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Published on May 17, 2022

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Managing Mental Health During Midlife and Beyond

Fifty is the new 40 and soon that will probably change, too. After all, what is middle age anymore?

Just look to TV to realize the change. The “Golden Girls” were the same age as the women in “And Just Like That …” but you’d be hard-pressed to find many other similarities.

Women are doing more — job, family, friends, fun, caring for aging parents. They’re also twice as likely to use antidepressants, according to data from the National Center for Health Statistics. Add hormonal changes that start midlife and challenges can add up.

“At midlife, women face a gamut of happy as well as difficult milestones,” said Nancy Wise-Vander Lee, PhD, LP, psychologist at Avera Medical Group Behavioral Health Clinic. “It takes a toll on their energy, confidence and perspective on the future.”

The Business of Midlife

Brené Brown calls this less of a crisis and more of a slow unraveling when your mind starts telling you, “All of this pretending and performing — these coping mechanisms that you’ve developed to protect yourself from feeling inadequate and getting hurt — has to go. Your armor is preventing you from growing into your gifts.”

She continues, “It seems as if we spend the first half of our lives shutting down feelings to stop the hurt and the second half trying to open everything back up to heal the hurt.”

In other words, it’s a time when people start realizing the courage to be their true selves and run after their passions.

“As we age, it’s important to discover what really matters to you, which often includes pouring into and loving others," said Rebecca Hanzen, health coach with Avera Medical Group Functional and Integrative Medicine.

You may be disappointed in some things:

  • You didn’t pursue your passion
  • You didn’t take that risk
  • Your marriage feels stagnant
  • Broken family dynamics
  • Addictions that hurt various areas of your life
  • Poor health habits

When negative emotions linger and aren’t challenged, there runs a risk of a midlife crisis, when impulsive decisions might devastate finances, families and futures.

Remember, you’ve had good moments, smiles, laughter and victories. And here’s another positive: you can create a mindset and lifestyle to help you live your life gracefully.

What Is Aging Gracefully?

Aging gracefully means vitality and health. It’s a mindset that keeps on giving. You, your family and those around you blossom and benefit. Perhaps in the past, change, discord and setbacks stirred those negative emotions mentioned before.

However, when you practice infusing grace into every day, especially into life’s painful moments, you realize that every difficulty is an opportunity, every broken relationship is a chance to love, every setback is a growing opportunity.

“You realize you’re no longer helpless or hopeless,” said Hanzen. “In fact, you find there’s so much hope and possibility that can come to fruition in your life.”

How to Start Finding Your Joy

You have the power to find your joy, and sometimes it starts by looking in the mirror.

“Finding your joy and your purpose begins by accepting yourself right where you are,” said Wise-Vander Lee. “Life has thrown many obstacles at you, and even though you managed them the best you could, it leaves scars.”

Some of the most prominent mental health conditions Wise-Vander Lee sees are depression and anxiety in women who are stretched thin from the demands of life. Sorting through the pain you’re carrying, especially with the help of a professional, can help you move forward in freedom.

“As you heal from unfinished pain, you start to focus on creating another chapter in your life that is beautiful and rewarding,” said Wise-Vander Lee.

You learn how to recalibrate yourself to discover what’s important to you and how you want to cultivate those areas in life — because the best of you delivers the best to those around you. You might even find a way to assist others who are going through trials you once experienced.

Tips to Enhance Mental Health

Managing mental health means practicing wellness that is within your power. Hanzen believes it starts from the decisions we make day to day that promote overall wellness.

“A person is made up of a body, mind and spirit,” said Hanzen. “Because the composition of a person is so entwined, you often can’t treat one part without treating or affecting another part.”

Here are some self-care tips recommended by Hanzen and Wise-Vander Lee:

  1. Eat healthy. Reduce sugar, alcohol and other inflammatory foods.
  2. Exercise. Sunshine and movement boost endorphins, while sitting around inside can make you feel lethargic.
  3. Manage stress. Eliminate unnecessary tasks from your life, as overwhelm can lead to drastic, regrettable decisions. Say “no” gracefully (but consider saying “yes” another time).
  4. Practice mindfulness techniques. Deep breathing or tensing and relaxing muscles can alleviate tension in the moment.
  5. Get quality sleep. Good sleep is non-negotiable when it comes to mental health; deep REM sleep physically heals your mind. There’s a reason they call it “beauty sleep,” too!
  6. Focus on gratitude. Choose to be grateful for blessings and learning experiences, especially when situations tempt you to think negatively.
  7. Approach difficulties with grace. Life goes fast, so when tough things come, process them slowly. This gives you a chance to reframe your mind.
  8. Meditate and pray. Getting alone in a quiet place helps you to refocus your thoughts and heart.
  9. Have faith. Establish a relationship with your higher power, your source, God, who gives you your life-fulfilling purpose. Surrender your difficulties to the will of your higher power.
  10. Give. Mental self-care doesn’t just involve yourself, but also giving to others. Serving others invites a deep sense of joy, satisfaction and purpose in life.

Consider Talking About Your Challenges

Life changes or mental health concerns may need more than self-care. You have options when you want to talk to someone.

Find a behavioral health expert. If you have insurance coverage, it may be covered through an Employee Assistance Program (EAP).

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