By Douglas LaBier, Ph.D.
Created Nov 23 2011 - 5:15pm
That's how a man in his 50s described his life to me not long ago: "It's my long slide home."
He was feeling morose, anticipating the long holiday period from
Thanksgiving through the New Year and what he knew it would arouse in
him. I often see the "holiday blues" strike people during this time of
multiple holidays (Hanukkah and Christmas; as well as Ashurah, Bodhi Day, and Kwanzaa). The tendency to reflect and take stock of one's life often triggers sadness, regret, or depression -- especially during midlife.
example, this time of year can intensify feelings of losses you've
experienced as well as fears about change, in general. In a previous post
I described how you can become frozen into a mindset and perspective
that your life is fixed and will spiral downward from your middle years
onward. Such a mentality restricts your vision. You can't see that
it's possible - and necessary - to continue evolving your life, while
reframing your emotional attitudes about the life changes that will
continue to occur. I've always liked a line from one of Norman Mailer's
novels, "It is a law of life that one must grow, or else pay more for remaining the same."
of 78 million baby boomers, now in the thick of midlife, are vulnerable
to feeling demoralized about their lives. For some it's the classic
"midlife crisis." But for many, it's more of a chronic, low-grade
fever, reflecting a range of things: Loss of intimacy with their
partner, emotionally, sexually and intellectually. Regrets about what
they didn't do well enough in their parenting
of their children, who are now launched into their own adult
lives...and in an uncertain world. Unfulfilled creative longings for
their careers or for contributing to something more meaningful. A career
that's flatlined, or worse -- lost altogether. Physical changes or
limitations that accrue. The desire for deeper friendships as they feel
increasingly sporadic and elusive.
On top of all that are the
anxieties about what lies down the road for yourself and your children
in this world of economic instability, political polarization, the
specter of terrorism, and general unpredictability on all fronts of
life. It can be hard trying to maintain sanity (assuming you know what
that even looks like) while dealing with all this. It can make you
wonder what the point of it all is, as a midlife woman said to me: "It's been hitting home lately that I'm going to die, eventually, and all of a sudden nothing has any meaning, anymore."
course, there are people whose emotional conflicts predate midlife, or
for whom midlife issues trigger old conflicts that now erupt in the form
anxiety and other symptoms. But most don't fall in that category. For
the majority, their suffering is a product of having arrived at midlife
in our culture with socially conditioned attitudes about loss and change;
a mentality that doesn't allow for envisioning new possibilities within
the reality that now exists. Without that vision, there's no hope.
And without hope you can't learn what actions will support positive
growth in your life from this point forward.
especially ironic, because people are living longer, with extended
health and the potential for productive, energized lives. What we call
"midlife" is really an outmoded term that reflects an earlier era in
which you could expect to die in your 60s. But the mature adult years
now cover several decades in people's minds. For example, recent surveys find that about 80% think "old age" doesn't begin until around 85.
Here are a few evidence-based ideas that can help catapult you out of
the risk of suffering from midlife blues during this holiday period - or
any other time.
Continue Your Personal "Evolution"
Take note of the evidence that you can - and should - continue to evolve
within your lifetime, especially during the so-called middle years. By
then, you've accrued enough life experience to know what's worth going
after, and what's worth letting go of. In a previous post I pointed out
that your capacities for positive development -- emotionally,
intellectually, creatively, spiritually, physically, and in your
relationships - are actually heightened, but you have to know how to use
them. One example: Research finds that the brains of older people are not slower but rather wiser
than young brains. That is, older adults in the study achieved at
least an equivalent level of performance, based on that enhanced
Revise The Meaning Of Loss and Change
you probably call "loss" is the conventional emotional experience of
change, transition and the overall impermanence of life. It reflects
your desire to stay attached to and hold onto something that's ended or
evolved in a different direction. It may be a relationship, your growing
child, your physical state or some experience you once "had."
can be hard to see or open yourself to the other side of that coin:
that every "loss" contains a new experience to learn from and do
something with. That's your karma in action. For example, if you accept
that your son or daughter is no longer a young child, that opens the
door to a new challenge: building a different kind of relationship as he
or she grows and matures. You might not embrace that side of the coin
if you're fixed on the fear
and pain of letting go of what you've "lost." The key is to fully
absorb your emotional experience of whatever's changing or evolving --
including sadness or regret. But at the same time embrace and feel gratitude for what now exists in the life you have, at this moment in time. This shift of perspective can be helpful to you if you've suffered a career loss or downturn, as well.
Build A Sustainable Relationship
Studies of couples who are able to maintain a highly positive, energized connection for the long term find that they learn to "forget" themselves
and become more focused on serving the relationship itself. By
"forget" yourself I'm referring to conscious actions that serve and
support the relationship between the two of you, not just your own needs. That is, think of your relationship as a third entity, with a life of its own.
A woman in a 20-year marriage illustrated the difference when she said to her husband during a couples therapy session in my office, "I still love you, but I hate our relationship."
Psychological and social conditioning within our culture teaches us to
relate to intimate partners as commodities, and therefore engage with
them in transactional, mercantile terms: I give in order to get. I
"invest" in the relationship to receive a "return." Relationships have
become another part of a commercialized, consumer-orientation approach
At midlife, though, you have a greater opportunity to
break through this mentality and behavior. One reason is that you've
hopefully learned from some negative experiences in your relationship. Most people have some along the way. Also, it helps to note that research has found
that couples who are pretty materialistic have unhappier marriages than
couples who don't care as much about possessions. The effect holds true
across all levels of income. And a more materialistic orientation goes
hand-in-hand with the commercialized, commodity orientation to one's
partner. That's a good prescription for becoming unhappy roommates, at
Serve Something Greater Than Yourself
almost a cliché to engage in volunteer activity around holiday time -
and then forget about it the rest of the year. But providing service to
some problem - through your time, abilities and efforts - can generate renewed vitality and life purpose
during midlife. It can mitigate feelings of inner emptiness or absence
of real human connection. It stimulates more pro-active growth regarding
your values and life. Service to some issue or purpose larger than
yourself at midlife often triggers a strong yearning and action to
create more positive, authentic connections in your life. It can awaken
you to the reality that beneath surface differences, we're all one; all
organs of the same body, so to speak.
When you engage others who
have it worse off than yourself, it often leads to a healthier
perspective about your own life dilemmas or disappointments. That shift
of consciousness increases your flexibility in the face of ongoing life
changes, and contributes to your overall psychological health and resilience during the midlife years.
Blog: Progressive Impact
Website: Center for Progressive Development