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 find that as my life goes on, I have less and less stress in my life — or, maybe more truthfully, I have a completely different response to stress," says Sherry Richert Belul, 53. "For me the answer to 'why?' is obvious: I have spent 25 years practicing being a human being in an intentional way: meditation, personal growth, committed relationships, joyful work. Not only have I created a meaningful life, I’ve sought out many spiritual teachers who have given me tools to be more present in life and to deal with stress in new ways. Also, a lot of stress seems to come from either not being prepared for something or being caught off guard by unexpected happenings. We can take care of all those former kinds of stress by being deliberate and intentional in our lives. And we can take care of the latter ones by practicing presence/meditation, which allows us to stay calm and to hear the 'still small voice' of guidance."
Women have reported developing different methods to better managing their stress levels.
"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."
And sometimes the stress itself actually evolves.
"I feel like, as I've gotten older, my stress level has decreased even though my number of children increased (I had my third child at 40), and the stress I feel now is more of a necessary stress rather than an ancillary stress," says Jocelyn Bates, 41. "I no longer worry about how I look or what I’m doing in regard to the outside world. I more do things because I want to. I’ve noticed a certain kind of freedom that I’ve allowed myself since I turned 39 or 40."
The women who continuously reported higher levels of stress than their peers as they aged were those who reported higher stress at the start of midlife so, overall, the results were consistent.
"Perhaps things just don't bother us as much as we age, whether due to emotional experience or neurochemical changes — it's all worth exploring," Hedgeman said. "The neat thing is that, for most of us, our perception of stress decreases as we age through the midlife — perhaps life itself is becoming less stressful, or maybe we're finally feeling at the top of our game, or maybe things just don't bother us the way they did. But whatever the root reason, we're reporting less perceived stress as we age through the midlife and menopause."
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.