12 Minutes

Edited & medically reviewed by THE BALANCE Team
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As you age, you may begin to reflect on your early life with a mixture of emotions, including nostalgia, satisfaction, and sometimes even regret. Many would fear the coming of middle age, so you aren’t alone in your concerns, worries, and uneasiness. Sometimes, you may believe that your “best years” have passed, leaving you with nothing else to look forward to except long, monotonous days, a meaningless existence, and the gradual decay of your mind and body.

You may start to wonder whether you’re on the verge of the feared midlife crisis as you confront these profound questions and come to grips with the knowledge that your life has gone a different path than you anticipated.

A period of introspection is relatively typical, although only 10 to 20% of middle-aged individuals genuinely experience a crisis. The majority of experts regard the “midlife crisis” to be a cultural phenomenon, a Western illusion perpetuated by worn-out media clichés.

The significant changes that accompany this new life stage frequently elicit conflicting feelings. These emotions may not always create a crisis, but they are certainly worth investigating.

“Midlife” occurs usually between the ages of 30 and 60, only off by a few years. A widespread assumption about this phase of life is that you must anticipate inner upheaval regarding your identity, choices in life, destiny, and death – a midlife crisis.

In the 1960s, psychoanalyst Elliott Jacques coined the term “midlife crisis.” Jacques observed that individuals in their mid-to-late-30s appeared to experience a period of depression and abrupt lifestyle changes as soon as they confronted their death. It was noted that the average age for a midlife crisis was 35 years. This was also the age at which midlife crisis peaked. The notion that the midlife crisis is a biological fact gained popularity. It is now usually linked with middle-aged men buying expensive cars or quitting their marriages to recapture a sense of youth.

It is evident that midlife is associated with a fall in happiness and life satisfaction, according to certain studies. However, it is crucial to highlight that the decline in happiness is not always significant. And, according to other studies, people’s life satisfaction levels appear to increase as they approach midlife and then diminish as they approach their later years. Therefore, “crisis” is not an acceptable term to define the midlife perspective for many people. Ten to 20% of adults report having had a midlife crisis, according to studies.

While the notion that a midlife crisis is unavoidable lacks credibility, some of us certainly face increased stresses as we approach these years. You may begin to remorse your career path, feel imprisoned by your financial choices, fret over a deterioration in your physical capacities, and lament missed opportunities.

As individuals enter middle age, a transition or increase in obligations may also occur. You may have to begin caring for an elderly parent or realize that your children are growing more independent, for instance.

Based on your situation and perspective, it may be a difficult and bewildering period. However, midlife can be a time of development, stability, and happiness. Understanding the indicators and reasons for a midlife crisis may assist you in devising strategies to deal with the normal challenges that come with this stage of life and look for ways to thrive.

Since “midlife crisis” is not an accepted diagnosis, it is challenging for researchers to explore this concept. Scientists usually disagree on the characteristics of a midlife crisis.

The majority of the research relies on the responses of the participants to questions related to whether they have had a midlife crisis. One person’s definition of a crisis may not align with another person’s definition of a midlife crisis.

While it is commonly believed that a midlife crisis comprises a dread of death or a longing to be youthful again, it is possible that the feelings encountered during a midlife crisis are not all that dissimilar from those encountered during any other form of life crisis.

The following are prevalent midlife crisis symptoms in men and women:

  • Depression or loss of confidence, particularly after a significant achievement or birthday.
  • Loss of purpose or meaning in life; apathy
  • Feeling unsatisfied or unfulfilled
  • Feelings of regret and nostalgia
  • Excessive contemplation about the past
  • Making rash decisions
  • Feelings of guilt
  • Always comparing oneself to others
  • These signs may be exacerbated in women during menopause.
  • Men may experience greater anger or irritation than women.
  • The symptoms of depression and a midlife crisis are similar and can often be the same; therefore, it is advisable to consult a physician if you suspect you are depressed.
  • As per the Centers for Disease Control, the peak suicide rates are among white men aged 45 to 54. Also, women between the ages of 40 and 60 have the highest depression rates.
  • It is essential to distinguish between depression and situations such as a midlife crisis.

Getting older results in many significant changes. Relationships can change or dissolve. Careers might grow increasingly demanding or fall short of an individual’s expectations. As a person’s friends and parents age or pass away, they may come to terms with their death.

Erik Erikson distinguished eight different stages of human development, each with its central struggle. According to Erikson, the battle at midlife is between stagnation and generativity. Fears of stagnation may precipitate a midlife crisis, whereas a shift toward generativity — providing something to the upcoming generation — may help resolve the problem of crisis.

Each midlife crisis is unique. The following are common causes of midlife crises:

  • Societal messages around aging, such as the notion that middle-aged and elderly individuals are less attractive.
  • Modifications in the body, include pain, weight gain, and decreased energy.
  • Fear of the process of aging itself.
  • Fear of dying
  • Changes in a person’s relationship, including divorce and other changes.
  • Effects on one’s parenting style and the relationship with their children. This may involve having children, watching their leaving, or even becoming grandparents. Some people have a midlife crisis owing to empty nest syndrome.
  • Changes in one’s profession, like work being more or less hard than in the past.
  • Financial difficulties, particularly those related to retirement.
  • Early-life trauma is being addressed.
  • The perception that one’s life has not turned out as planned or hoped.

There is no consensus among researchers on a set interpretation of a midlife crisis, let alone a set of predicted stages. Midlife crises develop differently among individuals. Some individuals experience a midlife crisis in three general stages:

  • Something happens that induces apprehension about aging. This could be a significant birthday event, the loss of a loved one, a professional change, or anything else that prompts a person to ponder on their age or life.
  • An individual endures a period of crisis. During this time, people may investigate other identities, alter their connections with loved ones, and search out new sources of purpose.
  • Through counseling, acceptance of life’s changes, recovering a sense of control, or any other method that makes the life experience feel less overwhelming, the individual in crisis overcomes the crisis.

Some people experience a midlife crisis for only a few weeks. For others, the resolution takes many years. Jim Conway, a counselor, and pastor who has written several books on midlife transitions and crises asserts that the midlife crisis is comparable to the phases of mourning identified by Elizabeth Kübler-Ross. He identifies six phases of the midlife crisis.

  • Denial. This is often the start of a midlife crisis, which occurs when a person fights or denies the fact that they are aging.
  • Anger. During this period, individuals become disillusioned with the difficulties of midlife or their incapacity to overcome them.
  • Replay. A person may seek to recapture the most alluring aspects of their youth by undergoing cosmetic surgery, pursuing an affair, or evading responsibility.
  • Depression. A person may feel unhappy and worried when replay fails.
  • Withdrawal. As a means of coping with their despair, a person isolates themselves from loved ones.
  • Acceptance. A person eventually recognizes that they are aging and begins to seek significance in the next phase of their lives.

To avoid the grief or worry that might precede or follow a midlife crisis, individuals may attempt to relive the pleasures of youth by having an affair, purchasing a new car, abusing drugs or consuming alcohol, or engaging in other risky behaviors. People having a midlife crisis or on the verge of experiencing one may display the following behaviors and emotions

Relationship discontentment.  A person may wish to change the limits of their relationship, abandon sexual activity, or fundamentally alter their sexual orientation.

Concern about one’s physical appearance. A person may wear clothing that creates a “younger” appearance, experiment with different diets, engage in frequent exercise, utilizes cosmetic products, or seeks procedures to lessen or reverse the indications of aging. It may be difficult for the individual to realize who they have become.

Career discontentment. A person undergoing a midlife crisis may urge to leave their job or flee their obligations and may feel bitter and envious of younger employees, particularly those who seem to be advancing.

Emotional suffering. In a failed attempt to avoid feelings of emotional upheaval, a person may have feelings of depression or emptiness (particularly for extended periods), be irritable or quick to anger, frequently reflect on death, question religious beliefs, engage in risky behavior, or abuse alcohol and drugs.

There isn’t much evidence to back up the idea that women experience midlife crises at certain stages or with different symptoms than males do. Women are just as likely to undergo a midlife crisis as men. Comparable to men, their midlife journey may be influenced by socialization and gender norms.

Women are under enormous pressure to stay young and attractive, and they may fear that their partners will develop an interest in younger women. Women are more likely to undergo cosmetic procedures than men, and some of these procedures may be motivated by a midlife crisis or fear of aging.

Women can experience the same signs of a midlife crisis as men, including anxieties about their aging bodies, attractiveness, professional success, and relationships. Moreover, some women may battle with how decisions regarding childrearing influence them in midlife. To raise children, women are more likely to stop working outside compared to men. Some women may regret making this decision, be dissatisfied by limited professional opportunities, and feel less fulfilled as their children age.

Women are substantially more likely to split with their partners than men, contrary to prevalent notions about men leaving their marriages for younger partners. A 2015 survey indicated that 69 percent of divorces are initiated by women. The divorce rate for women aged 55 to 64 has tripled since the 1990s, based on data from the National Center for Family and Marriage Research. Women may seek divorce after a midlife crisis or as a means of overcoming it.

Although it is not essential for a man to take action to feel relief from the undesirable manifestations of midlife crises, certain men will take action to effectively cope with them and decrease their harmful effects. These can be as easy as acknowledging and discussing feelings with a support group and adopting healthy habits, but may also involve seeking professional assistance.

The following are ten tips for dealing with a midlife crisis.

1. Acknowledge Your Feelings

Remember to explore your emotions thoroughly. Avoid disregarding or ignoring the significance of your emotions.

2. Express Your Emotions

After you have a firm hold on your emotions, communicate them to others. Inform your family members and loved ones of how you feel, why you think this way, and what they may do to help. Even group counseling may be helpful.

3. Normalize Your Feelings

It is natural to experience a midlife crisis. If you deny your condition, you abandon yourself. Understand that midlife crises aren’t ideal, but completely normal.

4. Form A Team

You may handle your crisis on your own, but teamwork will be more effective in overcoming obstacles. Create a group of acquaintances, family members, friends, coworkers, and even your spouse for support.

5. Recognize Growing Old

You decide how old you are. You might begin to reassess your view of aging and the future by modifying your expectations.

6. Stay Away From Temptations

During a crisis, the desire to take big and rash actions will be overwhelming. Slow down and devote a great deal of time to making future decisions depending on their long-term implications as opposed to instant gratification.

7. Restate Your Objective

So much of the unpleasantness linked with a crisis stems from uncertainty regarding one’s future and fluctuating roles. Spend some time with your support team contemplating your life’s mission and other aspirations. Will you stay in the same direction or will you make the change?

8. Maintain Your Physical Health

Your mental health will suffer during a midlife crisis, but you must also maintain your physical health. Prioritize adequate sleep, ample exercise, and healthy nutrition. It is difficult to tackle any problem while exhausted, lethargic, and hungry.

9. Acknowledge The Change

Change is inevitable in life, but in a midlife crisis, it is of particular importance. Instead of fearing or worrying about the transition, learn to accept and value the new challenges that lie ahead.

10. Embrace The Road Ahead

Perhaps the most effective method to handle a midlife crisis is to embrace the adventure. Your journey during midlife will be distinctively yours. Recognize the journey you are on to reduce unhealthy compulsive behaviors.



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