Life after 40: Dealing with midlife crisis

Life begins at 40! Margaret Kiiza posted on her Facebook wall when she turned 40 last week. It is a line many use when they hit the 40 year mark. But it is also a stage in life synonymous with the dreaded mid life crisis- a situation of being unhappy, lonely and uncertain about life.
Research shows that working women experience a different midlife crisis from men. (Net photos)
Research shows that working women experience a different midlife crisis from men. (Net photos)

Life begins at 40! Margaret Kiiza posted on her Facebook wall when she turned 40 last week. It is a line many use when they hit the 40 year mark. But it is also a stage in life synonymous with the dreaded mid life crisis- a situation of being unhappy, lonely and uncertain about life.

Although the condition is known to affect both men and women, its magnitude varies from person to person.

Experts describe midlife crisis as a psychological and behavioral observation that commonly occurs in people between the ages of 40 to 65.

It manifests in different ways. Some people may experience feelings of depression, remorse and anxiety, while others may experience feelings such as the desire to achieve youthfulness or make drastic changes to their current lifestyle or atmosphere.

Dr Ian Shyaka, a general practitioner, explains that this stage of growth occurs mainly around the ages of 40 to 45 and lasts for around five years in women and as far as 10 years for men.

Shyaka notes that a mid-life crisis involves a combination of factors in one’s life, these can include; some pending difficulties from the past, dissatisfaction with the present achievements in one’s life, fear of the less opportunities in the future or,fear of ageing.

“Everyone reacts differently in this period of life. For some people, a sense of restlessness, depression, uselessness despite many positive achievements in their lives, and all these feelings aren’t attributed to any single specific cause,” Dr Shyaka says.

He adds that one may feel the urge to destroy what they have achieved in the past, may leave their jobs, break family ties and relationships in the process of trying to be the kind of person they feel they need to be, to lead a more contented and fulfilling life. Other people feel fearful about going past their youth years.

There is no exact cause of  midlife crisis, as the doctor explains, hence, it varies across individuals but the most common causes include; change in physical appearance as one ages, high cost of living, and above all, awareness of death as one ages.

Menopausal changes can also set in around this age and can aggravate a midlife crisis, he explains.

How to cope when midlife crisis strikes

Jackline Iribagiza, a Kigali-based counselor, says that women at this age are like young children and to help them with what they are going through, they need to have friends and family close to them.

Some women at this stage start comparing themselves to colleagues who are younger; they start to have more questions than answers and this can make them fall into depression.

Iribagiza says that to help women at this stage, friends and family need to be close to them.

 “Talk to them, take good care of them because neglecting them makes them feel lonely and this only worsens the situation.

She advises women to remain strong and be aware of this stage because understanding what they are going through will certainly help them cope with it.

“Women should maintain their attitude regardless of their age, they can join and be part of the church or volunteer groups. This can keep them occupied or better still, help them feel like they have a purpose,” she says.

The counselor points out that women at this stage tend to experience certain marital problems like tension in the relationship,or disagreements with their children, and this doesn’t make it any easier for them.The most important thing, Iribagiza says, is to show them love and care.

Dr Shyaka also suggests that counseling and confronting challenges head on helps in overcoming this situation.

Assessing oneself and identifying the positives achieved, taking good care of oneself and self-love, coupled with acceptance of the challenges faced in this stage of life, will give a better outcome, Shyaka adds.

“One can cope with all these midlife crisis challenges in various ways such as reassessing one’s life at that stage and focusing on the positives achieved in life, and doing all  they can to protect what they have built up to that point by restraining from any ideas that would lead to its destruction.”

Dr Shyaka also says that a mid-life crisis can provide tremendous opportunities for personal growth and positive change; therefore, one can use this opportunity to plan and tackle that stage with wisdom, maturity and self-confidence; something that could have been distinctly lacking in earlier life.

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Severe and constant depression is a common sign of a midlife crisis. 

Is it a crisis or a quest for identity?

In her article, What A Female Mid-Life Crisis Looks Like, Marcia Reynolds says that working women experience a different midlife crisis more than men.

She wrote that, in the past, the major shift in identity that women faced was the transition from mother to freedom. Now the career-minded woman’s life path more closely resembles a man’s, shifting aspirations with the turn of each decade of their lives. Yet the reasons for the shifts differ for women.

Women now enter the workplace with high expectations of career advancement. Many in their 20’s say, “I want to be CEO” then face the reality of having to live in the trenches for a while before they can rise up.

As they enter their 30’s and their career focus narrows, this is where their development splits off from men. As they cope with the ongoing inequality in the workplace, their disappointments of dreams unmet, by the time they enter their 40’s, many lose their taste for proving themselves.

“A woman from my research went from being a celebrated marine biologist to an international sales executive to a management consultant and is currently raising her daughter and contemplating her next career move. She told me she was taught to always raise her hand. Now in her 40’s, she is questioning what she is raising her hand for,” Reynolds wrote.

This quest might even endure into their 50’s and 60’s as circumstances change and desires surface. It is possible that women without careers go through significant explorations each decade as well.

“If you are questioning what is next for your career and possibly, your life, this is a great time to talk to friends who might be going through a similar experience. There is no need to tough it out on your own.”

How can women deal with a midlife crisis?

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Scovia Karungi

Women at this stage face a lot of changes be it with their marriage, physical appearance and, the bond with their children. For one to take in all this, they need to have people close to them. Friends are so helpful at this stage since some can be going through the same course in their own lives.

Scovia Karungi, housewife

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Penina Umutesi

A woman struggling with midlife crisis needs to be shown much love and care and, she needs her family more than anything. When it comes to bad cases, like falling into serious depression, I think counseling sessions can be of help.

Penina Umutesi, administrative assistant

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Mukampazimaka

I think women need to be aware of this stage, should it happen, because some of us experienced the signs related to this condition but we never knew what it was really. I think a little bit of sensitisation on the subject can help because knowing what you are dealing with can be an advantage.

Adella Mukampazimaka, shop attendant

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Sarah Mbabazi

Some women who go through this tend to feel depressed about their direction in life, mainly because they can’t change much. But I think women should maintain a positive attitude and carry on with their lives, set goals, and this will help them feel like they have a purpose in life.

Sarah Mbabazi, stylist

 

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