Have you lost your Confidence?
Posted on 7th May 2023 at 00:15
So many women tell me they lost their confidence as they approached menopause. For some it's a sudden omg, stop in their tracks moment, often accompanied by a panicattack. For others it's a gradual wearing down, a slowly dawning realisation that everything they had been certain of before suddenly isn't so certain any more.
For many, loss of confidence is one of the most disturbing and bewildering aspects of the peri-menopause years, leading us to feel invisible and unsure of our place in the world. The most competent, self assured woman can find herself feeling uncharacteristically anxious.
What makes it worse is that we can feel so alone. By 50 we generally know who we are - we’re fully embodied adults. After all, we’ve been doing this adulting thing for a long time! So when we find our glasses in the fridge - again - and stare at the vegetables in the supermarket wondering what on earth to buy, it’s a bit discombobulating, to say the least!
Suddenly, we find ourselves living a cliché - we realise we are that forgetful middle aged woman who forgets it’s Tuesday, has to squeeze her pelvic floor muscles really tightly when she sneezes or coughs and suddenly has to start plucking her chin! Worse, older women have been the butt of unkind jokes for years in mainstream comedy, so no one thinks it it might be hurtful to laugh at their partner, or their mum. Worse still, you might even make those jokes yourself. I know I used to, before anyone else laughed at me. Which says far ore about me and my attitude to ageing at the time that it did about the people around me!
Sometimes, there seems to be no apparent reason for losing confidence. Free floating anxiety, mild depression, a feeling of being lost can come out of nowhere. So what can cause this loss of confidence and what can we do we do to arrest it? How do we get our mojo back?
This was one of my main issues through my own peri-menopause years - I was often unable to make decisions large or small and felt as if I had a constant feeling of doom, a knot of dread in my stomach that just wouldn’t go away.
6 Ways we can Lose our Confidence in Midlife - and How to Rediscover it.
1. Physical appearance.
2. Psychological changes.
3. Physical changes.
4. Career difficulties.
5. Loss of Fertility.
6. General Life Changes.
Let's look at these one by one.
1. Physical Appearance
Slowing metabolism often results in weight gain, especially around the middle - the so-called spare tyre or "meno belly". Facially, we lose elasticity, which can result in a softening of our features. Our lips become thinner and less plump and our eyebrows become less defined. If we feel we don't recognise ourselves in the mirror any more it can knock confidence.
When you wake up in the morning and look in the mirror, what do you see?
If I ask that question as a speaker, nervous laughter always ensues. When I’ve asked it in The Midlife Movement Facebook group or on my photography page, the replies are always both varied and fascinating.
Many women say they see their mother, or grandmother staring back at them, which causes a mixture of alarm and comfort. There's something rather lovely in carrying our loved ones with us, isn't there? Evidence that life - and love - lives on! Yet no one wants to feel they look like someone 20 or 40 years older than themselves.
Some women tell me they never look at their own face in its entirety. If they are putting on lipstick, they look at their lips, if they are brushing their hair, they look at their hair and so on. So much so that one woman said she didn't recognise herself in photographs!
Now that we are talking more openly about menopause, mainstream magazines have started to jump on the bandwagon. Is this a good or a bad thing? How do you feel when you see images of Jennifer Aniston (50), Jennifer Lopez (51) and Shakira (43)? Or the women in the Sex in the City revisit and the comparisons with how The Golden Girls looked at the same age?
There is no disputing that these talented women look fabulous, and I take my hat off to them all for the determination and effort they have expended to remain fit and strong. But I'm not sure that "empowerment" is what I feel when I see these images. Personally, I feel a little bit tired.
To me, one of the advantages of growing older is the passing of the pressure to which we, as women, have always been subjected: pressure to act and look a certain way. Is this what we are supposed to aspire to now? Eternal youthfulness and life-spent-in-the-gym (not to mention never let a carb pass your lips, and cake is evil) pressure?
Of course, it is up to each of us to decide how we want to look, how we want to age. But am I alone, when seeing these images that a small part of me thinks: leave us alone, for goodness sake! I've earned my elasticated waists!
If changes in your physical appearance are getting you down, try not to avoid looking in the mirror. Make a point of looking yourself in the eye and thinking kindly about yourself. I believe we are so obsessed with looking "youthful" in the western world, we have lost the ability to see the beauty, strength and character in an older face. Look after yourself: making time for a walk in the park, to cook yourself a healthy meal, listen to music or go to the hairdresser is not vanity - it's essential for your well being! Take a look at our project, Face it, Own it! The Barefaced Truth about Midlife Women to see our film where 52 women share their thoughts. about growing older.
2. Psychological changes.
Anxiety is very common during the midlife transition, as is loss of concentration, "brain fog" and panic attacks. To suddenly experience these things can be very alarming. Personally, I genuinely believed I was losing my mind.
Anxiety caused me untold angst during my own perimenopause. It didn't matter how much my head reassured me that all was well, something nagged away inside my brain, telling me it was a lie. I walked around with a vague feeling of dread which sat in the pit of my stomach like a heavy stone.
I would wake up in the morning and was immediately assailed by a horrible sense of impending doom. To try to counter it, I would lie in bed and think about each of my four children. "He's doing x with y and is going to go to z," I would think, "so I know he's ok." "I'm seeing her at lunch, so I can check she's ok..." It was endless.
To be fair, our family were dealing with some serious difficulties at the time. Weirdly, I seemed to be able to cope with the big, obvious stuff. It was the little things that drove me crazy! At one point, I was so worried about an issue I was literally trying not to sleep, as if my staying awake and "keeping watch" would keep tragedy at bay! It's absurd, looking back, and a little embarrassing, because how egotistical is it to assume that I have that much power? And it's no wonder that I often have trouble with insomnia. Plus my cortisol levels are stuck on "excess".
On a much more serious note, did you know that suicide risk amongst midlife women grew by 63% between 1999 and 2014? In a way it is one of the final taboos - midlife women are seen as the copers, the hub of the family and that is often how we see ourselves. No one talks about Mum feeling she doesn't want to wake up in the morning, do they?
If you are feeling suicidal, please speak to someone. There is help available and you don't have to go through this alone. If you are in the UK call 116 123 for the Samaritans.
Fortunately, for most of us if we do find ourselves feeling depressed and/or anxious in midlife, it is possible to find a solution. For many restoring hormone levels can help. If you are finding yourself worrying more than usual, feeling anxious for no apparent reason, there are many techniques and therapies you can try. Exercise, hypnotherapy, mindfulness, meditation, yoga, midlife-friendly nutrition - all these are known to help. If you are clinically depressed, don't shy away from anti-depressants as they might be needed to"lift" you just enough so that you can find the energy and motivation to access these things for yourself.
Remember: you are not "going mad" - more often than not at this time in our lives, if you start to feel low and don’t have a history of depressive conditions, there is a physical cause. Even if you have suffered before, the changes taking place in your mind and body can exacerbate that natural tendency.
3. Physical changes.
When your body starts to let you down - aching joints, irregular and erratic periods, loss of temperature control, an unpredictable bladder - a whole plethora of inconveniences and indignities - confidence can hit the floor.
Exercise and a good diet, high in plant-based foods and phytoestrogen-rich, will help you to take control of aches and pains. Furthermore, the feeling of being pro-active will be good for your confidence. Your mental health may also be improved. However, don't expect to lose weight as easily as you did at 30. Not all calories are equal and what you eat and when is as significant as how much.
We have Oestrogen receptors all over our bodies, not just in our ovaries. The brain, joints, skin - all are affected by fluctuating or declining oestrogen levels.
4. Career difficulties
Some women might have been successful in a career for years, yet suddenly start to doubt their ability. Many workplaces still don't support menopausal women, which perpetuates stigma so that many women feel they have to hide their age and any symptoms they might be experiencing. Things are changing, but not quickly enough for many of us.
According to a recent study, 1 in 4 women consider leaving their jobs due to menopausal symptoms. There are, however, some signs that an increasing number of employers are taking this issue more seriously.
Do you know the policy in your workplace? Whether you are suffering or not, could you help to implement change - or at least suggest it? It is also worth considering, if work is getting you down, is it time for a change? Midlife can present a tremendous opportunity to travel in a new direction if we can embrace change.
5. Loss of Fertility.
Having choices over our lives removed is disempowering. Many women mourn the end of their fertile years, even if we've had children. If we've put off having children, or decided not to have them at all, there is a difference between that being our choice and nature making it impossible and many women who have been happy with their decisions are surprised by a feeling of loss.
Loss of fertility is a very tangible reminder that we are getting older. Often, it is not the fact that we can no longer have children, but the loss of CHOICE that batters our confidence. If, however, becoming a mother was something that was dearly desired, the grief experienced as all hope fades can be overwhelming. Please don't be afraid to seek support so that you are able to move forward into this new phase of your life.
6. General Life Changes.
Very few people get to 50 without some experience of hardship or loss. Bereavement, redundancy, empty nest, divorce - big life changes often knock our confidence as what we have always believed to be "normal" life for us is turned on its head.
Coming to terms with the past is an essential part of moving forward in life. If there are unresolved issues from our childhood, our love lives or other personal events that have caused us pain, midlife seems to be the time when we can no longer sweep them under the emotional carpet. Now is the time seek counselling if needed to bring everything out into the open in our own minds so that we can put the past to rest, leaving room for new experiences.
In conclusion, then, losing confidence during the midlife transition is common, but doesn't have to be inevitable. As we age we can become somewhat entrenched in the views we have developed and our own sense of what is right, comfortable and desirable.
I believe that the greatest skill needed to make the most of our midlife and beyond is the ability to embrace change. Adaptability, resilience, self esteem, an open mind - these are the essential tools we need to be happy.
The good news is that if you do find yourself struggling, these are attributes that we can develop or strengthen at any age, rebuilding our confidence and paving the way for a happy, more contented life.
Start now by making a list of your strengths, the things you like about yourself, the achievements that make you proud. They don't have to be big things. I make a good Victoria sponge for example, leads you to think about the benefits of that attribute - my work colleagues love it when I bring cake into the office, or my grandchildren love Grandma's chocolate brownies are positive thoughts that form the building blocks to increased confidence.
And in the meantime, know that, with time and a little work, your confidence will return.
Tagged as: Confidence
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