Aging is a process that not everyone welcomes with open arms. It can lead you to look back on former years with nostalgia or resentment for not having the same energy or disposition you once did.
But you’re not the only one. The onset of middle age brings anguish to many who fear that their best years are over and there’s nothing else to look forward to than the slow decline of their body and spirit.
This type of existential questioning makes you wonder if you’re living the life you’ve always dreamed of, coming face to face with every decision that brought you to where you are today.
Research has determined that between 10–20% of people go through a crisis during this period, as the ongoing changes brought on by middle age can trigger complex emotions as well as a strong desire to shake up your life.
But this can also be an opportunity to do some soul-searching and start taking better care of your emotional and mental health.
This article clarifies everything related to the midlife crisis, its symptoms, and how to deal with this critical period in every adult's life.
What’s the Midlife Crisis Age?
Middle age refers to the period between being 40 and 60 years old that involves new roles and responsibilities in our lives.
This time is marked by changes in our family life, career, health, among others. For example, your children may move out for the first time, or you may finally retire from work, which can bring a feeling of dissatisfaction or loose ends.
What are the Signs of a Midlife Crisis?
The psychoanalyst Elliott Jaques coined the term “midlife crisis” as a succession of symptoms including depression, distress, and a sense of emptiness related to the approach of the last stage of life.
These symptoms usually lead to a loss of confidence, creativity, and spontaneity.
The transition to middle age involves other marks of emotional turmoil, such as:
- Mood swings: If you’re going through a midlife crisis, you might start experiencing unpredictable mood swings, becoming highly temperamental or irritable for no discernable reason.
- Depression and anxiety: This challenging period of time can lead you to feel restless, agitated, or just plain sad and discouraged.
- Sleeplessness or oversleeping: Pay attention to changes in your sleeping habits, as they suggest you might be frustrated or dissatisfied with your current circumstances.
- Obsessing with appearances: You might experience a sudden concern to remain attractive to others, sometimes going to great lengths and sacrificing your well-being to do so.
- Increased consumption of alcohol or other toxic substances: You might engage in toxic habits to mask your negative emotions.
- Feeling stuck in a rut: You begin feeling like you’re stuck in an unpleasant job, a ruined relationship, or a challenging situation with no way out.
- Recurring thoughts of death: A midlife crisis can lead you to obsess with the idea of death or your own mortality.
- Persistent life evaluation: A midlife crisis can cause you to obsess and ruminate about your life circumstances.
- Impulsiveness: You might feel the urge to engage in impulsive behavior like quitting your job, making sudden expensive purchases, or abruptly ending your relationship.
Other midlife crisis symptoms may include feeling aimless in life, changes in sexual desire, and self-doubt.
A midlife crisis in a man might look differently than a midlife crisis in a woman, as hormonal changes related to menopause can exacerbate emotional and physical discomfort.
In addition, a midlife crisis in a husband might involve buying fancy cars, getting back into unfinished projects, and having love affairs.
What are the Different Stages of a Midlife Crisis?
There’s no scientific evidence to support the definition of midlife crisis stages. The factors that trigger age-related distress may vary depending on your unique situation and circumstances.
But if you’re experiencing symptoms of such a crisis, you may find yourself in one of these stages.
A moment of tension or stress might lead to a loss of motivation or a sense of purpose, or a fear of dying. These triggers might involve health concerns, a loved one's illness or death, job loss, children becoming economically independent or moving out, or a lack of satisfaction in your everyday activities.
This stage is characterized by thoroughly examining your relationship, values, doubts, and identity. If the results aren't what you expected, you might feel uncertain and lost, eager to reshape your life by exploring new interests, identities, or romantic connections.
The period of emotional turmoil should end once you feel more comfortable with your choices and welcome this next chapter of your life.
There is no set time for a midlife crisis. Everyone deals with their problems differently, and this process is not always linear or quick.
If you take the necessary steps to come to terms with aging and resolve your existential concerns, this crisis may last a few weeks or months.
But if you continue to face new stressors that add more problems to your emotional distress, this period can drag on for much longer.
Why Does a Midlife Crisis Happen?
This type of age-related crisis is usually triggered by a significant event that makes us aware of our own mortality, making us feel that we’re running out of time.
The leading causes can be grouped into these vital changes:
- Awareness of mortality: It could be the onset of menopause, the death of a loved one, or even your first pair of reading glasses.
- A health issue: You may have a health scare that makes you realize that your body is not the same as it used to be.
- A decline in sexual desire: Perhaps you no longer feel as sensual or attractive as in previous years, leading you to think that you’ll never be able to enjoy your libido again.
- A feeling of being stuck: Your career is no longer rewarding and doesn't seem to be going anywhere or serve any apparent purpose.
- The end or lack of a meaningful relationship: A divorce or the lack of a significant person or family to keep you company can become very noticeable during this age and trigger a crisis.
- Regrets regarding your goals and accomplishments: If you once planned to have a different or more prosperous life than you do now, this can develop into a midlife crisis.
How Can I Deal With a Midlife Crisis?
Whatever you want to call it, the psychological, emotional, and physical discomfort you feel is valid and should be treated like any other crisis in life.
The following strategies will help you navigate your midlife crisis more effectively:
1. Acknowledge your feelings
Ignoring your frustration or acting like nothing’s happening won't make things better. Instead, use this period to delve deeper into these concerns and make the most out of them.
Talk to people you trust, journal your thoughts, and answer the following questions:
- During what moments do I feel most content and satisfied?
- With whom do I enjoy spending my time?
- What activities give me meaning and purpose?
- How do I take care of my physical, emotional, and psychological needs?
2. Your life is expanding, not ending
Embracing the onward march of time can help you take control of your circumstances. You can't avoid growing older, but that doesn't mean your life is over.
We tend to align our activities with society's idea of middle age, making everything even more frustrating. So choose what makes you feel happier and not what you think it's the “right” thing to do.
Instead of limiting yourself, realize the wide range of possibilities lying before you. Welcome new hobbies and creative pursuits in your life, change your diet, do a makeover, have a casual date, or even go back to college.
All these opportunities are within your grasp and will restore your self-confidence, joy, and purpose in life. Doing things that make you happy will renew your spirit and help you realize that it’s never too late to start focusing on yourself.
3. Take stock of your relationships
All relationships, especially long-term partnerships and marriages, change over time. But these changes can sometimes lead to unmet needs and other conflicts.
If your relationship is going through a crisis, you may become lonely and worsen your situation. However, these changes may be because your emotional needs are simply changing.
Doing couples therapy to explore these growth areas and identifying the stressors in your relationship can bring you great insights and relief.
4. Stop your internal criticism
It is natural to compare our achievements with those of others, especially as we get older – which accentuates the suffering of a midlife crisis.
You can counteract this negative internal dialogue by being aware of your automatic thoughts and stopping them.
These techniques can be taught to you by a specialized cognitive behavioral therapist.
5. Stay present
Mindfulness, yoga, meditation, or even going for a run can help you stay grounded in the present and stop self-judgment.
A midlife crisis can make you feel anxious about your future or depressed about your past choices, which is why becoming more present could help you get back on track.
6. Take small steps
When going through a midlife crisis, you might be tempted to radically change your life and throw all your achievements away. But instead, consider taking small steps that meet your skills, experience, and relationships.
These incremental changes will bring minor boosts of confidence and positivity. That way, when you start feeling happy again, and you will, you won't be left with an empty or broken life.
7. Talk to someone
Many people, especially men in a midlife crisis, struggle to reach out to others when feeling lost or discontent. They fear people will judge them or think something is wrong with them, losing their respect in the process.
But sharing how you feel with a friend who can listen compassionately can help you walk through this challenging experience and make you feel less lonely. Keep in mind that isolation can make you feel even more dissatisfied and hopeless, leading to a harmful cycle.
If you don’t have someone in whom you can safely confide, reaching out to a therapist is always an option.
Can Online Therapy Help?
That is why it’s always helpful to seek the advice of a professional to help you cope with this crisis and its effects more effectively.
Plus, you don't have to cram your schedule by going to a therapist in person, as most counseling can be done online.
The benefits of online therapy include:
- Accessibility: Therapy requires you to attend several monthly sessions, which is not very convenient for most people. If you have a changing work schedule or simply a hectic lifestyle, going to therapy can end up being a burden rather than a solution. In addition, finding a face-to-face therapist can be a lengthy process that must be repeated if you don't feel comfortable with the one you're seeing. That's why starting therapy online is more accessible, taking just a few minutes to contact a new therapist that suits your preferences, thanks to the wide variety of professionals available. In addition, online therapy is more affordable than in-person treatment and provides anonymity if you so desire.
- Convenience: Online therapy can also be more convenient than in-person sessions. Online counseling can be done using audio or text messaging. You don't have to worry about traveling to the therapist's office, saving you a lot of time and energy in the process.
- Effectiveness: Some people believe that online therapy is not as effective as in-person therapy, which is not the case. Numerous studies have concluded that the results are equally successful in both types of treatment for addressing different types of mental illnesses and issues.
Getting older doesn’t mean your life is ending. Like any other crisis, a midlife crisis can be an opportunity to reevaluate your life and find new interests and passions.
However, feeling frustrated or unhappy can lead you to experience symptoms such as anxiety or depression, which aren't easy to navigate. This is why it’s advisable to contact a professional therapist to assist you during these challenging times.
Therapy can be conducted online to provide you with convenience and comfort to restore a sense of well-being in your life.
Our network of qualified mental health professionals can help you start online counseling and work through the difficulties of middle age. Online therapy will validate your fears and allow you to change your emotional responses and outlook on your symptoms to resume enjoying your life, even as you get a bit older each year.