The dreaded 4-0. There is something about approaching that number that sends a lot of people into a tailspin. Maybe it is because at some point it became a signifier of middle age. What is so bad about being middle-aged though? It is a part of life. Turning 40 has been made out to be some horrible milestone that launches you into the second half of your life where it is all downhill from there on out. That is not exactly the truth though. While there are some negative things about turning 40, there are a lot of amazing things to look forward to about it too.
The Downside of Turning 40
Are there negatives to turning older? Absolutely. Turning 40 is no exception. However, most of the negatives can be overcome in one way or another or at least mitigated in a way that you can embrace the change and just keep on rolling along. Let’s go ahead and get the bad parts out of the way so we can go ahead and get to the good stuff.
First off, for women, turning 40 usually means it is time to start getting a yearly mammogram. That is because women have an increased risk of breast cancer starting at around 40 years old (that is the real negative part of this situation). A lot of women dread this yearly screening. Mammograms have a bad reputation. Many women have heard that they are painful and terrible. While they may be uncomfortable, they are not especially painful for most women.
There is nothing all that terrible about getting a mammogram either. It is another one of those things that has somehow been made out to be a horrible milestone in life when in actuality it is just another doctor’s appointment. Is it awesome to have a mammogram technician smoosh your breasts between two metal plates? Not really. Is it the worst experience in the world? Absolutely not. Usually, it is a pretty quick process and most technicians are really nice and understanding. They talk you through the process and if at any time you feel too much discomfort, they encourage you to tell them.
The other important thing to remember that can help put it in perspective is that a mammogram could save your life by detecting cancer early rather than too late. Since turning 40 puts women in a higher risk category for breast cancer, this just happens to be the time most women are recommended to start being screened annually. Try not to blame turning 40 too much.
Another annoying thing you will start to encounter (and probably did start to encounter in your thirties) is dry skin. Suddenly, you need to cover your entire body in lotion after a shower or else you will end up with dry, itchy skin. Although it is not directly related to turning 40 it is, unfortunately, a result of aging. As we age, our skin produces fewer natural oils, and skin cells are not renewed at the same rate as when we are younger. Those factors in addition to the result of sun damage over the years can lead to drier skin as we age. A drop in hormones (more on that later) can lead to drier skin too.
Dry skin is not the end of the world. The problem is that along with dry skin comes the appearance of wrinkles. That is because when skin is dehydrated it looks duller, has less elasticity, and wrinkles start to appear more prominently. So unless you take the steps to combat that dry skin, you are going to start to see the effects of aging everywhere from on your face and neck to the backs of your hands and feet even.
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This is why around the time you are turning 40 you will likely start to amass a large collection of moisturizers to combat that dry skin and those pesky wrinkles. There is the body lotion for after you get out of the shower, the facial moisturizer, the eye creams, the anti-aging creams, the stuff you use in the morning, the stuff made to use before you go to bed, lotion that is specially made for your dry feet, body oil, facial oils, body conditioner that you put on in the shower. The list goes on and on.
So the real downside to this aspect of turning 40 is that your skincare routine is likely to start getting longer and longer. The trick is to embrace it and think of that time as self-care. To be honest, it is pretty nice to smooth some rosehip oil onto your face and then rub a gua sha tool all over it while you are sitting on the couch watching tv or when you get into bed for the night.
You may not care about those wrinkles or looking older, but it is still a good idea to use a good body lotion after you get out of the shower to keep your skin moisturized and happy. Otherwise, you are going to be an itchy mess. Plus, taking some time for yourself after you get out of the shower even when it is just a few minutes is a nice way to practice self-care.
Now back to that drop in hormones situation. If you did not notice any changes in your thirties, after turning 40 women will eventually start to see symptoms of perimenopause (Quick warning – as soon as you turn 40, the gynecologist’s office puts you in the perimenopause group, so just a heads up if you see that label on your medical records so you do not have a tiny mental breakdown).
What exactly is perimenopause? Perimenopause is simply the period of time that is considered the transition to menopause. During perimenopause, the level of estrogen in a woman’s body rises and falls. This can go on for anywhere from a few months to up to four years. You will not actually be considered to have hit menopause until you have not had a period for 12 months straight (and not having a period sounds fantastic, does it not?).
Since your hormone levels are all over the place, all kinds of things that are regulated by your hormone levels will be out of whack. That means, during the perimenopause years, women often experience irregular periods, breakouts, night sweats, trouble sleeping, hot flashes, and vaginal dryness. It can even cause dark hairs to grow in places you do not want them to grow because of higher testosterone levels. None of that sounds like fun.
To make things more complicated, some women have an easy time handling these symptoms or have symptoms that are so subtle they do not need to make any changes or seek any sort of treatment while other women will have such severe symptoms that talking to their doctor and seeking medical help is a necessity. At the same time, since symptoms can be subtle or happen so gradually, you may not realize at first that anything is different or that the things going on are all connected or related to perimenopause. So it can be a complete mess all around.
While perimenopause can really stink for some women, there are all kinds of treatments depending on your symptoms. So the real message here about perimenopause and turning 40 is to look out for signs that your body is transitioning past your reproductive years and do not be scared to talk to your doctor about ways to make it easier on you. There is no reason to be miserable or suffer through things that could be made easier.
To add to all that, another downside of turning 40 is that your metabolism slows down. Lots of women find that their weight starts to creep up a little after turning 40. It becomes harder to maintain your weight let alone lose weight if that is one of your goals. Plus, alcohol can affect you more – you may realize that you feel the effects after fewer drinks than you have in the past.
It is likely that you will find that you have to be a little more careful about what you eat or exercise more than you have in the past to maintain your weight. This can be really frustrating. Getting on the scale after having done all the same things for years and seeing the number creep up is not easy for some people. It is okay to feel upset about this. It does not mean that you have to give up your favorite snacks or be resigned to gaining a bunch of weight. It just means to you have to change up your routine and find new things that work for you.
With all of these changes and downsides to turning 40, it is no surprise that a 2013 study in the International Journal of Behavioral Development found that 59% of women have a midlife crisis in their 40s. Does that mean women are running out and buying a convertible or getting a tattoo (although if that is what you want to do, you go for it!). Oftentimes, a midlife crisis is characterized by depression, questioning your purpose and your beliefs, and indecision. Sometimes that does lead to some major life changes, but that is okay. It is never too late and you are never too old to make a change or to go after what you want in life.
It is important to remember that you are not alone. All women in their 40s are going through the same things. Talk to your friends. Ask for advice from the women in your life who have gone through this. Seek help from your doctor or a therapist if things are too hard to manage on your own. Most of all, remember the saying that life begins at 40. You are just getting to the good parts.
And Now for the Good Stuff…
After all of that, you may be thinking that turning 40 sounds like the worst thing in the world. The fact is that despite all those negative things, it is pretty fantastic. That is because the positive aspects of turning 40 are so great. Seriously.
There is something about turning 40 that gives you a change in perspective. Your priorities start to shift and suddenly there is more of a focus on what makes you happy rather than what makes everyone else happy. Maybe that is because at 40 we finally realize that this is the one life we have to live and it is about time we live it the way we want. Whatever it is that makes it happen, there is a clear shift from worrying about pleasing others and going with the flow than ever before. Turning 40 seems to give you permission to focus on yourself and spend time on (and with) the things that matter.
Letting go of the little things is easier than ever and saying “no” to commitments that you do not want to make becomes more commonplace. When you are younger there is this sense of maintaining the status quo. You feel like you are too young to know better and do not want to upset the people around you whether they are your partner, your family, your boss, and even your friends, so you tend to agree to do things that you do not really want to be doing.
By the time you turn 40, that sense of needing to please other people all the time is gone. That is because you are more confident. You have more life experience. You know that saying you do not want to do something is not the end of the world. Turning 40 gives you the gift of having an overwhelming sense of freedom to be yourself. You are suddenly more empowered to trust yourself. You care less about the way other people see you and shift into doing what makes you happy. It is like the universe is telling you that it is time to take over your life and make it what you want.
It seems like that shift is why you see so many middle-aged people making huge life-changing moves. They are just finally coming around to realizing they can and should change the things that are not working for them. So your forty-something friends who just got divorced, made a major career change, moved across the country, or started doing things like traveling all over the world are finally focusing on themselves and the things that make them happy. Are some of them freaking out about it? Probably. However, most of them have probably never been happier.
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So yes, you have to deal with irregular periods, crow’s feet, and stray chin hairs after turning 40 but you also have this courage and freedom that you have never had before. If you ask most people who are on the other side of turning 40, they will take the crow’s feet if they get to keep the sense of self they have now. That is because those crow’s feet and all the other negative things that come with turning 40 do not matter to you as much anymore. Getting and looking older is a fact of life and somewhere in the process of aging, you learn to embrace it.
All of those negative things about turning 40 seem so much more negative before you actually turn 40. Afterward, at some point in your 40s, you realize that you are honestly pretty content – maybe even the happiest you have ever been. Who cares about wrinkles or a few extra pounds? Putting on an undereye serum is no big deal and the new strength training class you finally had the courage to take at the gym is pretty amazing. Getting a mammogram is no party but it also is not that big of a deal and could quite honestly save your life at some point.
Aging can be hard, but turning 40 seems to be especially troubling. However, there is also a saying that life begins at 40. Once you hit 40, you realize that saying is so true. You learn to let go of other people’s opinions and step into the you that has always been hidden deep inside you. So do not worry about the mammograms and all the skin care products you are going to start buying and focus on the fact that turning 40 turns you lets you be the baddie you were meant to be! Embrace living your life for yourself.
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