People with active social lives enjoy a better quality of life, recover from illness quicker, are happier, and live longer, according to multiple studies. The Health Resources & Services Administration says that loneliness “can be as damaging to health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day”. Staying social and engaged in midlife and beyond has enormous benefits for your health and happiness and it doesn’t have to be difficult.
Is staying engaged the same as staying involved?
Staying social and engaged is different than staying involved, though people use the terms interchangeably. Being “involved” simply means you’re doing something. Being “engaged” suggests a deeper connection to the activity. Engagement captures your mind and your heart, as well as your body.
Why is it harder to stay engaged as we age?
The first thirty to forty years of your life are full of many natural markers. When you’re a child you celebrate developmental milestones and birthdays. You play sports, win trophies, and hang out with your friends. As you age, you mark graduations, going to college, and moving into your first apartment. You may marry, buy a home, have children, and mark their milestones.
We identify ourselves through these markers. I am a mother, wife, aunt, friend, and sister.
At some point as we age, life stops serving up the natural markers that we used to look forward to. Days become the same. This lack of positive reinforcement can lead to feelings of boredom, emptiness, and failure.
In order to stay social and engaged, you have to create opportunities for new positive markers and reinforcements.
Don’t expect a “Midlife Crisis”
The term “midlife crisis” was coined in the 1960’s by a psychologist named Elliot Jacques who wrote an article describing midlife as a time when we we realize we are facing a dwindling number of remaining years of productive life, and begin to feel our own mortality. He described this struggle as a “midlife crisis”.
Unlike many social concepts of the 1960s, this one stuck around. It was birthed at a time when women had just entered the workforce, homes with two working parents were almost unheard of, women’s career paths were limited, and female birth control was just coming on the market. We don’t cling to these other archaic social constructs nor should we approach midlife and assume a crisis is inevitable.
I’m not trying to downplay the real anxiety and emptiness that accompanies the transition into the second half of life for many people. I am simply suggesting that expecting a crisis may lead to a crisis. In addition, if you do find yourself in a tough place, there is often something you can do about it. And it begins with being engaged in your own life.
How do I start?
As women, we spend most of our lives focused on others. We care for our children, our spouse, and parents. We take care of co-workers and friends. It can be striking to look inward and realize you’ve lost sight of you.
Take a step back and think about the things you loved to do as a child. What sparked joy when you were younger? This is a solid foundation to build upon. Make a list of activities you once loved and those you’ve thought about trying over time. Just write them down. Don’t analyze them and consider why they won’t work. You can edit later.
Focus on pursuits that are not related to your work or your family. I know it’s hard but you can do it! Don’t censor yourself as you generate your list.
Pick a few items from your listing and set a goal to try each of them over the next six months to a year. Give yourself a few weeks with each one so you can shop around a bit. Write in in a calendar. By planning each for a short time frame, you give yourself the flexibility to toss the idea if it’s a flop or move it into permanent rotation if you love it!
Learn more about the importance of trying new things.
Engaging in social activities from your list will often open up opportunities to make friends. This can be a daunting task in midlife. As kids, our days are filled with organic ways to come together with peers in shared experiences. You go to school, join a team, and participate in after school activities.
As a midlife adult, you have to create these shared experiences. When you do, you’ll find yourself among a group of people with who you share common interests. Reach out and say “hi”. Start up a conversation. Remind yourself that most adults find it hard to reach out to a potential new friend. They’ll be grateful that you made the first step.
The worst thing that can happen is the person is a jerk. Don’t let that stop you. Just move on to someone else. Don’t waste your precious energy on miserable people. There are plenty of good people out there looking for friends.
The concept of being mindful has become somewhat of a cliché but it is important if you are trying to effect change. Try not to function on autopilot. Practice focusing on what you’re doing without distraction. If you’re in the middle of something and automatically pick up your phone and start scrolling, put it down. It disrupts your train of thought and pulls you out of what you were doing. Many times I bet you even forget what you were doing in the first place.
We need to retrain our brains to focus.
Relearning the art of paying attention takes time and practice. Try theses tips:
- Change your routine. If you roll over each morning and pick up your phone, leave a note on it reminding you not do open the screen. Instead, plan something else for your first activity. Have a cup of tea, go for a walk, pat your dog. Anything will work as long as it’s planned and something different.
- Try to break focus time into small bites to start. Check out the Pomodoro Technique which you can use to break a task into small pieces and work on that task in small increments. Over time, you can increase the span of focused time.
- Put your electronic devices, including your phone, away rather than leaving them within reach.
- Schedule dedicated time in your calendar to focus on a task or idea.
- Try earplugs to limit distraction.
- Work on precision tasks that require focus such as puzzles.
- Stop multitasking. It’s an illusion. Your brain cannot focus on two tasks that require attention at the same time. Complete one task before beginning another.
- Take breaks.
- Get outdoors. Studies show the getting outdoors has substantial health and wellness benefits including increased concentration.
Keep practicing and you’ll begin to reap the benefits of living in the moment and being mindful.
Staying engaged means focusing on today
I hear too many women talking about how to bring themselves back to when they were thinner, prettier, curvier, sexier – younger. You can’t turn back time my friends so stop wasting your energy trying.
Focus on where you are today, not where you were ten or twenty years ago. Pay attention to your health and wellness far more than your figure and the color of your hair. It will pay off in feeling better, stronger, and happier.
Begin today with small steps
We know that staying social and engaged is good for our health so why not begin now? If you’re looking for things to do, check out the following articles.
- 7 New Activities to Try this Spring
- 7 New Activities to Try this Summer
- How to Start a Bookclub Online or in Person
- How to Host an at Home Wine Tasting
Focus on finding something you love and weaving it into the fabric of your life. Make new markers that reflect who you are today and who you are becoming. I am a mother, grandmother, wife, sister, aunt.
I am me.
Have fun and enjoy!