Many people between the ages of 40 and 65 begin to see many changes appear in their lives, including certain challenges and stresses. Among times of happiness can arise life-changing circumstances. And, having to cope with the daily grind of life always presents various trials too.
Authors Annette Thomas, Ellen Mitchell, and Nancy Woods published a study – “The Seattle Midlife Women’s Health Study” – in Women’s Midlife Health. 1 In the study, the authors found five themes that point to some of the challenges women face from ages 40 to 65. A total of 81 women took part in the study, and were asked to answer, “Since you have been in our study (since 1990 or 1991), what has been the most challenging part of life for you?” In taking part, women tracked their lives for up to 23 years. This long period of time allowed the study’s authors to really examine the changes faced by the participants.
Combining work with life
This piece looks at the second general theme that emerged from the study: re-balancing work and one’s personal life.
But let’s not just think of balancing work with life, but making work part of life. Work shouldn’t be isolated, nor should we pretend it’s not part of life; it should be woven into life. That’s not to say that work should take over our lives, not whatsoever, it’s just about recognizing that work is part of what we do. What we take from work can improve other parts of life too.
Work challenges confronting middle age women
For now, let’s look at the study and see what it found. In relation to employment and life, women described many different stresses that occurred throughout the time of the study:
- Work-related stress
- Lack of work or unemployment
- Change of career direction/change of job
- Finding a job with health benefits (note this was an American study, so this aspect is probably more of a concern for Americans than Canadians)
Interestingly, only 3 of the 81 women in the study identified work as the most strenuous part of their midlife experiences.
So how can you learn to deal with work-related stress?
Addressing work-related stress
The American Psychological Association wrote a great piece2 that provides advice for dealing with work-related stress. Here are a few of the tips they offered:
1). Write notes after a stressful situation. By doing so, you can reflect back on what created the stress, and how you addressed it.
2). Avoid too much caffeine, alcohol, fast food/junk food as ways to cope with stress. These will only do more harm than good. Instead, get some exercise, be it stretching, going for a walk or jog, or whatever else. Listening to music, reading or other mental activities can help as well.
3). Make sure you create boundaries for yourself. It’s okay to value your work, but don’t feel bad for “unplugging” for some quiet time. Emails, phone messages etc. can wait.
4). Learn some relaxation techniques. These may include meditation, deep breathing, and developing mindfulness. Instant results aren’t expected while doing these things, especially with mindfulness and meditation. But, over time, you can start to deal with stress in a more calming way, without getting too fretful.
5). Get support from family, friends, coworkers, or anyone else who you trust. It’s so vital that people know they’re not alone, especially in a world where things seem to be going astray.
Work is not the “bad guy”
Work can be stressful, but it doesn’t have to be the enemy. Indeed, many people take pride in their jobs or careers, as they should. The way we look at work can really alter our relationship with it. By seeing it as part of life, not just something we have to do, can have a positive impact. We can claim our work in a way that doesn’t define us, but makes us proud to do what we do. By taking time for self-care as we work, and building a supportive network, we can take work and continue to grow ourselves, at any time.
Mitchell, Thomas, and Woods, Women’s Midlife Health, The challenges of midlife women: themes from the Seattle midlife Women’s health study, June 15, 2018. https://womensmidlifehealthjournal.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s40695-018-0039-9
American Psychological Association, Coping with stress at work, October 14, 2018. https://www.apa.org/topics/healthy-workplaces/work-stress