The face you have at age 25 is the face God gave you, but the face you have after age 50 is the face you earned. – Cindy Crawford
A lot of research has been done to determine how the chemicals and connections in the brain make us feel what we feel. Results have shown that a few people at either extreme are born with brains that tend to keep them emotionally balanced and eternally optimistic like some of the world’s great historical figures, or continually unbalanced as in those who suffer from schizophrenia. Aside from the outliers at either end of the spectrum, most of us fall somewhere in the middle. Daily imperfections challenge our ability to stay positive and keep moving. Usually these annoyances are minor, and we make it to the end of the day feeling alright. However, over the years we can accumulate quite a large collection of hurt, of moments in time that add up and cause us to lose resilience.
With youth on your side it felt easier to imagine a future that included a life with few problems. You had physical and emotional energy to spare. Middle age was something that happened to other people. Then, as middle age sneaks up to tap on your shoulder you find yourself taking inventory of your life and not only is life not as you imagined, but worse you have more responsibility and less energy mixed into the equation. Laugh lines? Wrinkles? A few strands of gray? These can all be solved with products and services that are readily available. But what about the things that run a bit deeper? What if you wonder whether your marriage will ever improve? Do you question if you give enough time and love to your children? Do you ever think your life lacks in meaning or significance? Are you truly happy . . . or will you ever be? These are all questions and fears shared by many people at mid life. And if you have ever browsed the “self help” book section you already know that the answers are much more elusive than finding the right make up or hair color used to address the physical blemishes. So how do we address the emotional side of approaching our life’s crest?
1. Take control of the physical
One part of aging that is in your control is making your physical health a priority. Annual physicals that include bloodwork can identify myriad small issues such as vitamin deficiency, hormone imbalance, etc. that can be easily addressed and make a significant difference in how you feel day to day. Also, don’t overlook the obvious. If most of your meals are delivered through a drive up window, your daily exercise is limited to walking to and from your vehicle, and you smoke a pack a day, then it’s unreasonable to expect to feel healthy.
2. Take inventory of your priorities
Often when people have a hard time feeling their daily activities are meaningful it’s because what they are doing doesn’t match up to their priorities. Try this simple exercise: Create a list of your top five priorities in life, create a list of the five things you spend the most time doing, and then compare the two lists to see how well they fit together. If one of your priorities is good physical/emotional health and your second lists show that you sleep 8 hours per night, then these two match up very well. If spending quality time with your family made the priority list and the majority of time spent with your kids is driving them to and from school, practice, lessons, etc., then you will probably be left feeling disconnected.
3. Keep up with old friends and make new ones
One common tendency in the middle years is to get “too busy” for friendships. We are busy with careers, busy with kids, busy with responsibilities, and friendships that exist on a deeper more meaningful level take time and energy. However, if this isn’t on your priority list I would suggest you give it some consideration. I have seen many marriages pushed to the very edge because one or both spouses didn’t have a strong social support network of friends. This is because over time they had become more and more dependent on their spouse to be their only real friend. While it may sound romantic at first glance the reality is that this puts a tremendous amount of pressure on your spouse to be “everything” to you. As all people are imperfect this dynamic leads to disappointment and resentment. If your spouse is unavailable because of work, illness, or just a plain bad day, but you have friends to go to it’s not a big deal. When the same situation occurs without the benefit of a supportive friend network it can really cause hurt feelings. There are some things only a spouse can provide, and yes they should be your first person to turn to on just about everything, but making them your only to the extreme of not having friends will leave you feeling unbalanced and maybe even unloved at times.
4. Get connected to something bigger than yourself
For those who believe in God, whatever belief system you follow try to be more than a follower. Most churches offer ways for people to get involved, to learn, to teach, to serve, to really feel connected. If your church doesn’t, find a new one. If church isn’t your thing that’s fine. There are still plenty of community events and causes to join. Get out and run a 5k for something you feel passionate about. Volunteer one day per month at a food pantry. If they are old enough bring the kids along to participate. Doing something to benefit others is a great way to help your community. And on the personal side it will add significance and meaning to your life.
5. Talk about life with an objective professional
Find yourself a good counselor. Talking with your spouse, your family, and your friends is great. However, they just can’t fill the role of counselor the way someone outside of your situation can. Your counselor hasn’t heard your story before, hasn’t lived through it with you. This is why they can offer insights and perspectives that you haven’t yet considered. Many of my clients find that talking through a situation out loud, and without judgement can lead to new ideas, solutions to try, or even acceptance and peace. And unlike marriage, friendship, and other relationships the time investment is very small and the only demand put on you is to show up.
I hope this sparks some new ideas and offers a bit of motivation. If you have any questions or thoughts please share them. I would love to here from you.
Book Recommendation: The Purpose Driven Life, by Rick Warren