Aging Gracefully

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Mid-Life Transition

“Mid-life is when many people begin to experience breakdowns of the body. It needn’t be that way – if you follow a healthy lifestyle in order to protect your body’s healing system and maintain optimum health as you age.” — Dr. Andrew Weil

“Mid-life transition” is something that happens to many of us at some point during life (usually at about 40, give or take 20 years). It is a natural process and it is a normal part of maturing.

Mid-life can raise issues such as:

  • Discontent with life or the lifestyle that may have provided happiness for many years
  • Boredom with things/people that have held great interest and dominated your life
  • Feeling adventurous and wanting to do something completely different
  • Questioning the meaning of life, and the validity of decisions clearly and easily made years before
  • Confusion about who you are, or where your life is going

Middle age is a time in which adults take on new responsibilities at the workplace and therefore, people of this age often feel a need to ‘reappraise previous life structures with an eye to making revisions ‘while there is still time’ (Huyck, 1997). Canadian psychologist Elliot Jaques, who wrote an article in 1965 titled “Death and the Mid-life Crisis” for the International Journal of Psycho Analysis, coined the term “mid-life crisis” in reference to a time when adults realize their own mortality and how much time they may have left in their lives.

The mid-life transition or crisis can also be approached using a Myers-Briggs personality model stemming from the works of Carl Jung. The stages are as follows:
1. Accommodation – presenting ourselves as different people in different situations, called “personae”
2. Separation – taking off the masks or personae we wear in different situations and assessing who we are under the masks; rejecting your personae, even if only temporarily, and feeling largely uncertain about who you are
3. Reintegration – feeling more certain of who you are and adopting more appropriate personae
4. Individuation – recognizing and integrating the conflicts that exist within us, and achieving a balance between them
Small nagging doubts may appear, perhaps followed by a series of dramatic, apparently irrational events leading up to great change. During it all, men and women ask themselves questions such as: Is this all there is? Am I a failure?

Symptoms and behaviors during mid-life crisis can range from mild to severe, including:

  • Boredom and exhaustion, or frantic energy
  • Self-questioning
  • Daydreaming
  • Irritability, unexpected anger
  • Acting on alcohol, drug, food or other compulsions
  • Greatly decreased or increased sexual desire
  • Sexual affairs, especially with someone much younger
  • Greatly decreased or increased ambition

Coping with mid-life crisis takes time and energy, but it can help you find greater satisfaction and pleasure in life. The symptoms are not physically based: you can maintain an active sex life, keep your body in shape, and enjoy yourself as you mature. Below are some tips for middle-aged adults focusing on healthy lifestyles.

Explore and accept your feelings; allow yourself to reflect about your life on a regular basis; devote extra time to your partner or spouse to rekindle your relationship; set new goals; discover new hobbies; travel; volunteer; devote special time to your children; take care of your mental health – join a group or seek out a therapist if necessary.

Exercise can help you take charge of your health and maintain the level of fitness necessary for an active, independent lifestyle. Many people think that as we age, we tend to slow down and do less; that physical decline is an inevitable consequence of aging. For the most part, this is not true. Much of the physical frailty attributed to aging is actually the result of inactivity, disease or poor nutrition. But the good news is that many problems can be helped or even reversed by improving lifestyle behaviors. One of the major benefits of regular physical activity is protection against coronary heart disease. Physical activity also provides some protection against other chronic diseases such as adult-onset diabetes, arthritis, hypertension, certain cancers, osteoporosis and depression. In addition, research has proven that exercise can ease tension and reduce the amount of stress you feel. To put it simply – exercise is one of the best things you can do for your health.

No matter what your age, a balanced, nutritious diet is essential to good health. Older adults need to eat a balanced diet with foods from all the food groups. Eating a variety of foods helps ensure adequate levels of vitamins and minerals in the body. The U.S. Dietary Guidelines also recommend that adults reduce the fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium and sugar in the foods they eat.

Some adults find they gain weight as they age. This is generally due to overeating and inactivity. If you are overweight, the best way to lose body fat is to eat fewer calories, especially from saturated fats, and to participate in aerobic exercise. Did you know that an excess of only l00 calories a day can cause a l0-pound gain in a year, and those extra calories can be burned up by a 20 to 30 minute brisk daily walk?

Sleep and rest are great rejuvenators. As you grow older, your sleep patterns and need for sleep may change. Be sure to include rest periods in your daily exercise program, especially if you sleep fewer than eight hours each night. Exercise can help relieve problems with insomnia, too. Mild exercise a few hours before bed or during the day helps many people get a restful night’s sleep.

Information courtesy of Psychology Today.

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