“I miss my 25-year-old stamina.”
“I wish I’d done things differently.”
“Nothing excites me these days.”
“I worry about aging.”
Sound familiar? At some middle-ish stage of our life, many of us find ourselves contemplating our journey—past, present, and future—in unsettling ways. According to Patricia Katz, a well-being strategist with expertise in midlife issues, “midlife malaise” is a very common experience. But it’s also—if we welcome it as a catalyst for renewal—a potentially exciting and revitalizing one.
New perspectives on the past …
Midlife dissatisfaction routinely involves longing for what once was (flawless skin? tireless libido?). Eliminating such longings might be impossible; however, we can minimize them by consciously appreciating what we’ve gained over decades of living.
What resources do you now have that your younger self lacked?
- Greater empathy or self-understanding, perhaps?
- Better problem-solving skills?
- Job security and disposable income?
Celebrate those assets and consider how they might further enrich your life.
Looking to the past can also trigger regrets—about paths not taken, or expectations not met. But here, too, we can adopt a more positive perspective. Katz encourages us to identify interests we may have “cast aside along the way” and to explore ways of (re)introducing those enthusiasms into our life.
While completing the fine arts degree you dropped in your twenties might no longer be feasible, could you …
- Work or volunteer for an arts organization?
- Take some continuing studies courses?
- Turn your lifelong passion for color into a regular activity, or even a business (as Katz herself did)?
As for unmet expectations about what our life “should” look like by the time we hit middle age, it’s helpful to remember that many of those widely held expectations stem from arbitrary historical and cultural forces. In other words, there is no natural law dictating that we must achieve certain goals by a certain age!
… and the future
Fears about the future—health, finances, happiness—are another source of midlife malaise. But brooding about the future (or the past) not only sabotages our enjoyment of the present but also undermines the pleasure we might take in anticipating several more decades of passionate and engaged living.
Precautionary measures, such as staying up to date on recommended health checks or working with a financial planner, can, in addition to their practical benefits, help tame our worries. Equally powerful are exciting and ambitious plans for the future. If you knew for certain that you still had many decades of vibrant health and financial security ahead of you, what would you do? Is anything stopping you? (Maybe that fine arts degree is feasible.)
Back to the present
An excellent way of responding to midlife stressors is to remain as centered as possible in the here and now. A wealth of research, including studies focused on midlife, highlights the wide-ranging benefits of mindfulness practices.
Whether it’s meditation or another activity that settles you in the present moment, such practices will boost your mood, reduce your stress, and very likely improve many aspects of your physical health, from cognitive flexibility to immune response.
Finally, if your midlife present seems bogged down in old routines—a phenomenon that, paradoxically, both bores us and heightens our sense of “time flying”—get creative with introducing novelty wherever you can. As Katz maintains, episodes of dullness are “a normal part of the ebb and flow of life,” and sometimes small tweaks are all that’s needed to rekindle our enthusiasm.
Exercise versus midlife blahs
Barry Petkau, a fitness trainer who specializes in third-age functional training, maintains that the most powerful reward of regular exercise for his clients in midlife and beyond is the transformative effects on mental well-being. In addition to its numerous physical benefits, exercise can improve our mood, lessen anxiety, reduce stress, and increase self-confidence.
Supporting a healthy midlife … and beyond
Many plant phytonutrients—such as allicin in aged garlic, resveratrol in grape skins, and curcumin in turmeric—have been found, in laboratory studies, to promote longevity.
Research also reveals that many of the fresh herbs in the Mediterranean diet may contribute to a low incidence of age-related conditions such as diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease. These herbs include oregano, rosemary, sage, and lavender.
Aromatherapeutic uses of essential oils from these same Mediterranean herbs, as well as oils from thyme, chamomile, marjoram, jasmine, orange, sandalwood, and rose, are being studied for their potential to improve memory and reduce stress.