Suddenly stressed out by the minor things? Welcome to the 'exhaustion gap'.

As a 44-year-old working mum of two active boys, I know what it means to feel tired at the end of a busy day. But as I head rapidly towards being in my mid-40s and possibly perimenopause, that feeling of general tiredness has recently felt overwhelming. 

I first noticed this shift in the lead-up to Christmas 2022. 

I used to enjoy getting into the festive spirit, but last year for the very first time, Christmas just felt like something else I needed to add to my never-ending 'to-do' list. 

Around this time, my parents arrived from overseas, and a specialist diagnosed me with osteoarthritis. I was busy, tired and suddenly feeling sore and sorry for myself, but weirdly I found it was the small things that upset me.

Watch: Superwoman is dead. Post continues below.

Video via Mamamia.

I fretted over what to buy for dinner, making healthy lunches that my kids wouldn't complain about, and trying to schedule personal appointments into my increasingly busy schedule. 

Eventually, after having a meltdown about the logistics of a family trip to Melbourne (something I would usually enjoy planning), I took myself to the GP who referred me to a psychologist. 


And after chats with friends and family, I know I am not the only one to experience this 'general tiredness to exhaustion' pathway in midlife.

Lorraine Candy, podcaster and author of What’s Wrong With Me? 101 Things Midlife Women Need To Know, says that her tolerance for everyday stress dipped drastically when she was working as an editor of a glossy magazine in the UK.

"I was jittery organising a holiday, fearful of booking wrong times or dates," Candy writes for Grazia.

"I was worried about driving and became tearful before an important day at work. This was a quake in my outgoing, organised, extrovert identity and, frankly, I found it shameful: I come from the endurance generation – at 55, I’m Gen X – the so-called ‘have it all’ army who wore our ability ‘to push on through’ as a badge of honour."

When an honest social media post about decreasing 'windows of tolerance' for stress became Candy's most-liked and commented on social post ever, she knew she'd hit on something big.

"Women of all ages messaged me to say they cried with relief and recognition, but men messaged me too. They wanted to thank me for making the women in their lives feel okay about melting under pressure."

During the research process for her book, Candy looked into this change in stress tolerance that she and many other women post-40 had experienced.

"I’d discovered women were three times more likely to encounter mental health issues than men.

"It felt like I’d discovered a new 'gap’ alongside the pay gap and the pension/wealth gap: this was the female exhaustion gap," she shared.


"I had once flourished at full-speed but I realised I was now faced with a conundrum of having to slow down. I started to say no to things at work and home. I re-evaluated my diet, my exercise routine. I made everything ‘softer’ and less manic. I even put ‘do nothing’ in my diary as a reminder to take time out and reset."

As Candy suggests, I am also attempting to lean into a 'softer' way of living.

I had once assumed that as I got older and wiser, and my kids grew up and became less 'needy', my life would surely get easier, but I hadn't factored the midlife exhaustion gap into the equation.


Now, as I approach perimenopause and simultaneously begin parenting a teenager, I am trying to slow down certain areas of my life and be kinder to myself where possible. I am exercising in a more gentle way by ditching regular runs in favour of walking in nature, which is not only good for me physically but emotionally, too.

Alongside regular chats with a psychologist, I am also starting to re-evaluate other areas of my life to help me better manage my personal exhaustion gap and stress tolerance.

I am okay with asking for help and I know too that this is a perfectly normal stage of life for many women.

Where once I felt as if I could do it all – the juggle of growing kids, work, financial pressure and relationships – I'm realising that sometimes I can't. And that's okay.

As Candy says, "The lesson we are all learning here is that if we know in advance that our ability to cope with stress may decline (whether we are working or parenting full-time, or both) then we will be ready for it."

And I am as ready as I'll ever be.

Laura Jackel is Mamamia's Senior Lifestyle Family Writer. For links to her articles and to see photos of her outfits and kids, follow her on Instagram and TikTok.

Feature Image: Getty.

As women our bodies are always changing! Tell us about your experience to go in the running to win one of four $50 gift vouchers.