By Rachel Lankester, Editor
In today’s fast-paced world, navigating midlife and menopause can often feel like a daunting journey, filled with challenges that can lead to midlife burnout. The idea of a midlife crisis is engrained in our society. To shed light on this growing trend and offer valuable insights, I interviewed Dr. Sola Togun-Butler on my podcast. She’s the founder of Butterfly Counseling Services, a psychotherapist, and transformative life coach, specializing in minimizing stress, preventing burnout, and fostering a balanced life.
We explored the nuanced connection between midlife burnout prevention and gender roles, the impact of polarization on perspectives and the role of curiosity in navigating middle age. We talked about what can often be a profound journey of trauma, healing, and self-discovery in midlife, and discussed the challenges of embracing authenticity despite the fear and resistance that may arise from others. We explored strategies for preventing burnout and taking control of one’s life, emphasizing the importance of self-compassion, especially in the context of aging and menopause.
Here’s our holistic guide to preventing midlife burnout, feelings of energy depletion, and healing the crisis, fostering a path instead towards resilience and well-being. Midlife is at the bottom of the happiness curve of life – we know the unhappiest age is 47. But with better ways to manage any midlife crises, we can vastly improve this stage of life and step forward instead into midlife leadership.
Burnout prevention and gender roles
Dr. Sola’s passion for burnout prevention stems from her extensive work with women, revealing the impact of societal expectations and gender roles on their mental and emotional well-being. She highlights the prevalent thought patterns ingrained in women, such as feeling guilty about prioritizing our needs or putting ourselves first. Cultural and societal expectations placed on women often contribute to these challenges.
Women in midlife who grapple with symptoms of burnout, often put their needs behind those of their children and family. We can get tangled in an intricate web of caregiver roles leading to feelings of guilt and resentment when desiring personal time or self-care. We may need to start caring for elderly parents. Chronic workplace stress can make everything more difficult. Empty nest syndrome and physical aging can contribute to the general sense of overwhelm.
Dr. Sola talked about “shoulds” and the impact of rigid thinking on women’s ability to navigate burnout prevention effectively. She emphasizes the importance of cognitive restructuring and reframing negative thought patterns, encouraging a shift from “shoulds” to “and.” This dialectical thinking allows women to acknowledge and balance both their responsibilities and their own needs, fostering a more open-minded and less guilt-ridden approach.
There are also cultural aspects to guilt and socialization plays a significant role in shaping women’s perspectives. Drawing on her Nigerian background, Dr. Sola reflected on the cultural expectations that discourage questioning and promote accepting beliefs at face value. We noted the growing polarization within Western societies, including the UK and the US, and its impact on issues like menopause, where binary views can hinder a more nuanced understanding. We need a balanced, open-minded approach to prevent midlife burnout and promote women’s well-being.
Polarization, perspectives, and curiosity
Polarization of thought is a big issue and society tends to perceive issues as either one extreme or the other. Finding common ground can be challenging when individuals are unwilling to consider alternative perspectives. This can all add to the sense of overwhelm. The essence lies in recognizing shared goals despite differing approaches. This often becomes easier as we age and become more exposed to different ideas. But we can also get entrenched in our viewpoints.
Dr. Sola underscored the value of exploring ideas that don’t necessarily align with one’s own, acknowledging the positive impact on decision-making and cognitive health. Research suggests that exposing the mind to diverse viewpoints is beneficial for mental flexibility, particularly as we age.
We noted the inclination towards curiosity in midlife, expressing a desire for more information and understanding among women in this life stage. Curiosity can be a catalyst for growth, prompting individuals to question beliefs and seek alternative perspectives, with travel serving as a powerful tool for expanding one’s worldview and contributing to personal growth. There are cognitive benefits to adopting a dialectical mindset, encouraging us all, especially in midlife, to embrace curiosity and diverse viewpoints for continued personal and intellectual development.
Trauma, healing, and self-discovery in midlife
Trauma also plays a part in midlife burnout – ranging from childhood trauma and sexual assault to racial trauma due to societal issues like racism and discrimination. We need a therapeutic approach to trauma, emphasizing the creation of a safe space for individuals to express their emotions related to traumatic experiences. Dr. Sola highlights the significance of processing and releasing emotions associated with trauma, aiming to address mental health challenges such as depression and anxiety that may stem from these experiences.
The therapeutic process involves exploring rituals and strategies tailored to the nature of the trauma If we don’t deal with our trauma and are reluctant to talk about it, that can lead to emotional suffering and inner turmoil that becomes particularly pronounced in midlife. Therapy can be transformative, providing an outlet for women to release their internalized struggles. Women are especially vulnerable during midlife and menopause, where the culmination of burnout, trauma resurfacing, and the navigation of unresolved issues converges.
Midlife is a pivotal period for women, a phase of introspection where past traumas and cultural conditioning can come to the forefront. The notion of a “midlife spring clean” is explored where we, prompted by the shifts in external circumstances, can initiate an internal reckoning, often seeking therapy to address unresolved issues and rediscover our suppressed voices.
Embracing authenticity despite fear and resistance from others
Acknowledging the resistance many women face, Dr. Sola highlights the common inclination to prefer the status quo, even if it isn’t ideal, due to the inherent fear of change. Psychological work is often needed during this transformative period, though resistance to introspective and inner growth often accompanies menopausal experiences. Women are often unwilling to engage in the necessary work, with a notable preference for quick fixes, such as seeking a pill to alleviate discomfort rather than delving into the often much needed psychological transformation.
We undergo a psychological evolution with significant changes, and there is the potential for substantial personal growth if we are willing to confront and navigate this inner journey. But we can continue to harbor concerns regarding societal acceptance as we embark on greater authenticity and finding more of a sense of purpose. Dr. Sola explores the common fear of how others, including family members, partners, children, and close friends, will respond to the newfound, authentic self. She commends women who take the initial step of reaching out for support, recognizing the courage required to prioritize their authenticity, making new life choices and trying new things in our later years.
Strategies for moving forward despite potential conflicts are crucial, with Dr. Sola emphasizing the need to prepare ourselves for inevitable resistance from those accustomed to the previous version of us. She introduces the concept of healthy boundaries and the importance of assertive communication to navigate change. She warns that behavior might worsen before it improves when setting healthy boundaries. She emphasizes the importance of ongoing support, effective communication, and reminding oneself of the intrinsic value and significance of the change being pursued amid the inevitable difficulties and obstacles.
Taking control of life
Midlife is the perfect time for reflection, questioning whether we are truly living the lives we desire. This pivotal stage prompts us to evaluate our authenticity, self-care practices, and priorities. We are like butterflies going through change in darkness, moving towards greater life satisfaction and inner peace.
We all have transformative potential and no matter the duration of personal darkness, positive change remains possible. Dr. Sola advises a proactive, preventative approach, encouraging us to incorporate daily self-care activities, even if only for five to ten minutes. Small changes can have a dramatic impact. This preventive mindset contrasts with the reactive nature often associated with burnout, emphasizing the importance of taking small breaks to reset and engage in activities that bring joy and relaxation. Investing time in preventive measures is far preferable to grappling with burnout’s aftermath – prioritizing self-care as part of a holistic approach to well-being can make a huge difference to reducing stress levels.
Self-compassion, age positivity and menopause
Self-compassion is also crucial in fostering positive life changes. Dr. Sola defines self-compassion as an act of being kind to oneself, urging individuals to treat themselves with the same empathy and understanding they would offer to a friend facing similar challenges. She recommends recording voice notes, envisioning providing support to a friend, and playing them back to instill self-compassion. By cultivating this mindset, we can counteract self-defeating thoughts and move towards a more positive and empowering outlook.
In Dr. Sola’s Nigerian culture, older women are revered for their wisdom and experiences, whereas American culture often dismisses older women as past their prime. Age positivity significantly impacts women’s experiences of menopause, creating a more supportive and empowering environment. Viewing menopause as a positive transition enhances the overall experience, emphasizing the importance of changing societal perceptions and fostering a sense of community among women undergoing this natural life stage. In Anglo-Saxon cultures, particularly the US, UK, and Australia, ageism is particularly bad, especially gendered ageism, and its correlation with the experience of menopause. The fear and negative perceptions surrounding menopause often lead to internalized self-defeating thoughts. She expressed frustration with the dominance of US and UK culture, urging a broader perspective by learning from other cultures and adopting practices that celebrate aging.
The internalization of negative messages about aging, prevalent in Western societies, contrasts with the positive celebration of aging in other cultures. Dr. Sola encourages embracing gray hair and celebrating milestones as positive changes, emphasizing the importance of self-love and self-kindness. In a society that may lack support, she advocates reaching out to build a support system, both within and outside oneself, emphasizing the transformative power of self-care and the ability to become the person one aspires to be during the aging process.
Ultimately, midlife burnout can be mitigated by making better lifestyle choices, incorporating positive changes into our daily routine, finding new language about ourselves, often finding deeper purpose, and understanding that this phase of life offers an opportunity for growth, resilience, and the pursuit of true self-discovery. Click here to listen to Dr. Sola’s wisdom on the podcast.
Rachel Lankester is the founder of Magnificent Midlife, author, host of the Magnificent Midlife Podcast, a midlife mentor and editor of the Mutton Club online magazine. After an initially devastating early menopause at 41, she dedicated herself to helping women vibrantly transition through the sometimes messy middle of life, helping them cope better with menopause and ageing in general, and create magnificent next chapters. She’s been featured in/on BBC Woman’s Hour, The Huffington Post, The Sunday Times, Thrive Global, Authority Magazine, The Age Buster, Woman’s Weekly, Prima Magazine, eShe, Tatler HK and Woman’s Own amongst others. She believes we just get better with age. Get her book Magnificent Midlife: Transform Your Middle Years, Menopause and Beyond which was recommended in the New York Times.
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Last Updated on February 16, 2024 by Editorial Staff