set of neural pathways.
7. Consider Career Counseling
If it’s your career that is bringing you a sense of boredom or malaise, career counseling can be helpful in processing your thoughts before making a job change. With changes in family expectations, many women in midlife find themselves reconsidering the career that they chose previously, armed with new insight and self-knowledge. Talking with a professional career counselor can help you explore possible next steps.
8. Check In With Your Values
Given the existential quandaries that can be brought up by midlife, this can be an excellent time to engage in an exploration of values and how you’re living into what is most important to you. Exploring and identifying the core values you live by can help you make clear changes to live in more alignment with your values.
The VIA Survey of Character Strengths can be an excellent tool for building self-awareness.
9. Reconnect With an Earlier Version of Yourself
Midlife is a period in which many women find themselves as empty nesters, no longer actively taking care of their children’s daily needs. Given that many women have set aside their own hobbies or interests during their child-rearing years, turning back toward former passions or projects can be an energizing activity. Find those things that you’ve neglected and welcome them back into your life.
10. Reconnect With Nature
Nature can be very healing. Studies suggest that 20 minutes in nature daily significantly improves mental health symptoms. Nature is a great intervention when it comes to dealing with stress and can help ground you when you feel out of control or lost.
11. Take Your Physical Health Seriously
Beyond daily exercise, midlife can be an important time to engage in an overall health assessment, scheduling those routine visits that have perhaps been neglected for too long or meeting with specialists in areas in which your health may need special attention, such as meeting with a nutritionist.
12. Read Books
Reading books can be a great way to cope with crises. You could read books that are based on real events or memoirs that can give you a new perspective on life. You could read fiction and get lost in stories. You could also read self-help and psychoeducation books to learn more about how you can cope with your feelings.
13. See a Therapist
Starting therapy can help you process the many changes in your life.Talk with a trusted friend or partner and ask others for observations about how they think you’re doing.
When to Get Help For Midlife Crises
Midlife is characterized as a time of transition, so when you feel that you’ve been stuck too long and are not seeing change it may actually be that you are experiencing depression symptoms or another underlying mental health issue.
How to Find a Therapist
If you’re not sure how to start your search to find a therapist, an online directory offers filters you can sort through to find the perfect fit. You can filter your search by things like cost, location, and speciality.
Midlife crises can be hard to deal with, but they also offer many opportunities for reflection, self-awareness, and post-traumatic growth. Though a woman’s midlife crisis has its own set of challenges and stressors, women also have a unique opportunity to embrace the freedom of the next chapter of their lives.