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Perhaps you feel a sense of anti-climax; weren’t you supposed to have gained wisdom and understanding by now? Instead you feel more confused than ever. Events just, sort of, happened, and now here you are, slap bang in the middle of your life, wondering what on earth you are supposed to do next.
All you really want is to be given a second chance. Craving the giddy excitement of youth is understandable at this age, but you must try to resist the urge to wallow in nostalgia or seek solace in fleeting, adolescent pleasures.
The midlife crisis usually hits us between the ages of 35 and 50. It’s often triggered by profound events – the death of a parent, for instance – and the sudden, horrifying realisation you are moving inexorably towards the departure lounge.
Typically, we are struck by an overwhelming sense of alienation and disconnect. Life continues around us and yet we feel strangely locked out. Emotionally, we are all over the place, furiously railing against the injustices of the world one minute, sobbing uncontrollably about who knows what the next. We may become irascible, impatient, unpredictable and distant around people we love. The fear that at any moment some awful, debilitating disease might strike us down stalks every ache and pain. We lie awake trying to imagine the manner of our passing: will it be swift and painless or years of nursing-home indignity?
Throwing caution to the wind, we make extravagant plans. Some will buy a sports car and head out on the open road. Others will jack in their boring day job and focus on the magnum opus they have been meaning to write for 20 years.
Plenty of us will have affairs with younger women. Or we hit 40 and decide our spouse no longer understands us and the kids are holding us back. Yearning to be free, we move out of the marital home and try to forge a new and better life.
We might be pushing 50, but in our heads and hearts we still feel 25. You might suddenly lose your hair or your hearing or both. Your eyesight will certainly start to deteriorate and you will keep losing your glasses, which you will eventually find perched on top of your balding pate.
These are just some of the indignities that befall us as we hobble into our forties and fifties. The crisis itself can creep up on you over a number of years or hit you like a train the moment you turn 35. Either way, you will make it through in the end. And once you emerge on the other side, you will start to realise ageing isn’t quite as terrifying as you feared. In fact, it could be the making of you.
When you hit middle age, your body starts to change. Joints, muscles and skin all lose their suppleness and your memory might start to fade. Some of us will even
suffer from menopausal-like symptoms. Up until relatively recently it was assumed men were immune from the “change of life” endured by middle-aged women. But according to Dr Marion Gluck, a world pioneer in bioidentical hormones, the “andro- pause” or “manopause” should be taken seriously. Changing hormone levels in middle age can leave us feeling achy, tired and irritable. If you suffer from sudden mood swings or struggle to concentrate at work, this could be a sign your testosterone levels have dropped. You may experience a sudden loss of sex drive or wake up each morning with a sense of foreboding, unable to lift your head from the pillow, let alone embrace the challenges of the day ahead.
If so, ask your GP to check your hormone levels. Hormones regulate virtually every function in the body, so it’s important not to underestimate their significance to physical and mental well-being.
Beating middle age rage:
As you hit your middle years, you might start to feel alienated from the modern world. Everything is changing around you and yet you seem to be standing still. You no longer identify with modern fashions and musical tastes; the young seem shallow and ill informed. The world no longer makes any sense.
You want to yell out, but no one is listening. Indignities pile up as your looks begin to fade and women stop noticing you. The sudden realisation that you are nearer the end of life than the beginning can come as a nasty wake-up call.
Fear and helplessness slowly turn to rage; you start to blame the people closest to you, endangering your marriage and tainting friendships. Your mental and physical health may start to suffer.
Most heart attacks occur in middle age as stress levels grow and blood pressure rises. Anger can creep up on us for all sorts of reasons and in many different ways. If you are one of those people who explode at the slightest provocation, you will need to take a step back. The most important thing to do when you feel the red mist descend is to stop, take a deep breath and look at the bigger picture. When you feel that familiar tightening of the chest or fluttering in the stomach, ask yourself, will it matter in five minutes? If not, let it go.
So much of the irritation we feel stems from the unfulfilled promise of middle age, a place where clarity was supposed to burst forth and make sense of our lives. Instead of arriving at that longed-for place of peace, many midlifers find themselves trapped in emotional turmoil.
Once you learn to control your anger you will be much better equipped to deal with life’s disappointments.
How to avoid depression, boredom and hopelessness:
Middle age can make us lazy – either we lose our spark and can’t be bothered any more, or we slip into comfortable routines and then feel trapped. We might start to lose touch with friends, preferring instead to stay in and watch TV.
Some of us become flabby, obtuse and disengaged. In short, we give up trying and become just another resentful old bore.
If this sounds familiar, then you need to wake up. The middle years simply don’t have to be like this.
Remember, your quest for meaning goes on and should take you through every age of life. Just because you have settled down doesn’t mean you should give up. Look around you – there is still so much more to do and see; so many more books to read, places to visit, languages to learn.
If your children are grown up, you might want to think about reconnecting with your half-forgotten pre-dad self. How have you changed? Do you still have the same interests? How about making contact with all the friends you lost touch with during those hectic first years of fatherhood?
Once you’ve become reacquainted with the old you, bring the focus back to your partner. Raising children will have changed their outlook too, so you may find you have drifted apart without even realising it. With a bit of effort, your relationship can take on a brand-new lease of life.
Life suddenly seems to speed up in middle age but try not to let the passing of time trouble you too much. Middle life brings a fair amount of anxiety and regret as you watch the days and months hurtle by. There will be times, often during birthdays and New Year celebrations, when you look back wistfully at your life and wonder what might have been – this is normal. We all feel we could have done things differently if only we’d had more time. That is life’s tragedy. Stay fit, take pride and watch your alcohol intake: You can’t live a meaningful life if you are constantly worrying about your health. In middle age the body starts to slow down, so you need to be extra vigilant.
Rise early and enjoy the wonders of a dawn sunrise; avoid fizzy drinks and junk food; when you wake up, drink a large glass of water (room temperature) with lemon and ginger or turmeric powder; stay rehydrated by drinking at least eight glasses of water a day; your first meal should be 30 to 45 minutes after you wake up; don’t eat too late – you’ll sleep better if you have supper before 7pm; if you drink coffee, take it black (or with almond milk), without sugar and after breakfast; and sleep six to eight hours.
As metabolic rates start to decrease you might begin to put on weight, so for the sake of your health and appearance remember to take regular exercise and don’t overeat. Your partner will certainly appreciate your efforts and remember that she will also be going through some physical changes.
And make sure you have a full MOT and blood test at least once a year. According to Public Health England, heart disease, stroke, cancer and respiratory disease are the leading causes of death in men over 50.
Ask your GP to test for testicular and prostate cancer too. In middle age, drinking to excess often makes us feel more morose than elated. Even in small measures, alcohol can cause depression, anxiety and irritability. As such, you may want to adapt your consumption accordingly, or better still give up completely.
Becoming teetotal is often much easier than we think, the body adapts remarkably quickly. Without alcohol turning your brain to mush, your life will improve no end – you’ll be able to think more clearly and get many more things done. Finally, pluck rogue eyebrows, nasal and ear hair; get your hair cut at least every three months; and dress age appropriately – you don’t want to start dressing like an old man but, equally, you should avoid trying to keep up with the kids.
Create a man cave:
Many of us need a space in which to potter and peruse. If you can’t afford a shed or don’t have your own garden, dedicate a spare bedroom or corner of the house just for you. Think of it as a calming refuge away from the stress of everyday life.
Make the space as welcoming as you can; decorate it with beloved objects, install a decent sound system and some low lighting. Set up a workspace and a relaxation area if there is room and keep your den sacred and exclusive to you.
● Extracted from The Seven Ages Of Man: How To Live A Meaningful Life by James Innes-Smith (Constable, £16.99). For free UK delivery, call Express Bookshop on 01872 562310 or order via www.expressbookshop.co.uk
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