Ah, the milestone birthday and all its marvelous fallout. As those round numbers approach – 50, 60 70, our thoughts turn to “What am I supposed to do now?” For instance, as my 50th approached, my brain went berserk with this sort of nonsense:
“Do I have to throw out all my jeans and purchase more ‘age appropriate’ items?”
“Maybe I need to grow my hair long again.”
“You know what I need? A sports car. ”
“Is this what I want to do for the rest of my career?”
“What DO I want to do?”
“The average lifespan for women is 81? I can’t afford to live to 81!” Which then leads to –
“Is playing the lottery a viable retirement plan?” and “How much are kidneys going for these days?”
And the biggest brain-drain of all – “WHAT HAVE I DONE WITH MY LIFE?!”
I am “barely 50,” but quite a few of these crazy thoughts and questions continue to pop up. Mostly at night, written in capital letters on the inside of my eyelids.
Turns out, women 50 and over are particularly prone to these panic-inducing thoughts. Georgia Foster, a London-based clinical therapist who specializes in anxiety was quoted in the Daily Mail as saying, “It’s often assumed women in their 50s and 60s will be financially stable, happy with their professional achievements and content to slow down, but in truth, this age group are expected to work longer and harder, and for those who don’t have a healthy pension there is fear about the future.”
In addition to financial worry, you can toss in the health issues that become more prevalent, the empty nests, caring for aging parents while sometimes still raising children, and the dreaded menopause – night sweats, weight gain, mood swings and a libido that throws up its hands and walks out on you. It’s the perfect storm that can take a once vibrant and intelligent woman and transform her into a trembling, jelly-like mass of nerves.
So what’s a girl to do? Other than refill her prescription for Valium? Some of our thoughts (once you get past the crazy and into what you’re really worried about) are helpful in forming goal-oriented behavior. Read this article by Dr. Jena Field about embracing your inner critic. She tells us that even our most destructive inner voice is trying to help us. (Although the voice could learn better timing than the moment your head hits the pillow.) We’ve also covered some great ideas for coping with your role as a caregiver and options for managing everything from night sweats to that elusive sex drive.
There is the opportunity in all this milestone birthday questioning that comes with being “barely 50” to ask yourself something more important than whether or not you should take up hang gliding. Maybe what you are really wanting is to step outside your comfort zone. That inner voice could be prodding to make sure you have really LIVED, and lived well. Have you scared yourself lately? Felt a rush of adrenaline from something other than that moment last week when you thought you lost your wallet?
Not everyone can pick up and take off on a trip around the world or whatever else is on their bucket list. Some are lucky to be able to find an hour to grocery shop, or relax in a bath. You may be worried about finances, or your health, or your children. As we get older, we get wiser, and what sometimes passes as wisdom is our ridiculous brain looking too far down the road and scaring us with the shadows of things to come. But at 50, we should have learned that life is always changing. The struggle you have today won’t always be the struggle you have. And somewhere out there is a person who would trade your troubles for theirs in a heartbeat.
These milestone birthday moments we celebrate bring us together with family and friends. They give us a moment to reflect over the past year. (Or even the past decade.) Those faces you see around you, too well-lit by the candle flames on your cake… do you see those faces enough? Have you really talked with them? Do they know what they mean to you? Say something now.
Now, here are a few things to consider when the panic of looking ahead or behind sets in:
Stop comparing your life to others.
Count your blessings. You have more than you think.
Call a financial planner. Seriously.
Grow your hair out, or shave it off, but don’t do either because of your age.
Consider what you want to do next professionally that will make you happy and draw up a plan of action.
Get moving. You’d be surprised how much better you’ll feel if you are getting even a little exercise.
Get out of yourself. Call a friend. Drop off a note for a neighbor. Volunteer to answer phones, stuff envelopes, or hand out water at a charity walk or run. Sometimes “me time” is (ironically) giving yourself a break from thinking too much about yourself.
I hope I can remember that when barely milestone birthday 6-0 strikes and the urge to buy a Harley kicks in.
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