Mid-life malaise: Why do we feel so flat when everything should be, more or less, ok? (part 1)
Updated: Sep 22, 2021
If you're reading this, maybe you too have an underlying feeling that things just aren't right, they aren't quite how you wanted them. You've done everything you can, in work and your home life, and yet you feel that something is missing. Like you're missing purpose or meaning in your life. Or you've started to feel a sense of disconnection from the world around you.
And if you are, well that's pretty common actually. This is probably the most common complaint I see in my practice and something I am particularly passionate about. Clients often come to me because they feel stressed at work or a life event, or they are struggling with their sleep and habits, but when we start talking, we realise that their mood and motivation is poor across many facets in their life. In short, many of us, myself included, seem to struggle with modern life, despite the fact that, on the surface things are objectively ok. Ok, but not great either.
We know for example that in 2018 an online poll showed that 74% of people felt so stressed in the last year that they have been overwhelmed or unable to cope; that a large percentage of these ate poorly, and started drinking or drinking more due to stress; and more than half of those adults who felt stressed reported feeling depressed and anxious. (https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/statistics/mental-health-statistics-stress). This is a huge percentage of the population.
But that doesn't mean you have to put up with it.
In Johann Hari's excellent book Lost Connections he seeks to investigate the social causes that contribute to depression and anxiety. Hari's observation as a journalist was that the biological and psychological contributing factors to these issues are well supported and, a such, we have some interventions available to help address these. Hari's position however was that these may not always be addressing the root cause of our problems and dissatisfactions, which may also be social in nature. Now, I might argue that many of these factors he identifies are also psychological as well as social in nature, but that's really splitting hairs. The point is, he suggests that we could define nine ways in which we become disconnected from meaningful activity and aspects of our life including disconnection from meaningful work, other people, meaningful values and a hopeful future (amongst others).
This really resonated with me and my experiences with my clients, as using our CBT and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) based approaches, one of the common early activities we explore is to examine your core values, and whether you are living your life in support of those values. In essence, 'valued living' enhances your internal resources, and makes us more resilient. Frequently we see that we are not living in harmony with these values, or we've misidentified what our values actually are. These values help then establish some the key goals of our work together.
What do we mean by core values? Our core values could be otherwise explained as 'virtues to which I aspire'. They are directions and ways in which in might be important to behave in our lives. Or to put it another way, the characteristics of the person you would like to be. An excellent and accessible treatment on starting work on valued action and living is given by Donald Robertson in his book Build Your Resilience. I highly recommend this book to my clients as well as friends and family members! So values may range from the general, which may include something like 'acting with integrity', to something more specific like 'caring for my parents'. In themselves they are not goals or demands, rather they're an ongoing process to which you commit, and we can define different values in different areas (or 'domains') of our lives.
It sounds simple, and I suppose it is in principle, but that doesn't mean it's easy! As Hari points out in his book, people's ability to leverage change can be restricted and eliciting change is not always fast, and sometimes not possible at all.
If it's possible to change, then we can start planning goals to do so. Here we might, for example, use problem solving therapy, assertiveness training, habit reversal and hypnotic rehearsal to ensure we reach the preferred end point. And if it's not possible, then we may for example, need to adopt a more acceptance and mindfulness-based approach, and begin to defuse (to 'de-fuse', detach or create distance) from the negative thoughts and feelings that come from this, whilst exploring your other options. The treatment plan would be unique to an individuals needs, and as such it's impossible to outline every combination of possible treatments in a short article such as this.
The second part of this article can be found here.
If you're interested in exploring your values in pursuit of valued living, please do contact me for your free, no obligation, telephone consultation: https://www.brighton-hypnotherapy.com/contact