Symptoms of a midlife crisis and how to handle it

How to Handle Midlife Crisis & What are Its Symptoms?

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Life goes by in a flash. This is repeated so often because it rings true with so many of us.

One day you’re turning 20 and before you know it, your 40s are creeping up on you unannounced.

When we’re young, ‘tomorrow’ tends to have a positive connotation. A new day is always illuminated by the light of optimism.

But, when we reach our life’s halfway point, there are as many tomorrows as there were yesterdays. This scary prospect can cause us to deeply reflect.

A midlife crisis is a fairly well-known phenomenon. But just how common is its occurrence?

What’s more, is a midlife crisis as inevitable and as dire as many imagine it to be?

Let’s dive into exactly what a midlife crisis represents and entails. We’ll see where our idea of a midlife crisis came from and how common it is.

You can also find out how to tell if you’re going through one and how to deal with it.

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What is a Midlife Crisis and How to Deal With It?

Think of all the movies and TV shows you’ve seen where the middle-aged husband shows up with a red sports car.

What about ones where the wife goes through a complete makeover?

The picture most of us currently have of a midlife crisis is what’s been popularized by the media. 

But this isn’t what the experience always looks like. 

Even before we had fancy makeup or speedy cars, and even before we had a name for it, people experienced a midlife crisis.

So, let’s dissect what this occurrence represents at its core.

Origin of the Term

Psychoanalysis Elliott Jaques coined the term “midlife crisis” in the mid-20th century. He described it as a phenomenon that takes place in people’s mid-30s.

During this time, a person can experience a long and ongoing depressive episode sparked by the realization that life is halfway over and death is imminent.

The theory of the midlife crisis was on a rise for about a decade after its initial proposal.

Gail Sheehy’s book Passages: Predictable Crises of Adult Life, which became a New York Times bestseller, can largely be credited for increasing the prevalence of the theory.

The book explains that panicking in your late 30s is normal and that this midpoint i.e. 37-42 is the peak age for anxiety.

But, ultimately what age is midlife crisis common for?

Although Jaques denoted the crisis in people in their late 30s, the longevity of life has increased throughout the years and now the midpoint of our lives is in our 40s.

This is why most people today consider a midlife crisis likely to occur while you’re 40 to 60 years old.

The U-shape of Happiness

While we all have our own understanding of happiness – but it’s not an easy concept to explain.

Happiness is more familiar to us as something we feel, rather than something we reason, thus it’s difficult to quantify.

However, this hasn’t stopped us from trying to do just that. We constantly try to rationalize, understand, and overall make better sense of our emotions.

By doing this, researchers have found an interesting correlation between happiness and age.

This relationship is referred to as “the U-curve” and has been observed fairly consistently across different individuals, countries, and cultures.

This association is called the U-curve because it sees happiness decline as one goes further into adulthood until it hits the bottom of the curve – when it starts moving upward.

This research indicates the lowest point for happiness and life satisfaction is in the 40-60 age range, while we are happiest in our early adulthood and later stages of life. 

The turning point depends on a person’s overall mental health. People who are naturally happier reach this point earlier in life.

Midlife Crisis – Biological Inevitability or Social Construct?

Other research, however, may suggest that people are happiest at different ages, and can contest the existence of this “turning point”.

Also, data gathered from MIDUS indicates that our common understanding of midlife crises might be fundamentally wrong.

Starting in the 1970s, the idea of a midlife crisis began to permeate our popular media. From here, many developed a sense that a crisis of this sort is an inevitable and natural part of life. 

Yet, studies like MIDUS show that most people don’t suffer a midlife crisis.

Also, many people who experience one, do so as a result of big life events such as the death of a loved one, loss of a job, declining health, divorce, etc.

If any of these events were to happen at other points in time they could cause the same distress but would merely be called a crisis and not a “midlife” one.

According to MIDUS, only 10-20% of Americans experience something that can qualify as a midlife crisis.

So, while our idea about a midlife crisis needs to be reframed, there is still merit to the idea that the midpoint of our lives brings with it some notable changes.

Dealing with a Midlife Crisis

Whatever the consensus is on the definition or the mere existence of a midlife crisis, many adults aged 40 and up are struggling with their mental well-being.

This is not to be discounted, and if you feel like you’re at an all-time low and going through your midlife crisis, there are steps you can take to feel better.

1. Get Creative

Negative emotions we experience can be a huge burden to carry around.

That’s why it’s important to work through these emotions and process them adequately.

However, it’s important to do so in a healthy and productive manner.

This is where artistic endeavors can help. You may not consider yourself to be a particularly creative person, but in truth, we all have an artistic side to some extent.

So, be it painting, sculpting, writing, or anything of the sort, a new creative hobby can help you feel better.

2. Nurture Your Body

Signs of midlife crisis can coincide with symptoms of depression and may cause us to similarly neglect our health and our self-care practices.

But, loving and caring for our bodies is something we should be consistently doing.

You should regularly exercise, eat right, and get the appropriate amount of rest.

Your mind can’t effectively process your emotions without the help of your body, so give it all the assistance you can.

3. Take Care of Your Mind

Mental health impacts us in many ways. There is no clinical diagnosis of a midlife crisis, nor is it any type of disorder.

However, any psychological distress should be taken seriously, and dealing with other mental health issues, while navigating your midlife crisis, can make it that much more challenging.

Reflect on your mental well-being from time to time and make sure that you’re doing well overall. 

4. Embrace Change

In popular media, midlife crisis examples typically include people desperately grasping to their fading youth.

Men buy a new car, have affairs, or start new families. Women change their appearance and similarly try to recapture their youth, just in a different manner.

Now, this isn’t how a midlife crisis typically manifests in real life, but saying farewell to our younger years can be tolling.

Yet, change is not a bad thing. Change is simply another inevitable part of life – embrace it.

Acceptance is one of the most important aspects of healing from any hardship. Once we make peace with aging, we can even start to finally enjoy it.

5. Reach Out to Those Closest to You

A strong support system is crucial when dealing with many mental health issues. If you’re struggling, one of the first things to do should be to reach out to someone close to you.

Not only is socializing important for our mental health and life satisfaction but talking through our issues and feelings can help us understand and process them.

You can reach out to a close friend, family member, or a member of your local or religious community.

6. Online Therapy

A midlife crisis can impact everyone differently. Sometimes, a person might be hit especially hard and experience an extremely negative reaction to reaching their midlife.

Other times, other health issues or life events and outside stressors can make it more difficult to navigate through trying times.

Online therapy services can help you to a great extent.

In therapy, you’ll build coping mechanisms, dissect your maladaptive cognitive and behavioral patterns, and hopefully achieve success in bettering your mental state and moving past the crisis portion of the midpoint of life.

What are the Symptoms of Midlife Crisis?

It may seem contradictory, but the human experience is both universal and notably unique to each individual.

Therefore, signs of midlife crisis are going to vary person-to-person. 

Midlife crisis symptoms you experience can depend on your previous mental well-being, your sex, and your life circumstances.

There are, however, certain signs that strongly indicate you’re going through a midlife crisis.

1. Regret

Intense feelings of regret and sorrow can be an indicator of a midlife crisis.

Given that the crisis is spurred on by our reflection on the bygone days, it’s easy to feel regret when ruminating over opportunities we perceive we’ve “missed out on.” 

This can include possible relationships, experiences, and career prospects. Regret can lead you to be dissatisfied with your current life and unhappy living in the present moment.

2. Nostalgia

Nostalgia is similar to regret, and it can go hand in hand with it. Where regret focuses on what could have been, nostalgia remembers what once was.

However, when it comes to nostalgia, our memory tends to play tricks on us.

Usually, we remember an idyllic past, far better than was actually the reality.

We often look back at the “good old days”, wishing we were there, forgetting anything negative about the past, and dismissing all the positive aspects of our current life.

3. “What Ifs”

Reminiscing is one thing, but it can lead us to daydream about possible outcomes. What if I took that job in Seattle? What if I didn’t get married so young?

These scenarios make it harder for us to accept our current lives.

Also, these wishful fantasies make us grow increasingly frustrated with our inability to change past actions and live out the “better” life we’ve imagined in our heads.

4. Excessive Irritability

Regret, nostalgia, and images of a different life can make us feel trapped.

Life is slowly passing by and it feels more and more difficult to change your circumstances. This can cause us to feel frustration and act increasingly irritable.

These emotions can be directed towards those around us like parents, romantic partners, or friends.

5. Radical Behavioral Changes and Impulsiveness

A radical change in appearance, large and careless purchases, or indulgence in alcohol, drugs, food, and other vices, can characterize the onset of a midlife crisis.

This is the most famous symptom of the experience.

These impulsive changes seek to “fix past mistakes” or make up for “missed opportunities”.
At this point, we may also question the values and goals we’ve held throughout our lives.

6. A Change in Sex Drive

A midlife crisis can bring about different changes and one of them has to do with our sex drive.

Sometimes, people will experience a lower sex drive and find they’ve lost interest in sexual intimacy.

Other times a midlife crisis leads to an increased sex drive and promiscuity. 

Thoughts of infidelity are not uncommon as many aging adults try to recapture youth by getting romantically involved with a younger person.

Some may act upon this, but many merely consider or fantasize about having a younger partner.

Midlife Crisis or Depression?

Signs of midlife crisis can closely resemble depressive symptoms and vice versa.

Therefore, it can be hard to distinguish if we are re-examining our life at 40, or if there’s more going on beneath the surface.

A midlife crisis may be a hard time and can cause significant mental distress, but clinical depression is a diagnosable mental disorder, requiring treatment and medication.

So, if you’re considerably worried about your psychological well-being, discuss this with a certified mental health professional.

How Can Online Therapy Help to Overcome Midlife Crisis?

Midlife crisis symptoms should lessen and completely go away with time.

As we find peace in life and accept the aging process and its inevitability, we can move past this turning point in our lives.

However, a midlife crisis can last for a long time and might present severe distress in some.

Those who struggle with other issues, related to life or their health, can find it even more difficult to get past the difficulties a midlife crisis brings.

This is when it’s important to seek out help, and online therapy can be the optimal solution.

Internet-based counseling is easy to access and you can talk to thousands of different healthcare professionals from the comfort of your own home.

Aside from this, online therapy services are cheaper than face-to-face counseling sessions – but are just as effective.

If you don’t have a lot of means to devote to counseling, online therapy allows you to get affordable help.

This makes it an even better solution for many people with limited monetary resources. After all, financial difficulties can worsen one’s mental state even further.

Online Therapy Methods

Our brain processes are complicated. There are many schools of thought when it comes to human behavior and cognition, and so, there are many different therapy treatment techniques and methods to choose from.

An online therapist can specialize in different things. Some will be more qualified to work with clients on issues regarding middle age than others.

Usually, these issues involve regret, depression, and lowered self-esteem.

To achieve the best results, you should find the therapist that works best for your case.
This is easily done online. Look at different platforms and what different counselors offer.
Once in therapy, talk to your therapist about the approach and progress made. If you feel you’re stagnant, don’t be afraid to switch the therapist up for a more suitable match.

Achieving Growth

The goal of therapy is always to improve your overall well-being and achieve tangible results.

A midlife crisis can be overwhelming, suffocating, and overall difficult in many ways. What’s more, your midlife crisis experience can even lead to major changes in your life.

Your entire worldview can change, and you might search for a deeper meaning in life. At this time, you may even attempt to process earlier psychological trauma that’s been left unresolved.

This can be exhausting, but ultimately, the reflection we do during these years can help us down the line, especially by implementing therapy techniques and drawing from them as a growth method. 

Online therapy can help you:

  1. Develop healthy coping mechanisms;
  2. Improve your relationships;
  3. Rationally and logistically think through important decisions;
  4. Productively reflect on your life;
  5. Reconstruct your future;
  6. Find new meanings and goals;

Therapy shouldn’t be used as your last resort – it’s a practice you can benefit from at many stages of life.

Thankfully, today, we have an abundance of options when it comes to counseling, so don’t be afraid to seek out help or support.

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