The midlife crisis has its name for a reason — a wealth of research has suggested that midlife is a strenuous time for women. But, now, a new study shows that women actually report experiencing less stress and enjoy a higher quality of life between the ages of 42 and 53.
Elizabeth Hedgeman, a doctoral graduate of the University of Michigan School of Public Health found that perceived stress — a measure of confidence, control and ability to cope with life's stressors — actually decreased for most women over a 15-year span, and menopausal status (often associated with higher stress and depression) wasn't even a factor. Hedgeman collected data from more than 3,000 women of the aforementioned ages for the Study of Women's Health Across the Nation. She explored the effects of age, menopausal status and sociodemographics on stress over time.
"The results suggested that even women with less education or more financial hardship reported less perceived stress over the midlife," Hedgeman said. "And then there's menopause. Our perception of stress decreased even through the menopausal transition, which suggests that menopause isn't a great bugaboo, perhaps in relation to the other events or experiences that we're having in the midlife."
Stress declined with age across nearly all sociodemographic categories. Even women with less education and increased financial hardship who consistently reported higher levels of stress compared to their peers witnessed their stress levels decline over time.
The scientific reasons as to why women report less stress with age are unclear, but there could be both circumstantial and neurological causes for the decline, such as children moving out and professional goals being met. Plus, aging helps us regulate our emotions, according to a gamut of previous research.
"I definitely feel less and less stressed as I am getting older — actually, each year is brining less stress," says Milana Perepyolkina, 46, an international bestselling author of Gypsy Energy Secrets: Turning a Bad Day into a Good Day No Matter What Life Throws at You. "I believe I am becoming much wiser. It is true that with my daughter moving out I don’t have to worry as much. It is true that having an established career helps. It is true that I have more free time for relaxation. But there is something else. I've learned to forgive people much easier. I've learned unconditional love. I've learned energy and breathing exercises. I've learned how not to sweat the small stuff. I've learned how to stay peaceful no matter what happens in my life."
Learning how to handle stress better seems to be a common theme among women.
"I’m now a 'recovering perfectionist,' so I’ve learned to let the things that are not important go more easily," says Heidi McBain, a Texas-based licensed marriage and family therapist. "I also have a morning self-care routine that I do everyday, which helps keep me centered and present throughout my day. For me this includes exercise, a three-minute quiet meditation and a page of journaling."
AnnaMarie Houlis is a multimedia journalist and an adventure aficionado with a keen cultural curiosity and an affinity for solo travel. She's an editor by day and a travel blogger at HerReport.org by night.