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Stressed to the max! Stress in mid-life and how to cope.

by Myrna Beth Haskell//


In my thirties, stress usually had to do with raising my children. Almost anything could bring it on. Did I cut the grapes small enough? Is it too pushy to request Mrs. Miller for the third grade? Is that cafeteria bully finally out of elementary school? I would fret if the bus was two minutes late, for goodness sake.

Nowadays, I’m still stressed out, but I’m not sure why. With my youngest off to college, I have more time to work, fix up the house, and even read for pleasure. Imagine that! I also feel a special pride that I’ve raised my children to become successful young adults who are well-rounded, caring individuals. I should be enjoying this blissful stage. Besides, isn’t this the footloose and fancy-free part of life, when you finally have the time and money to do those things you’ve been dreaming about for ages? Shouldn’t I have time to not only smell the roses, but grow them? If so, why is that stressful feeling sneaking up on me at every turn?

I worry about my son commuting on the train. I worry about that weird throb I sometimes feel in my neck. I’m even stressed about my mom’s schedule. I mean, when is she finally going to get to the doctor? Honestly, I’m always stressed out about something.

It is not uncommon for women to continue to feel stress throughout the midlife years.  This is not a good scenario because stress wreaks havoc on your health.


Triggers and Health Risks

Even though many women are done with the enormous responsibility of raising children, and have settled into a comfortable “veteran status” at work, there are myriad triggers in midlife that can bring on occasional or chronic stress.

T.J. McCallum, Ph.D., a clinical geropsychologist and associate professor of psychology at Case Western Reserve University, says there are many things that can bring on stress during midlife. “Triggers can include changes in intimate relationship status, changes brought about by empty nest, adult children still living at home, changes in health status, or women in various careers can hit the ‘glass ceiling’ in midlife.”  

Another stressful situation in midlife may be caring for elderly parents. In this case, it is important to seek help from other family members and to hire outside help to ease the burden. After all, you cannot care for your parents if you don’t look after your own health needs.

Keep in mind that stress is detrimental to both your mind and body, so understanding your triggers and getting stress levels under control is essential. McCallum warns, “There are almost always mental and physical health consequences caused by stressful lives. The difficulty is that many of the consequences are somewhat insidious and do not show the negative effects until years later.”

According to statistics published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, heart disease is the leading cause of death for women in the United States. One in every four female deaths is linked to heart disease, and chronic stress may affect factors that increase this risk.  

With regard to the negative consequences of chronic stress, McCallum points out, “A good example for women over fifty would be heart disease. While the causes are complex, few would argue that stress does not play an important role in the development of heart disease.”

According to an April 2016 article published by the Mayo Clinic titled “Stress Management,” “The long-term activation of the stress-response system — and the subsequent overexposure to cortisol and other stress hormones — can disrupt almost all your body’s processes. This puts you at increased risk of numerous health problems.”

In addition to heart disease, some of these problems include:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Digestive problems
  • Headaches
  • Sleep problems
  • Weight gain
  • Memory and concentration impairment



Women need to find coping mechanisms to handle stress. McCallum advises, “The key is to create balance amidst the shifting sands of life. What worked at thirty or forty, may no longer work at fifty and beyond.” He advocates meeting regularly with family and close friends, developing an exercise regimen that suits your schedule and lifestyle and practicing meditation.

Other stress relievers:

  • Long walks
  • Soothing activities and hobbies (crochet, playing instruments, yoga, etc.)
  • Volunteering for causes close to your heart
  • Positive self-talk
  • Deep breathing exercises
  • Say “no” to commitments and responsibilities that are no longer rewarding
  • Improve sleep habits
  • Seek relationships that help you feel good about yourself (not the other way around)
  • Eat a healthy diet and consume foods known to reduce stress (i.e. foods that boost levels of serotonin, such as whole grain breads, and foods that cut levels of cortisol, such as black tea). *See link below for more on foods to eat.


SIDEBAR: For more information:

Centers for Disease Control: “Coping with Stress”   

13 Foods that Fight Stress (Prevention, by Keri Glassman, R.D., C.D.N.)

American Psychological Association (on midlife stressors and vulnerabilities)


Author Bio: Myrna Beth Haskell is an award-winning author, columnist, and feature writer. Her work has appeared in national and regional publications across the U.S. as well as internationally ( She is also cofounder and senior editor of SANCTUARY Magazine (