Midlife. For many of us a normal time of contemplation and appraisal of their lives so far. We think about our mortality and begin to question; Have we done enough with our lives? Is this all there is? But a midlife crisis, once thought to be a poor excuse for new Corvettes and extra-marital affairs, is now recognized as a mental health concern. The question is: What exactly is a midlife crisis?
Crises can happen, obviously, at any time in our life. Dr. Barry Kaufman, a licensed psychologist in Michigan with over 35 years of experience, says, “I don’t know if I would call it a midlife crisis. It’s people trying to respond to transitions in their life. There is a continuum of reactions, not all are crises.”
So what is a midlife crisis?
Classically defined, a midlife crisis usually hits somewhere between your mid-forties and mid-sixties. It’s generally defined as feelings of worry and anxiety about advancing age, impending death, failure to accomplish goals, a loss of self-confidence, and regrets in general.
How long does a midlife crisis last?
While both genders are just as likely to have them, men and women have different signs and durations of these crises. Dr. Kaufman says that men, more often than women, define their lives by what they do for work. When men hit retirement age, they are often left questioning their identities.
For men, a midlife crisis can last from 3-10 years, and symptoms can include things like: Fear of changes associated with aging, fear of illness and death, and the thought that their choice of a wife was a mistake and that they may never feel sexual passion again.
For women, the time period coincides with perimenopause and menopause, where hormones are on overdrive. A woman’s crisis can look like an inability to sleep, a feeling of going crazy, boredom, and a feeling of uselessness. But, as Dr. Kaufman notes, luckily for women they more often have interpersonal connections that can serve as a buffer when a crisis hits.
Both genders may feel apathy, jealousy, and a need to recapture their youth.
Some think that a midlife crisis is a social construct, or a self-fulfilling prophecy, that the western world puts on itself due to our fear of aging. People in India and Japan do not typically report midlife crises.
Midlife Crisis Triggers
Most people who say they’ve had a midlife crisis indicate it was precipitated by a major life event, like the death of a loved one, or a career setback, which implies that these crises are not “midlife” per se, but just happened to fall during that time period. In fact, some research shows that people, in fact, become happier into their 30’s and beyond.
How to Handle a Midlife Crisis
A midlife crisis is not the norm, so if you are experiencing these symptoms, get help. Talk to someone, find a group, join a community. For Dr. Kaufman, he says the key is connections. Some folks become more involved with their religious community. Some join clubs like the American Legion or Eagles. Some volunteer for a cause that they’re passionate about. Lean on your friends and family during periods of hardship. “A person’s ability to cope with stressors depends on the support system they have in place,” notes Kaufman, at any period in their life.” If you don’t have someone to talk too, a 7 Cups listener or therapist is here for you.
Midlife Crisis Silver Lining
The good news is, a midlife crisis may spur you to take action on something to which you had become complacent. In fact, a 2016 study found that midlife crises can “bring openness to new ideas and stimuli that can bring insight and creative solutions, which can move our development forward.”
The overarching theme in a midlife crisis is regret, so ask yourself: What is it that you regret doing? What have you always wanted to do but never had the time/energy/money?
Maybe it’s time to send out resumes and get that position you’ve always wanted. Perhaps you should go back and get the degree one your parents said wasn’t practical.
Ask yourself if there are any relationships you’ve neglected or cut off, because of something that seems silly now, that may you may want to rekindle. (Note: do not rekindle harmful or hurtful relationships that cause you more mental distress.) Try out a hobby you’ve always wanted to take a crack at.
If you use the crisis as a jumping off point rather than a dead-end, it becomes a period of development and self-realization, and the crisis turns into a breakthrough.