You won’t believe what it is…
Middle age is simply awful. Gray hairs sprout up, energy dips, gravity starts to… Wait, what? Aging is a natural stress reliever? You’re saying women in midlife experience a higher quality of life? Well, as Matthew McConaughey would say, “Alright, alright, alright!” Tell us more, University of Michigan researchers.
A recent study found that perceived stress actually decreases during a 15-year span of middle age. Perceived stress is a measure of confidence, control and feeling of ability to handle life’s stressors. For this particular research, data was examined on 3,000 women, ages 42 to 53, over time, until the average age of the women was 62. The study found that stress levels declined with age across almost all sociodemographic categories. Women who had less education and or more financial concerns reported more stress compared to the rest of the group, but even those women found stress levels were gradually diminished.
Elizabeth Hedgeman, a doctoral graduate in UM’s school of Public Health, wrote in the study, “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,” Hedgeman said. “But whatever the root reason, we’re reporting less perceived stress as we age through the midlife and menopause.” Yes, during menopause. “Our perception of stress decreased even through the menopausal transition,” wrote Hedgeman, “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.”
Women may get less stressed in midlife due to children maturing and moving out, professional goals being met, or perhaps these years are a “sweet spot” where good health can be enjoyed before chronic health conditions set in. Aging may help us regulate our emotions, Hedgeman suggests, and whether this is due to emotional experience or neurochemical changes is worth exploring, she writes.
But whatever the reason for less stress, this study is good news for any women going through the midlife journey. “Relax,” our bodies and minds seem to be telling us. “Life is good."