Because no one said being middle aged was going to be easy!
At our age, we’re supposed to have it all sorted.
We’ve been around long enough to know that we don’t need a man to put the bin out and fix a shelf. We’ve had time to accumulate a healthy bank balance (pity we spent it all!), and know we should be able to banish stress with nothing more than a yoga class, some deep breathing and a sound bath.
We’re not the ‘put up and shut up’ generation of middle-aged women who supposedly went before us: we’re independent and outspoken, blazing a trail into the future armed with all the answers, a bikini body and a cheerful grin.
Instead our roles are often stretched to breaking point as we’re sandwiched between tackling our teenagers’ traumas (or at least the ones they tell us about!), caring for ageing parents, coping with marriages that are breaking down or illness (either our own or for those we love). And all this in a whirlwind of work, whipping up a gluten-free cake for the book club and ordering new scatter cushions online because the dog just chewed the last lot.
It’s a maelstrom of wondering how to fund a replacement for the dodgy washing machine and a summer holiday when your pay packet isn’t what it was (send back the scatter cushions, for a start!), mixed in with the menopause, dodgy knees, and the fact that someone just told you that ‘you look good, for your age’ and considered it a compliment. Jeez.
So perhaps its time to rewrite the ‘high expectations’ script in which so many of us are drowning, not waving: let’s be nice to ourselves instead.
Stress is an inevitable part of all of our lives, and brushing it under the carpet only creates a feast for the house mites of despair to thrive upon.
According to Professor Cary Cooper, occupational health expert, the key to coping is to take control, build emotional strength, develop a good social network and adopt a positive outlook. And with that in mind, here are some great stress busters to help us out.
1. Be active.
You feel like running away for an hour or so? Now’s your chance – do it in trainers and a pair of leggings and no one will bat an eyelid. Exercise is proven to help alleviate mild depression and anxiety, lift your mood and build your self-esteem – so much so that you’ll soon be running marathons just for the mood enhancement.
2. Take Control.
Feeling out of control is a major cause of stress. By taking control back – with effective time management, realistic goal setting, and by prioritising tasks – you are far more likely to be able to tackle problems and consequently feel less wound up.
3. Connect with people.
Spending social time with friends is a great stress buster, particularly if you can get together and have a laugh (just don’t spend five hours in the kitchen beforehand preparing supper for everyone).
Talking things through with a trusted friend can also work wonders, particularly if they can help you to see a new perspective to your problems.
4. Make ‘me time’ a priority
In the UK we work the longest hours in Europe, and it’s easy to forget about ourselves when we all lead such busy, time-poor lives. But neglecting your mental health will impact on every one around you, not just yourself, so don’t feel guilty about prioritising time for socialising, relaxation and exercise.
5. Challenge yourself
Learning something new or challenging yourself to meet a fitness goal is absorbing, distracts you from stress and builds self-confidence. From learning to knit to trekking up Kilimanjaro, if you want to ensure maximum success then choose a challenge that pushes you out of your comfort zone, yet is attainable for the amount of time and resources you have.
6. Live healthy
Excessive drinking and smoking are merely crutches that can’t solve your problems and will only create new ones. Instead, arm yourself with a good diet, regular exercise and plenty of rest so that you are fighting fit and less susceptible to the effects of stress as a result.
7. Be positive
Focusing on moments of joy is an important way to build personal resilience and beat unhelpful thoughts. To kick start the process, at the end of each day try listing three things that went well, or for which you are grateful. It’s a simple but highly effective exercise to encourage a positive frame of mind.