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What Middle-Aged Women Struggle With Most

How to find a silver lining in midlife.

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Mental load
Sarah Anne Ward (Prop and Wardrobe Stylist: Anna Lemi)
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Years ago it became clear to many of us who are mothers, while we were drowning in the depths of taking care of little people, that frequently moms are responsible for the bulk of child-rearing and carry the mental burden that comes along with it. This “mental load of motherhood” includes the never-ending to-do lists in our heads, plus all the minutiae of managing a home, a marriage, a job and the very scheduled lives of our children.

Picture having the largest and craziest variety of internet tabs constantly open in your mind, like details about an important project at work, open next to a tab about a kid’s dentist appointment, next to one about an enchilada recipe you want to try, and on and on.

Thankfully, all the childcare-related tabs start to close as our kids mature and move away, and by age 50, we’re more settled in our career and perhaps able to delegate more duties. But just as we begin to feel relief, an entirely new emotional weight befalls us, and unfortunately this load may be heavier than anything we’ve carried before.

I’m talking about the new worries that naturally come with aging, related to our health and longevity and that of our spouses — and if we’re lucky enough to have parents still alive, how and who will be managing their health and long-term care. Along with making sure our aging parents are well taken care of (and possibly overseeing their finances, moving them closer to us, cleaning out their homes, all while working happily with siblings on this), we’re often also helping kids take their first steps into working adulthood.

Welcome to the sandwich generation, when we find ourselves squished between the launching of children out of the nest while simultaneously bringing aging parents back into it, ultimately replacing the work (and worry) of caring for one generation with the caring for another.

As if all that wasn’t enough, added to the basket of middle-age woes may be questions such as: Do I have adequate retirement savings? Should I be doing more meaningful things with the second half my life? Could I change careers at my age? Will my empty nest feel lonely, and will my marriage survive it? How does one start dating again at this age?

It makes those long-ago days worrying about nap times and soccer games not seem so bad, right? But carrying the mental load of middle age doesn’t have be overwhelming. Coping with the emotional heaviness of this season of life is 100 percent doable.

We already have most of the emotional tools to deal with it. Not so sure? Amy Morin has some tips that may help. A licensed clinical social worker, she’s a host for The Verywell Mind Podcast and the author of several books, among them 13 Things Mentally Strong Women Don’t Do.

First, Morin says to ask for help. This is something many women have always found difficult, but most of our female friends are rowing the same “worry boat,” so why not work together? It’s way past time to make believe all is well at this age and that ”50 Is Just Fabulous.” The next time you’re with friends, strike up a conversation about the major life changes happening to everyone, and the ways to help and support one another.

Morin also suggests we set up a specific time of day and a set duration for when we focus on our mental load. She states, “It sounds ridiculous on the surface, but research shows it works. Set aside 15 minutes a day to worry. When you catch yourself worrying outside of that time, remind yourself that it’s not time to worry yet. With practice, you can train your brain to contain your worrying to a small portion of the day.”

Finally, Morin stresses that self-care has to be a priority. We’re the middle of the “sandwich” now, full of stuff that’s meant to sustain everyone around it, so a piece of wilted lettuce (or our burned-out emotional health) will no longer cut it. For a bunch of inventive, distinctive self-care tips you haven't heard a million times before, go here.

Morin’s three seemingly simple tips — asking for help, setting up specific worry times, and finding sufficient self-care and rejuvenation activities — can be the beginning of a more carefree middle age.

What do YOU do for self-care when feeling the weight of the world on your shoulders? Let us know in the comments below. 

Follow Article Topics: Health