How Midlife Crisis Symptoms Can Affect Your Mental Health: Managing Challenges

By BetterHelp Editorial Team|Updated April 15, 2022

Every stage of life brings new changes, challenges, triumphs, and struggles, and midlife is no different. Many people going through the middle period of their lives experience what's commonly known as a "midlife crisis," which is typically a time of change, challenge, and sometimes new or worsening mental health conditions. Though the exact definition of "midlife" can differ, this period is generally thought to occur between approximately 40 and 60 years old.

You Don't Have To Navigate A Midlife Crisis Alone

Experiencing a midlife crisis can be a difficult, isolating, and upsetting experience, no matter your situation. There are several causes and symptoms of midlife crises. These can differ from individual to individual, making it sometimes challenging to identify whether what you're going through is, indeed, a midlife crisis or something else. Learn about some of the common causes of a midlife crisis, how to identify whether that is what you're experiencing, and strategies that may work for resolving your midlife crisis.

Causes Of A Midlife Crisis

Studies have found that, on average, overall happiness and contentment are often highest around one's late 20s, presumably when many are beginning to experience greater certainty in what they want out of life and are starting to obtain more financial and personal stability and freedom. According to these same studies, the average period of the most psychological distress in one's life typically occurs between 46 and 53. This coincides with the average age of midlife crises occurring around age 47. The researchers theorize that midlife crises around these ages could be spurred by peaking in one's career or experiencing career shifts, increased thoughts of mortality, caring for children and potentially aging parents, and dealing with children growing up and leaving home. These ages also often coincide with higher divorce rates, though research has not established an exact correlation between this and midlife crises.

Overall, various triggers can cause a midlife crisis, but there are a few common causes for most people experiencing one. Though many people believe midlife crises are driven exclusively by aging, several factors in one's life can prompt a midlife crisis.

These include but are not limited to transitions, changes in marital status through divorce or death, or the maturation of children, including watching children move out or have children of their own. Aging also plays a part for some people, and the physical signs of aging, such as shifts in appearance, menopause, or other health changes, can trigger a midlife crisis for some. Similarly, aging can cause thoughts of death and mortality, leading to mental health changes that can trigger midlife crises. Last, dissatisfaction with career or financial status is a common cause of midlife crises for some, occurring when someone feels displeased or remorseful about their current employment situation or economic standing.

Symptoms Of A Midlife Crisis

Much like the causes of a midlife crisis, the symptoms look vastly different from person to person. Symptoms depend on the individual and may not always be recognizable as the signs of a midlife crisis: they may look like symptoms of other health changes or mental health conditions.

With that being said, certain symptoms frequently happen in people going through a midlife crisis. In particular, changes in sleep, weight, hygiene, behavior, and attitude are all common signs. Mood changes, such as becoming angry, irritable, anxious, sad, or bored more frequently, can signal a midlife crisis. Boredom may also look or feel emptiness, disinterest in activities, or lethargy.

Feeling nostalgic about the past and feeling guilty, shameful, or worthless show up in many people experiencing a midlife crisis, as can fatigue or isolation. Last, impulsive actions or thoughts of infidelity sometimes occur, which can appear different depending on the person.

What Is The Difference Between A Midlife Crisis And Midlife Depression?

Midlife can be challenging for various reasons: family transitions, career dissatisfaction, grief, traumatic experiences, and more. It's important to note that depression and other mental health conditions can happen, including in midlife. Because of that, it's helpful to identify whether you are experiencing a midlife crisis or a mental health condition that happened to occur during the midlife period.

These conditions - midlife crises and depression or other mental health changes - can be triggered or worsened by many situations or events. In addition, a midlife crisis can also turn into another mental health condition like depression, especially when it is not treated.

Suppose you're questioning whether you are going through a midlife crisis or experiencing another mental health condition. In that case, you can look at some of the symptoms listed above and see if they match up with your experience. In addition, assess whether you are questioning your identity, as this can often signal a midlife crisis rather than another situational mental health condition.

The best way to evaluate which mental health condition you are encountering is to speak with a licensed professional counselor. Licensed therapists like those at BetterHelp are educated on and experienced with various mental health conditions, including the symptoms and strategies for dealing with midlife crises.

What Challenges Come With A Midlife Crisis?

As its name connotes, a midlife crisis can be a challenging and scary time. You may feel sad, guilty, angry, bored, shameful, jealous, or upsetting emotions. In addition, midlife crises can bring about impulsive decision-making, affecting your relationships with family, friends, spouses, or employers.

A midlife crisis can also trigger other mental health conditions such as major depressive disorders or anxiety disorders. Those conditions can cause their own set of challenges to manage.

Midlife crises can feel isolating for the individual going through them. Because they often involve dissatisfaction, guilt, or withdrawal from family and friends, they can make you feel more alone. Many people feel embarrassment or shame, making the issue even more isolating and challenging to manage. This can make it harder to seek help or find strategies that work to help you manage, cope with, and work through your midlife crisis.

Strategies For Managing A Midlife Crisis

For many people going through a midlife crisis, it's essential to use management strategies to combat the symptoms and feelings. In some cases, midlife crises can be resolved without professional help or personal management strategies. However, even minor instances of midlife crises are valid and should be considered significant and worthwhile to address. Whether that treatment comes in professional guidance or personal life changes, giving yourself the space and time to work through your feelings and symptoms is important for moving past this stage and into greater satisfaction and contentment.

Successful management strategies for a midlife crisis might be different for you than others, but there are numerous tools you can use to move through it. Some people find a resolution with strategies like creative endeavors: beginning a new hobby, rediscovering an old creative interest, working with artistic content like painting or sculpting, or simply spending more time in nature. Others benefit from mindfulness-based approaches, practicing gratitude, or beginning a new exercise routine. You may also appreciate meeting new peers or friends to discuss the challenges of midlife and expand your social circle.

One of the most successful strategies for managing a midlife crisis is therapy, even for physical changes like menopause, which can potentially trigger a midlife crisis. Therapeutic strategies like talk therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, mindfulness-based therapy, and others can help deal with the symptoms and causes of a midlife crisis. Online therapy is also an effective management strategy against a midlife crisis or mental health conditions, such as depression or anxiety, that can arise after or alongside a midlife crisis.

You Don't Have To Navigate A Midlife Crisis Alone

Studies have found online mental health therapy to be overall just as effective, if not more so in some cases, as traditional in-person therapy for various conditions and concerns, including PTSD, anger, grief, depression, anxiety, and more. One such study conducted nine different trials over several years comparing online versus in-person cognitive behavioral therapy approaches and their effectiveness among 840 participants.

If you believe you're experiencing a midlife crisis or something similar to increased stress or depression, you might benefit from online therapy with a licensed professional counselor. You can discuss possible causes or triggers for the crisis, symptoms you're experiencing, and how to cope with and grow through every part of a midlife crisis. Even if it feels like a minor transition or fleeting feeling, you can still work with a professional counselor, therapist, or psychologist for however long you need to address it. Sign up with BetterHelp to match with a licensed and experienced counselor who can support you in handling and resolving a midlife crisis using educated strategies and management tools. If the therapist you are matched with doesn't feel like a good fit, you can switch to a new one on the BetterHelp platform at any time.

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