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What Is a Midlife Crisis – Signs, Symptoms & How to Deal with It

By David Quilty

old man sports carBuying an expensive sports car, getting some fancy bling, and getting Botox injections: What do these three behaviors have in common?

They may be signs that someone is having a midlife crisis. A midlife crisis happens to many men and women, often between the ages of 35 and 55. A midlife crisis can dig a significant hole in someone’s savings and retirement accounts, and while some studies have shown that only about 10% of the U.S. population has a legitimate, identifiable midlife crisis, the process can be painful for many people.

Most people manage to work their way through a midlife crisis without too much trouble, but others struggle to find balance in their life again. The concept of the “passing of youth” pertains to millions of people struggling with these feelings on a daily basis.

What Is a Midlife Crisis?

The phrase “midlife crisis” was first introduced by Elliot Jaques in 1965, and used extensively by Freudian psychologists like Carl Jung. It was described as a normal period during the lifespan, when we transition from young people to older adults. During this time, adults evaluate their achievements, goals, and dreams against what they had wished for in the past, and what stage they are facing in life.

Both men and women can experience a midlife crisis, but they experience the crisis differently. Men focus directly on their achievements, and their desire to prove their success to others around them, while women tend to fixate on their physical appearance, sexual attraction, and what they can do once their parenting duties have ended.

People who spend their lives dedicated to fulfilling their aspirations and objectives are less likely to have a midlife crisis; growing older is easier for them. Others go through life on autopilot, and suddenly realize that they are getting older, time has passed them by, and that they haven’t accomplished very much.

This can leave them with a feeling of malaise and regrets, often accompanied by a midlife crisis. The crisis can take on many forms ranging from mild to dangerous, and may impact health, well-being, and finances. Adults can survive a midlife crisis by recognizing the symptoms and addressing them as they occur.

midlife crisis older man

Signs & Symptoms of a Midlife Crisis

1. Buying a Sports Car
Adults looking to recapture their childhood may purchase an expensive car. The car symbolizes success and youth, two important needs of someone suffering through a midlife crisis.

2. Drastic Changes in Habits, Mood Swings, and Impulsive Decision-Making
Adults trying to cope with a midlife crisis may suddenly change their habits, feeling the need for a new schedule and new challenges. People suffering through a midlife crisis may seem irritable or angry without justification or warning. In addition, adults may also demonstrate an increasingly erratic decision-making process.

3. Shifts in Sleeping Habits
Symptoms of a midlife crisis may include the inability to sleep or oversleeping, while the mind works overtime to make sense of the changes happening.

4. Obsession with Appearances
A midlife crisis might include unexpected changes in personal appearance, including different styles of clothing, makeup, and exercise routines. The adult suffering through the crisis may have a need to remain attractive to others.

5. Disconnecting from Old Friends, and Replacing Them with Younger Friends
Nothing makes a person feel old like noticing that their friends have aged. Someone going through a midlife crisis may surround themselves with younger friends.

6. Feeling Tied Down, with No Chance for Change
Signs of a midlife crisis include a feeling of general hopelessness and being “stuck in a rut.” Many of these adults think they have fewer options for their future.

7. Thoughts of Death or Dying
Many people suffering through a midlife crisis begin to think about their own mortality. These thoughts can lead to a dangerous obsession with death, and lead to depression.

8. Changing Careers
A midlife crisis might include changing career paths, as these adults feel unfulfilled.

9. Leaving a Spouse or Having an Affair
Some adults having a midlife crisis commit infidelity, or file for divorce. These adults crave respect, attention, and affection from a new partner.

10. Bouts of Depression
Symptoms of a midlife crisis may include feeling “sad, blue, unhappy, miserable, or down in the dumps.” Signs of depression might include difficulty with accomplishing and focusing on simple tasks.

11. Increased Consumption of Alcohol or Drugs
Adults may turn to drugs or alcohol to mask feelings of regret and depression, which go hand in hand with these kinds of crises.

12. Listless and Bored
Adults suffering through a midlife crisis may begin to feel listless and bored with their lives. A beloved hobby becomes dull, a once-fun job seems tedious, and a lifetime dedication to spirituality becomes a sham.

13. Assigning Blame
A common symptom of a midlife crisis includes assigning blame to others. Confused about the changes happening, adults may accuse spouses, family members, and friends of trying to malign them, hurt them, or stop them from moving forward.

14. Recent Traumas
Going through a divorce, getting fired, a death of a family member or friend, or empty nest syndrome, can all trigger a midlife crisis.

midlife crisis older woman

Tips & Strategies for Dealing with a Midlife Crisis

1. Acknowledge the Crisis
Acknowledging the changes happening can help you find a way to move past the crisis.

2. Think Before Making Any Radical Changes
Before quitting a job, buying an expensive car, or leaving a spouse, talk to family members and friends. Sometimes, having an outside opinion can provide a useful perspective.

3. Get Professional Help
This can include different kinds of therapy, medicine, and holistic treatments.

4. Midlife Crises Are Not Inherently a Bad Thing
Use new thoughts and ideas in a positive way. With careful consideration and preparation, attitudes can improve with change, lessening the effects of the crisis.

5. Move Outside Your Comfort Zone
Trying a new activity, increasing a base of knowledge, and traveling can also help you move out of your comfort zones.

6. Volunteer More
Volunteering to help others can offer a new perspective to the problems caused by a midlife crisis. Working with the homeless or victims of domestic violence, for example, can help provide you with context during a midlife crisis.

7. Talk About the Crisis with Loved Ones
Sometimes, just having a compassionate ear can make all the difference. Have frank discussions with loved ones to help ease the pain of a midlife crisis.

8. Create New Goals
If the current plan for aging and retirement has lost its luster, changing the plan may help. Reconsider where to live during retirement, or whether to continue working for the same employer. Taking steps towards positive changes can bring new energy into a marriage and into a career. Make a list of everything to accomplish in the next year, in the next five years, and in the next twenty years. Talk to a spouse or loved ones about the new personal goals, and how they can be achieved.

9. Exercise and Eat Healthy Foods
Incorporating exercise, yoga, or meditation into a daily routine can help people suffering through a midlife crisis to gain perspective. Eat organic superfoods and take supplements for a much-needed energy boost.

Final Word

Many people do not believe in the concept of a midlife crisis, which makes living through one all the more difficult. Many experience a midlife crisis, or something akin to a crisis, when they reach middle age, and they need the support of friends and family members closest to them. A midlife crisis may be the beginning of a personal, emotional, and financial decline in an adult’s life. Watch for the signs, and take steps to deal with the crisis accordingly.

Have you or a friend experienced a midlife crisis? What strategies helped to resolve it?

(photo credit: Shutterstock)

David Quilty
David Quilty is a freelance writer living outside Santa Fe, NM. After burning out working in the entertainment field in Los Angeles for many years, David decided to strike out on his own and follow his passions for writing, web design, politics, and green living on a dirt road in rural New Mexico.

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  • Bobby Allison

    I am in a midlife crisis and I can tell you that this article is right on!

  • Siva

    I heard this phrase ‘mid life crisis’ and tried google. This is the first article I came across and it exactly describes what i am going through. I was also not able to put together what i was going through and this article helps me identify that.

  • frustrated wife

    I think this is a crock! I am here taking care of our 5 kids and he gets to have a “crisis.” How convenient.

    • joe35

      Women can have them, too, you know. So it’s not simply an “excuse” guys of a certain age can take advantage of. It can easily affect both sexes, but manifest itself in different ways.

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