Coping With The Just-Turned-40 Crisis

Just because there's no officially-recognized term for it, doesn't mean the struggle isn't real. But there are strategies for working through it.
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Original artwork by Rosie Bowker

Original artwork by Rosie Bowker

There's the quarter-life crisis. The mid-life crisis. And then, there's the unnamed crisis we seem to hit around age 40. It's a new one that I want to talk about today, because if you're anything like me and my friends and my friends' friends, you're either in it or about to be.

Here is what I have (sort of) figured out: we women spend our 20s and 30s building our careers, our families, our marriages and our friendships. A lot of work, a lot of effort, and a lot of heart goes into all of it – with good reason.

And then right around now, at the cusp of 40 or just past it, we finally have a minute to sit back and breathe and look at building ourselves. The career is established, the kids are thriving, the marriage is trucking along...it's time for me (or it's time for you, in your case).

But a lot of us don't like what we see.

Raise your hand if you are going through any of the following:

You don't want to work anymore. Retirement is a million or so years away, and you're already fed up with working. You've been at it forever (or it feels that way), you don't know if you even like what you're doing, and every day, you dream about becoming a candle maker, a bakery owner, a therapist...anything else. Or if you're like me, you want to simplify everything (because who needs money and clients anyways?) and move to a mountaintop in Vermont and just walk your dog and read.

You have babies on the brain. Maybe you're struggling with whether or not you want to have any, or any more. Maybe you're upset you never had one. Maybe yours have grown up so much that you are turning to your puppy for the unconditional love you still crave – guilty as charged. You realize that there is a hormonal pressure unlike other milestones at 40, so suddenly, there is this intense focus on your body and your mind to make that final call or to make peace with the call you already made.

Your friendships are evolving. You're in a new phase of life now. First, you wanted someone to socialize with – to grab cocktails with, to travel with, to have brunch with on Sundays. Then, you wanted someone to keep you afloat as you navigated motherhood, marriage and work schedules – someone to cheer you on and to drink wine with you when the cheering stopped. Now, you want more. You are looking for meaningful conversation; thoughtful, intelligent engagement; a true connection that thrives beyond happy hour. And maybe you're sad because you're not finding it where you thought you would.

You are aging, and it scares the shit out of you. Yesterday, I twisted my knee doing a jumping jack, put on four different oils and serums to reduce fine lines and found like 14 new gray hairs. In one day. You're eating better than you ever have, making exercise a priority and taking all those vitamins that everyone keeps telling you about, but you're still aging…at what feels like a rapid pace. You're not sleeping well, you're not losing weight and let's not even talk about your period...it's like you are a teenager again, and you may or may not kill your husband in a PMS fit one of these months. (Emphasis on the "may.")

You are stuck in the middle. Caring for your kids and your parents at the same time is no joke. Mine are all well and healthy and more than able, and I still find it draining to be mindful of everyone's needs and time and attention every day. I still add their to-dos to my own list. I still worry in the middle of the night about what lies ahead for all of us. I still have to give considerable thought, each and every day, to the quality of my relationships with everyone in my family to make sure I am giving enough. Being enough. Doing enough.

Hands raised? I thought so.

And I wish could give you a ton of advice on how to navigate it all – how to find your perfect vocation and more energy and the best conversations you've ever had with your girlfriends. Yes, I can give you tips on a few things that have worked for me. But what I really want to say to you, even more than that, is that you're not alone.

Every single day, a good friend comes to me to vent about one or more of these things, or a multitude of other things that all stem from the same place. We're all in a very similar phase, tainted with insecurity and emotion and maybe even a slight depression...and it's perfectly normal. It's common, even, and probably not talked about the way it should be.

There's no official term for this stage (around here we like to refer to it as "The Fold") that we can mentally and physically fall back on. There is no one really paying attention to our needs during this transition, because we've checked off all the boxes we were supposed to along the way, so we must be just fine, right? We have the baby, the house, the job, the travel budget...whatever it is that you accomplished from busting your butt.

But maybe we need more. Want more. Dream of more. And I'm just here to tell you that it's okay to feel that. And to recognize it. And to, in your own way, go after it.

In the meantime, here are a few tips to minimize the 40-year-old crisis:

1. Drink a little less. A nightly glass of wine may have gotten you through the past two decades, but it might be nice to skip it a few nights per week and see what happens. 

2. Exercise a little more. You don't have to kill yourself in bootcamp if it's not your thing, but maybe walking is, or yoga, or kickboxing circuit training (which I just randomly discovered and love). Explore and experiment with new, enjoyable ways of moving your body. 

3. Unplug more. I know it's so cliche, but I have to include it, because we just don't do it. We say we will, and we don't. Get off social media when you can. Talk to your kids and your parents and your friends more. Read. Go outside. Breathe. Alone. In a quiet room. 

4. Make a budget. Take a real hard look at your monthly expenses and goals for the future, and figure out what you can tweak when it comes to career and money-making. Maybe it's working less. Maybe it's starting a side hustle doing something you love. Maybe it's working more, but with a clear new goal in mind that helps motivate you through your days. And then, do not be afraid to make the change accordingly. Change is not your enemy – it is your friend. It's one of my best friends, actually. 

5. Track your cycle. If yours is anything like mine right now, it's intense. Tracking it helps me recognize when PMS is headed my way or why I may feel insanely bloated one day or so exhausted I can't wake up on another. It also helps me warn my husband, because he needs it. 

6. Ditch the guilt. It's been around long enough now. You don't have to feel bad for not doing enough or for failing at something or for someone else's issues. We're too old for that now. We have serums to worry about. Don't cook for the bake sale. Don't take on that new account. Don't feel bad that you ate the bread. 

7. Do something for yourself every day. Reflexology is a new favorite self-care tactic of mine. Buying a book is always good. A pedicure. A workout. A blog post. Ten minutes in the car by yourself, listening to your favorite song on repeat. A cookie. Every day. Just one thing.

8. Speak up. This post is my way of doing it – not just for me, but hopefully for you as well. Tell a friend or your mom or your husband what's on your mind. Ask for advice. Ask for reassurance. Ask them if they feel the same. It may feel like it doesn't lead anywhere, but I promise you it will – if not because of them, because of you. And that alone makes it worth it.    

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