Middle years


So much is happening at midlife. Often you really are in the middle – in the middle of lots of changes; A changing body, menopausal changes, changing thoughts about work, changing relationships and a sense that you are not sure what happened to the time. Things feel like they are different to before and it is often a time when you ask: “What do I want to do with the rest of my life? I want to make sure I get the next few years right.” And for some this can be worrying and unsettling.

Is this you? Are you worried because it seems like you have so many different roles, you are juggling so many balls in the air and you are close to dropping a few too many of them?

LEARN Consider the different stories and images below, listen to a podcast or watch the video. 

THINK Then, to understand more about what causes worry you can explore the different social, psychological and physical causes that can increase worry. In this section you will find questions to ask yourself about each cause to see if it affects you.

DO Once you have explored the causes of your worry then it is time to do something. Go to the ‘Toolkit’ to find a range of different tools to help you try and reduce worry.

View the causes of Worry for Middle years

Do you relate to these?

“After thirty, a body has a mind of its own.”
Bette Midler

someecards.com - I've been overthinking about otherthinking again.

I can’t help thinking of menopause in the way people describe storms – driving rain, wild winds, hailstones, lightning, thunder – and it’s all inside me! 

Questions for self:

Dye hair again?

Diet/lap band/give up?

Is my 15 year old drinking?

What if I don’t get promoted?

Do I still love him/her/them?

Is there an envelope in the universe that does not contain a bill?

Why are all of the police so young?

someecards.com - The doctor said I needed to start drinking more wine. Also, I'm calling myself

Causes of worry for Middle years

What happens

Some personalities are more prone to worrying - you might be a bit of a perfectionist, yet midlife is a time when your inner perfectionist may be really challenged. You can have a lot of changes and demands going on such as responding to aging parents and growing teenagers or changing work roles. It can feel like your ability to complete tasks and get things done to any standard has completely disappeared. The hormonal changes of menopause are often unpredictable and may well increase your sense of things seeming a bit out of control.

Questions to ask yourself

Is it in my make-up to be a worrier?

How much do I like things to be perfect?

How much control do I like to feel I have over my life?

How much do I worry that I am losing control because of all the changes that seem to be happening in my life?

What happens

When you focus on your appearance, all the little changes of growing older – the pull of gravity on your skin and breasts, the lines of laughter, sun and worry around your eyes and mouth can add up to one big worry.  

With menopause your body shape will change and fat starts to move up from your hips to around your stomach area.  

Some days you feel invisible, some days are good and some days you wonder - who is the middle aged woman staring at you from the mirror.

Questions to ask yourself

How much do I worry about how my body looks?

How much do I worry about being invisible to others?

What does ‘growing old gracefully’ mean to me?

What happens

Unhelpful thinking can create a cycle of tension and unease. For example before giving a speech you think - “I am going to make a fool of myself”, and then you sense the tension in your body - then you think - “People will think I am boring and might walk out”, and then the tension increases. This in turn causes more worry and the cycle continues until you have given your speech and then the worry leaves you. If you were to avoid giving the speech your worry is more likely to return or grow bigger the next time you have to give a speech in public.

Questions to ask yourself

What thoughts trigger feelings of worry?

Are these thoughts distorted or faulty?

What is the evidence to support my thoughts?

What is the worst thing that could happen? How likely is this?

What happens

If you experienced abuse, neglect or harm growing up, or violence in your close relationships this can cause you to be vulnerable to worry. Any kind of abuse such as emotional, mental or physical can cause you to worry about dangerous or risky situations in different ways than others who have not had these experiences. You may react more strongly to criticism, worry that others do not like or value you and that your thoughts or feelings are not important.

Questions to ask yourself

Has maltreatment or violence caused me to be more vulnerable to worry?

What happens

You might have started to worry less about what people think of you but you may also be coping with a sense you now have different views to Gen Y and Gen Z at home and in the workplace. This can make you feel your thoughts and opinions aren’t judged to be as relevant as they used to be. You may begin worrying that people are not taking your thoughts and viewpoint as seriously as they used to, or they don’t value what you have to say.

Questions to ask yourself

How much do I worry what others think of me?

How do I feel when people don’t appear to listen to what I have to say?

How valued do I feel?

What happens

When you hit midlife you can find the ways you used to cope with worries don’t work as well anymore. Perhaps you used to just push through your feelings, or perhaps you increased your activity or went and had coffee with friends. If your ways of coping aren’t working as well as they used to, worries can be more troubling and harder to forget.

Questions to ask yourself

Do the ways I usually cope with worries still work?

Do I need to change the ways I cope when I am worried? If so, in what way?

Do I need new ways of coping with worries and the daily hassles of life?

What happens

Having roles that give you meaning are important to your mental and emotional health. You might be a friend, a mother, a sister, a volunteer, a worker… there are many roles you may have in life. Sometimes these roles are given to you and at other times you choose the roles you have. If you feel good about your roles it is easier to not worry so much. At midlife, some roles may begin shifting for instance from daughter to carer for a parent; from rising star to part of the furniture at work or from carefree to a bit worn, to brand new roles.

Questions to ask yourself

What roles and sense of purpose do I have?

Do I worry about any of the roles I have? If so, how much do I worry?

How positive do I feel about the roles I have?

Social causes →
What happens

Problems with your family can include lots of things as midlife is a time of big change. It might be your parents are getting older and more reliant on you, or you have lost a parent, or both parents. Perhaps your relationship with a sibling is changing. You might be busy with your children, or your children are busy with their own lives or they are teenagers and your relationship is changing. Perhaps you don’t have children and midlife is a reminder you won’t have your own children. Relationship changes can happen also. Midlife can be a time of reassessment - some women can question whether they want to be with their current partner for the next 30-40 years? All of these things can be unsettling and make you worry more.

Questions to ask yourself

Are there family problems that cause me to be stressed and worried?

Have there been changes to my family that I am worried about? If so, what are these changes?

Am I worried about the relationship with my children (if relevant)?

Am I worried about not having children?

How much am I worried about my relationship?

What happens

Friends can accept you for all that you are and sometimes they can make you feel you are not good enough. This happens at every age and stage of your life. Midlife can be a busy time and perhaps you are not able to spend as much time with your friends as you would like. Their lives may be changing as well and you may worry about them also. As you get older, friendships may change and perhaps you worry about finding opportunities to make new friends.

Questions to ask yourself

Do I feel accepted by my friends?

Who accepts or does not accept me?

How much do I worry that my relationship with friends is changing?

How much do I worry about having opportunities to make new friends?

What happens

The many changes that can occur at midlife can be worrying if you are someone who finds change stressful.

If you have friends or family with a serious illness or suffer the death of someone you love, then the worry and distress may be strong.

Questions to ask yourself

How do I feel about change?

How do I usually cope with change?

Have I experienced any stressful or difficult events recently?

What happens

Having people to talk to when you need support is one of the most important ways to feel good about yourself. This might be friends, family, people in groups you belong to, or the people you mix with where you work. As you grow older some supports change, perhaps because your circumstances have changed, you have moved, changed jobs, or perhaps through illness. Losing reliable support networks can negatively impact on your mental and emotional health. Perhaps you worry more about who will be there to support you when you may need it.

Questions to ask yourself

Do I have friends, family or people I trust who can be there for me?

Who do I have that I can turn to if I need to?

Have people who I turn to for support moved on, or are they still there for me?

What happens

How much you worry about money will depend on your financial situation. At midlife there can be a lot of expenses and at the same time you are being told you need to save for your future, or if you are near retirement, the end of your working life. Money can be a lifelong worry but at midlife you really are in the middle of it all - you can feel stressed by the need to cover present expenses and uneasy about providing for the future.

Questions to ask yourself

How much am I worried about money?

Am I worried about being able to afford today’s living costs?

Am I worried about providing money for my future living costs?

Community causes →
What happens

The community in which you live is important to your mental health. Feeling there are places to go, ways to get there and things to do can help you to feel connected to your community and that you belong somewhere. If you move to a new community you may worry about finding your way around, and finding the same type of services you are used to.

Questions to ask yourself

How do I feel about the community where I live?

How connected and do I feel that I belong in my community?

If you have moved - Can I find the same services I had where I used to live?

What happens

You can feel more vulnerable and less safe in your community or you worry about the safety of your parents or children or other people you care for. This might be physically, such as feeling more vulnerable to a physical attack, or emotionally vulnerable to being exploited or ripped off.

Questions to ask yourself

How safe do I feel in my community?

How much do I worry about myself or someone I love being physically attacked?

How much do I worry that I, or someone I love, may be ripped off or exploited?

What happens

Work can provide a source of worries such as

  • how much you like your job
  • how safe and secure you feel in your job
  • how flexible your workplace is so you can meet other commitments
  • how demanding your job is of your time and energy
  • how much the politics and gossiping of a workplace affects you
Questions to ask yourself

Am I worried by my work?

Do I feel secure in my job?

How supported do I feel by my boss and work place?

Do I feel exhausted by my job?

What things about work make me feel like I can achieve or not achieve there?

Physical causes →
What happens

Midlife is often the start of feeling more aches and pains, of emerging problems with high blood pressure and cholesterol, and illnesses such as arthritis and diabetes can increase. These developments can cause you to worry about yourself and your future health.

Questions to ask yourself

How worried am I about my health and body strength?

How worried am I about getting sick or getting a long term illness?

What happens

Midlife is when your hormones start to change and you become menopausal. The stages of menopause you are most likely to encounter at midlife are:

  • Perimenopause - when hormone changes start to happen, you start to feel hot and your periods can be irregular and/or heavy.
  • Menopause – when it has been 12 months since your final menstrual period.
  • Postmenopause – when you no longer have a period, but you may still have symptoms of hot flushes and a dry vagina.

​These hormonal changes can make you feel more worried. They may also combine to make a cocktail of feelings – a bit of grumpy, irritable, tired, sad and/or moody.

Questions to ask yourself

Am I starting to go through menopause?

Do I have any symptoms of menopause such as:

  • Hot flushes?
  • Night sweats?
  • Dry vagina?
  • Moodiness?

What changes can I recognise in how I react during my menstrual cycle (if still relevant)?

Am I more worried since I started to have changes associated with menopause?

What happens

Excessive drinking (defined as more than two standard drinks on any day and with no alcohol free days in a week) can:

  • make you focus more on your worries
  • be a sign you are trying to cover up or numb your feelings of worry
Questions to ask yourself

How much am I drinking?

How much do I think my drinking alcohol is connected to my worries?

What happens

Quality sleep can often be difficult to achieve. Interrupted sleep can impact on your ability to cope with the daily hassles of life because if you feel tired, it is harder to think clearly. And if your sleep is affected because you are waking with menopausal night sweats, you lie there worrying not only about the things happening in your life, but also about whether you will ever get back to sleep!

Questions to ask yourself

How much sleep do I get per night?

Do I get enough uninterrupted sleep so that I feel refreshed and able to cope with daily life?

Are night sweats affecting my sleep?

Is it hard to go to sleep or do I wake in the night and find it hard to get back to sleep?

What happens

An unhealthy diet made up of high fat and sugary food affects your mood and can make you more prone to worry. Skipping meals or eating only one large meal a day doesn’t help your mood either. On top of this, if you are also not exercising enough, you have another reason why you may be feeling stressed and worried.

Questions to ask yourself

Do I generally eat a range of healthy foods or do I eat lots of sugary and fatty foods?

Do I exercise at least 3-4 times per week for more than 30 minutes?

Created on 18/08/2013 | Updated on 24/10/2017
References for this page

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About Jean Hailes

Jean Hailes is Australia’s leading and most trusted women’s health organisation. We believe in physical and emotional health and wellbeing in all its dimensions for all women in Australia throughout their lives.

We offer a range of free resources and easy to understand information on women’s health and wellbeing. Appointments at our specialist women’s health clinics can be made in person (East Melbourne and Clayton, VIC) or across Australia via our Telehealth consultation service. www.jeanhailes.org.au

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