NOTE: The question below reached us through our “online hotline” button which lets anyone send a question to a local counselor at Ozark Guidance — in a completely anonymous way. The email comes in with no email address and no identifying information. We set it up this way so women would feel free to write about anything on their mind.
I’ve always heard jokes about people having a mid-life crisis. Now I’m wondering if I’m having one. I turned 41 a few months ago and I keep feeling periods of overwhelming dissatisfaction and sometimes sadness. I’m married with kids and there’s nothing in particular that’s going wrong, but I keep feeling like the best parts of my life are already behind me. Then I feel guilty for thinking this way because I know other people have “real problems.” Is a mid-life crisis a real thing? Is this what I’m having? What can I do to get over it?
Thank you for submitting your situation. I think your question has the potential to interest many readers because most people reaching your age may feel this way at times. Thoughts and feelings can range anywhere along the continuum from pride and satisfaction to resentment and despair.
So, in short, yes, a mid-life crisis is an actual phenomenon that your letter appears to be describing as happening to you — at least in part. So how does a person “…get over it?” Realizing that every person is a unique individual, not knowing a great deal that is specific about you, and that there is no perfect answer that would satisfy every reader, I’ll offer these brief tips:
1) Truly appreciate what you have.
2) Be more in the present moment and practice acceptance.
3) Think about living a value-driven life.
Let’s look at truly appreciating what you have. Ever hear of unfavorable comparisons? For example, one unfavorable comparison could be the 41 year old you comparing yourself (presumably physically) to the 26-ish year old you (or whatever age you feel was near your peak physical abilities). Another could be comparing your assets to “the Jones’” next door and the everlasting attempts to keep up. It sounds like you could benefit from a greater sense of inner contentment. While many would like to think about how things were or the various decisions they’ve made and come away with a smile, many come away with feelings similar to yours. This can occur when we think of lost opportunities or comparing where we are with others who appear to be more successful. It’s more beneficial to think about and appreciate those things that we have versus longing for things we think we want. This aspect of living ties in with another aspect called acceptance.
Be more in the present moment and practice acceptance. Being “mindful” refers to having complete awareness of the present moment while remaining non-judgmental — to fully experience what is happening around and to you by accepting your experience versus trying to manipulate things to give yourself a feeling that agrees with how you think the experience should feel.
For example, in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, developed by Steven C. Hayes, PhD., he uses a metaphor (one of many) about a person (let’s name her Tina) inviting her entire family over to her place for a party. I will paraphrase here in the spirit of brevity, but all of Tina’s family shows up for the party, except Aunt Ida, who arrives later. Aunt Ida is known to complain about most everything, provides everyone with insults, and thanks no one for anything.
Tina’s choice, as she watches Aunt Ida’s car pull up to her place, is to allow her Aunt to come in or try to keep her out. Remember, Tina invited her entire family! She can block her Aunt from entering, but that would keep Tina at the door, not enjoying her party, and disrupt the party goers who are wondering what Tina’s doing at the front door. Tina’s night would appear to be ruined. So, Tina can attempt to keep Aunt Ida out OR she can accept the fact that Aunt Ida has arrived, welcome her, show her to food and drink, and then go and enjoy the party as planned. Accepting Aunt Ida’s arrival allows Tina the freedom to do what’s important to her and what she wanted to do in the first place — spend time with the family. This brings me to the final tip — living a valued-driven life.
Living a value-driven life means engaging in those things that you value, those things that are important to you. For example, if being close to family is something you value, then keeping in touch frequently, visiting frequently, and sharing your experiences and feelings with your family members is meaningful to you. If you follow through with these actions, this part of your life would presumably be fulfilled. Conversely, if being close to family is something you value, and you are not able to see them often or at all, not able to share meaningful time with them, you will probably not be satisfied with this aspect of your living. Value-driven living is not obtaining a goal; it is a way of living.
In sum, by truly appreciating all you have, being in the present moment and accepting your experience, and living a value-driven life, you have the opportunity to live a more fulfilling and happy life. However, if your thoughts and feelings continue to develop into feelings of overwhelming dissatisfaction, sadness, and guilt, please consider seeking out a mental health professional (MHP) in your community. It was my pleasure to respond to your concern.
Therapists at Ozark Guidance would be happy to answer your questions and read what’s on your mind. Click the butterfly icon below to fill out an anonymous submission form with your question or concern. The form contains NO identifying information and is designed to give local women an online place to share concerns with a person qualified to offer feedback.
Disclaimer: This RESPONSE does not provide medical advice It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on nwaMotherlode or Ozark Guidance websites.