‘What are the most challenging experiences for midlife women?’ they asked.
‘Balance,’ came back the chorus.
If you’re a midlife woman who feels she’s wading through the seven circles of hell – with the thermostat turned up to 1,000 degrees – you are not alone.
Maybe you weren’t aware of that. Here’s why…
Women are highly trained to perform to the ‘everything is all right’ school of public persona. My mother was. I expect her mother was. I know I was and frequently slip into that, ‘everything’s great’ performance when people ask me how I am.
For many of us, our time in our social circles – when we can find the time to escape – are largely spent perpetuating the ‘everything is all right’ myth. Work is great. The family are great. The house is great… It becomes a mantra.
A mantra that’s a lie.
Because here’s a truth, according to research recently published in the United States. Women in their midlife are the most over-stressed, over-stretched, over-relied-upon adult female demographic.
Younger women have no idea what’s coming (and why would they, because we’re running around doing jazz-hands) and older women have us to rely on (more jazz hands – yay).
Midlife women are so overwhelmed the word ‘menopause’ rarely gets mentioned as a major stress factor. Strange, you might think, considering the 40-65 age group are experiencing major physical change, peri-menopause, menopause or trying to adjust to post-menopause life and all that brings physically, psychologically and socially.
But no. Menopause and her two sisters Peri and Post, were not cited as major factors by the group. So either these Midlifers have become so disconnected from their bodies that what’s going on with it doesn’t register or they are battling with much greater external stress factors. Night sweats and brain fog hardly register on the ‘what fresh hell is this?’ scale. Maybe a blend of the two?
Researchers in Seattle have been watching the world of midlife women for years, focusing on women age 40 to 65 and the challenges that present during the menopause years, whether they be biological, psychological or social.
‘What are the most challenging experiences for midlife women?’ they asked.
‘Balance.’ Came back the chorus.
Midlife women wear multiple hats: wife/lover, mother, worker, home manager, carer to aging parent and sometimes grandkids too.
And then we sit at the perfect point where unravelling begins to unfurl – health issues, failing relationships, death, children leaving home.
Dealing with any of those events, or frequently multiples of them, would be bad enough, but there’s the time-sucking, energy-leaching cabaret going on as the stage set for the dramas that unfurl.
So what can you do to get more balance?
Be ok with being vulnerable
Stop pretending everything is all right. Put down the jazz hands and talk to someone. A therapist. A friend. A neighbour you see facing the same or similar issues. As a culture we’re becoming increasingly isolated. Our work is less social and we talk less, looking at something ironically called ‘social media’ more. Loneliness is endemic. Reach out and keep reaching out.
The solution to your problems is not doing more
It’s easy to do more of the same, I get it. It’s familiar. But it is not solving your problems. It’s stoking the fire. Your body needs rest. Rest. REST. Rest can be a yoga class. Pick one that’s restorative and supportive, check it out before you go. Remember; balance is key.
Understand your mental health is a priority
You are no use to anyone if you run yourself into the ground and wind up sobbing in bed. You have to take action and that action is going to get uncomfortable because you need to take care of you first. Not someone else’s crisis. Yours. Because here’s a shocker, no one else will.
Eating and drinking junk will not help you in the long term. Eating real food (the stuff that grows) will. Food that’s got vitamins and minerals in it, the protein that your body needs to help build healthy cells, create energy, balance your brain’s chemistry. More real stuff, less processed stuff.
Look at who you spend your time with
There’s a saying, that you are the average of the five people you spend most time with. If the people you’re constantly with aren’t adding to your life, change that circle to include people who lift you up.
Feed your mind
Read what inspires you, not what depresses you. Look for books by women you admire, or fiction with strong female characters who make you smile. Who you can relate to. Here’s three I love just now, featuringwomen who hold strong and are not ‘pleasers’:
Jayne Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gayle Honeyman
Dare to dream
This is the planning time; according to other cultures this midlife time is where we consider what ‘the big work’ is going to be. It can be. If you carve out the time for it. You have the wisdom now. You’ve seen enough as an adult to know what’s right. In your heart and mind. When you’re walking, lying in bed at night not sleeping, think about your big dreams. Where would you like to be in five years time? Let your imagination run riot. No problems from today’s stress maelstrom. What could that look like? Daydream like you did as a kid. Where would you be? Who would you be with? What would you feel? Put some flesh on the bones of your ideas.
If you’ve got questions about any of the above, fire them into the questions below. Or message me. I’ll help where I can.
And if you’ve got great ideas for inspirational books, do share those. Books are inspiration magic we can all enjoy.
Image by: Victor Rodvang at Unsplash
Ever felt burned out? Sucked dry of ideas for your work?
My career path has taken many twists and turns over the years. And once or twice I’ve stumbled into the desert of depletion.
Perhaps you have too – or will do by the time you reach your Fifties and beyond without seeking to protect your creative mind as well as your body.
Ageing is a beautiful thing. Wisdom, patience and a strategic canniness for the long game are all strengths that come with career experience and maturity.
But get a creative hobby and you’ll develop superpowers that protect you from burnout, like invisible armour.
Why? Because you’ll develop anti-burnout skills and train your mind with regular, powerful exercises that create resilience, familiarise flow and immerse you in mindfulness exercises where you regularly step through fear and experience vulnerability.
Want some of that?
But if you’re holding back because your first thought is ‘I can’t draw… I don’t have an artistic bone in my body, I’m not good enough to…’
You are missing the point.
It’s not about what you create. It’s about the process of creating. Think about that. It’s about the process. it’s not about the result, which you are already judging before you’ve even tried! It’s about the path to the result.
I come from a family where creativity is fully expressed.
My grandfather was a cooper – making wooden barrels from slats so tightly bound you could carry liquids without losing a drop. It was a craft that died in his lifetime and so he completed his working days cutting aluminium but he made furniture for us while I was a child and he built me a magnificent dolls house. He also drew, specialising in roses.
My mother worked in a bank, mostly working on the tills and helping people better invest their savings. But her passion was creating clothes and occasionally her colleagues would pay her to whip up a vogue pattern creation. Even my English teacher had dresses by Barbara and she still creates the occasional, but beautifully tailored jacket for herself, when the occasion calls her as she approaches her 80th year. She also paints and draws.
I draw too. Unlike those two, I am not good at drawing. I did not somehow inherit their ‘talent’ but I know if I keep at it, I will get better. On Thursday nights I go to life drawing, a two hour battle with my attempts to recreate what I see on paper.
It is hard. And I mean like grandmaster chess hard. Drawing the human form makes your brain jump hoops like you can’t imagine. And then sketching to the clock – the drawing equivalent of speed chess!
What it teaches you is to let go; let go of your perfectionism. Let go of fear. Let go of excuses. You jump and you jump fully, expecting to see something less than perfect at the end. And that is all part of the magic.
But there is more! Oh yes, hobbies are the gifts that keep on giving.
It’s been proven that a creative past time, that has NOTHING to do with your job, builds creative muscle and resilience. In these places bright sparks ignite, moments of ‘flow’ are experienced and they build and build and, with any luck, spill over into your working life too.
I love my creative non-work life so much I’ve taken up pottery. A passion from childhood. And I love that too. Mostly my creations have been exercises in the craft, although the odd pot has been a pleasant surprise. And now I’m learning to throw on the wheel, an extraordinary experience in using your hands as sensing, creative tools. The power of your touch. How you draw up the clay. A completely different way of ‘knowing’ and just try not being in the ‘Now’ when you’re drawing up clay.
But do not do what every entrepreneur suddenly gets the urge to do. Monetarise it. That, my dear reader, is the equivalent of cutting off the unicorn’s horn, cutting Aslan’s mane, biting the hand that is feeding you.
The well of creativity, the pool of beautiful, magical ideas lies in the space where you find time making. Not in the object itself.
It’s in the journey, not the destination. A bit like Life.
Photo by Kristopher Roller
‘There is no friend as loyal as a book,’ Ernest Hemingway.
Here’s a shocking piece of knowledge for you: you can buy book reviews.
Perhaps you’re not shocked. Perhaps you’re wise to this and you’re rolling your eyes at my apparent naivety.
But for me, this was a ‘have they no shame?’ moment. ‘Books are sacred’, I protest. ‘Don’t pollute the book world. But no, cynical sales leveraging is everywhere.
Apparently, if you look on freelance sourcing sites you can employ people to write reviews for your book. Which they may or may not have read, and flood bookselling sites like Amazon with glittering praise you’ve paid for.
So in the spirit of pushing back the ‘know and trust’ tide, I’m taking a little time to recommend three books I read last year which are worth reading, will give you better insight into mental health and might just change your life for the better.
The Joyous Body: Myths and Stories of the Wise Woman by Clarisa Pinkola Estes
This is the third in the series of four books exploring female archetypes by this extraordinary psychoanalyst who specialises in post-trauma recovery. For any woman past the first flush of womanhood and wise enough to know she’s now being sold a pup by a youth-obsessed culture, this book will be salve to your ears. Masterfully weavng myth, wise words, metaphor and truth into a womanifesto for claiming back power, every woman over 40 should take power from this book.
I have the audio, which is a wonder as the author has a beautifully soothing voice. And she has a podcast, I’ve just discovered. More manna.
Essentialism by Greg McKeown
Everyone I know who has read this book is a raving fan. If you’re stretched too thin, facing burn out, sick of your own patterns of overwhelm, read this book. It’s a keeper. You’ll come back over and over again. Yes, here are one or two moments when you realise he’s missed the point (the Concorde argument comes to mind) but this book is more than 90 per cent gold.
Conscious Living by Gay Hendricks
I read the Big Leap first, which is really about helping you understand why improving your lot can freak you out and is useful, but Conscious Living is a game changer. Here’s a man unafraid of being authentic. In a filter-obsessed world, Gay Hendricks is an elixir in the 21st century with an easy to digest guide to living life. In this book he tells his own story, his own mistakes and his journey to becoming a counsellor and Stamford professor.
I’ve read many more books, but these are the best of my 2018 list. Many have been good, but would I, on reflection, pass on the baton? I enjoyed Johann Hari’s Lost Connections, and well written and researched though it may be, controversial and confrontational though it most certainly is, it doesn’t make my top three. Nor does Russell Brand’s Recovery. Maybe I’m just a little long in the tooth for brash young men who can’t resist waving their egos about with a ‘look at me, mummy’ sadness. Maybe you love them, millions do and they undoubtedly have views to add to the mental health debate.
So there are my top three from last year’s book pile. Which are yours? Which books were your rescue? I’d love to hear.
Feeling low? Feeling anxious? Caught up in looping thoughts, none of which make you glad to be here right now?
We may know the answer to our misery is to get out and ‘move it’, but our mind is set on ‘meh’.
Our bodies are designed to move, leap, bound about and live – with a capital L.
Unfortunately, depression and anxiety prefer the opposite. Sitting in, on the sofa, wrapped in a duvet, consuming ice cream/crisps/haribo (pick your poison, or combination) like it’s going out of fashion, caught up in our own fears, unable to sleep properly… Couch to 5k may as well be Couch to Mars…
So where to start? Certainly a Rapid Transformational Therapy (RTT) session on taking action is ideal for getting you out the door, blinking into the daylight, and shaking your backside with an enthusiasm you can scarcely recall.
Out there you’ll find four friends, who haven’t been coming around for a while. They are:
These four guys are like the four musketeers – they’re all for one and one for you. They are the ‘feel good’ hormones. Want to feel better? Go find them. And the best way to create feel good hormones? Make your own. Naturally.
Here is probably the easiest start. Top up your dopamine to the brim. Dopamine is the neurotransmitter that helps control the pleasure and reward centres in our brains.
- Laugh. Put on your favourite funny DVD, rewatch comedy classics, listen to comedians until you weep with laughter. Laughter is a well-researched pain killer which is also said to stimulate regions of the brain that trigger dopamine. For me, Laurel and Hardy’s Laughing Gravy lifts the darkest mood. And it’s got the cutest dog. The cutest dog that ever lived. Don’t believe me? Watch it. I dare you not to laugh.
- Set goals. Easy ones. Like getting off the sofa and having a shower. Celebrate this achievement. Seriously. It’s the striving to achieve that triggers the dopamine. Set goals you can meet and cheer yourself on. Dopamine rising. Yes; go you!
- Massage. Lowering stress hormones and creating dopamine, massage is a worthwhile investment, because it also stimulates your next best friend – serotonin.
OK, we’re going to have to leave the sofa now, but serotonin is worth the effort. You’ll get: better sleep, your appetite should normalise and this mood-improving hormone can help you feel that elusive of moods – happy. Want happy? Step outside because…
- Sunlight is one of the best sources of vitamin D and serotonin needs this vitamin to synthesise. This is just one of the reasons why the winter months feel so gloomy (that and the cold and the wind and the rain and the central heating sucking the air dry and… I’m not a winter fan) but you don’t need a lot of daylight, just enough to feel the sunlight on your face and forearms (if you can bear to roll up your sleeves).
- Walking – daily exercise boosts this hormone and just a brisk walk will do wonders. Remember; goals met boost dopamine, so let’s get out and cheer ourselves on.
- Foods that are rich in tryptophan are said to be good for boosting serotonin. These include: eggs, pineapple, tofu, salmon, nuts and seeds, plus turkey.
These are the anxiety-busters with painkilling power and a calming effect. What’s not to like? Here’s how you wake them up.
- Exercise – doesn’t need to be full pelt, a 30-minute walk is going to help, but…
- Sweat, even if you slip straight into the sauna or steam room, is going to trigger the production of endorphins as stress melts from your muscles
- Chillis are a welcome addition to meals if you enjoy spice as once capsicum hits your tongue it sends a signal to the brain that’s similar to a pain signal, triggering endorphins
If ‘love is the drug’ oxytocin is certainly the hormone at play. It’s stimulated by intimacy and that can be through:
- Massage. Yes, up again as a top feel good hormone starter tool. Along with serotonin and dopamine, oxytocin is stimulated by massage.
- Hugs. Research reports differ on how many we need to feel tip-top but it’s certainly more than two daily and as many as12 if you want to thrive, according to family therapist, Virginia Satir.
- Pets really do make us feel better. Cuddling up with your cat or playing with a dog can improve oxytocin levels.
Starting to get overwhelm? If this is looking like a lot of effort you don’t have, think multitask: deciding you’re going to make a start and celebrating your decision to take action, taking a 30 minute brisk walk in daylight and stopping to pet friendly looking dogs, and you’re working on all four. Eggs for breakfast, hug your nearest and dearest when you greet them and get a massage once a month… these are all going to help you heal you.
Because here’s the truth: you are your own rescue. I can help you take those steps but you are the one who takes action. And that is, ultimately, the most empowering thing I can tell you.
You are your own rescue. You have the power.
It’s Mental Health Awareness Week here in the UK (May 14-20).
Seven days where we focus on talking more about our mental health and hopefully shine as bright a light as possible on it until people talk about their mental health issues just as they would chat about a shoulder injury or their arthritis.
Because we still don’t, do we?
So I thought I’d start Mental Health Awareness Week by asking you to share who has inspired you. Who do you admire? Whether they are a leader in mental health wellness or someone who champions open conversation about mental health… let’s celebrate their greatness.
For me, and goodness knows there are many people I admire, one woman stands out. Carrie Fisher. I just thought her brave, intelligent honesty and openness was so articulate. And now she’s gone. And that’s so sad.
There was an article in the Guardian magazine a couple of years ago where she talks about how her relationship with Harrison Ford began. She was in the UK, working on Star Wars, with all these older men and they introduced her to alcohol. It was that evening, muzzy-headed with drink, that the affair began. She was still a teenager. He was 15 years older than her.
Something about her vulnerability in that moment and her pragmatism about how she viewed her situation.. in some ways it broke my heart. In some ways I admired how she rebuffed victimhood. She was such a badass. I mean, she’s Princess Leia.
So who’s your mental health inspiration? Let’s celebrate their greatness. Names and whys in the comments below… I’d love to hear.
Mental health is the elephant in the room of our wellbeing, one that fades in and out of view.
It’s always there, it’s just that sometimes it’s invisible. Like when everything’s going great – then, you can’t see Mental Health Elephant, can you?
But when all is not so good we start to catch sight of it, out of the corner of our eye.
As our issues snowball Mental Health Elephant starts to materialise. It stops hiding in corners.
And when all is very bad, Mental Health Elephant sits on our chest, glaring fiercely at us, looking pretty terrifying.
Some people get crushed. Literally.
One of the ironies of good mental health is we know it’s important, but we don’t prioritise it.
Even though one in four of us will find our mental health impacting on our wellbeing, for employers health and safety seems to mostly focus on where the fire exits are and who’s a first aider. Pound to a penny the first aiders know how to dress a head wound, but not how to handle a colleague sobbing hysterically in the loo.
Even though 25% of us will be effected – and according to the charity, Mind, that’s every year a quarter of the population find their mental health straining at the seams… we don’t like talking about it.
And because we don’t talk about it we don’t know what to do when our mental health starts to fall apart.
We might go to see our GP, we might even get referred for counselling straight away. But if the GP is unsympathetic, or so stressed themselves their reactions make us feel worse, it doesn’t occur to us to seek help somewhere else. If our first counsellor isn’t connecting with us we presume there’s something wrong with us.
Mental health professionals and the therapies they practice vary enormously. Unfortunately, by the time people seek professional help Mental Health Elephant is very much in view. It’s blocking our view of the big picture.
In some ways going to therapy is like going on holiday; just because you don’t like the first one you try, it doesn’t mean they’re not for you.
If you went on holiday and it was ok but the climate didn’t suit you, the food upset your stomach and you didn’t like the hotel, you wouldn’t throw your hands up and say ‘Well that’s it, I’m never going on holiday again. Holidays don’t work for me.’
You’d try a different formula. Maybe you went walking in Scotland when a beach holiday in the South of France would suit you better. Maybe you like the beach, but you love tapas… so you’d look at Spain.
But because we don’t talk about mental health, we don’t know our options or understand the therapies that are out there.
I trained in Rapid Transformational Therapy (RTT) because I found its impact instant, the insights incredibly powerful and the experience continued to give for me. RTT may not be a fit for you, just as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) suits some people, but not everyone. Everyone has choice. Discovering that there is always choice, that seems to be news to people. And, of course, when our mental health is less than great, it’s difficult to take control when you’re being told one choice is your hope.
This week I attended an event at UK Fast, quite broadly titled Entrepreneurs and Mental Health.
Entrepreneurs do face unique mental health challenges. Working for yourself is, of course, more isolating than in a large organisation. Although as some of you all recognise, feeling isolated in a crowded office is just as lonely a feeling, if not more so.
Speaker after speaker took to the stage, bravely telling how they reached crisis, their tipping points and their experience of the care they found, or didn’t.
Several channelled their energy into helping others, including comedian and writer, Jake Mills. Jake’s despair took him to a suicide attempt. His Hub of Hope is a first of its kind national database of mental health advice and support.
Jake’s database – available as an Apple app, or through a website – finds you the mental health care support in your area. Or someone to talk to. Instantly. You can just type in your postcode… and watch your elephant start to fade again.
Please share, Hub of Hope could save a life.