What Is A Mid Life Crisis: What You Need To Know
By: Stephanie Kirby
Updated December 02, 2019
Medically Reviewed By: Tanya Harell
We've all heard the jokes about the middle-aged man running out and buying a sports car or getting a young girlfriend. It might even seem funny when it's not about you. But what if you're experiencing a mid-life crisis? What if you're struggling because you've realized that more of your life is gone than may remain to live, and you haven't accomplished what you wanted to? In this article, we'll go into more detail about the mid-life crisis phenomenon, what it means for you when you face it, and what you need to know if you're experiencing it right now.
Don't feel that you're alone if you're struggling at this stage of life. One poll found that around 1 in 4 Americans admit that they've experienced a mid-life crisis. And the good news is that there are plenty of things you can do to move past this sticking point in life and come out stronger on the other side.
What Is a Mid-Life Crisis?
A mid-life crisis is when you have a feeling of regret, remorse, or anxiety over your mortality. This usually happens during middle age. At this point, your life is about halfway over. It starts to sink in that there is a lot that you wanted to do in life that you haven't done yet. And you may get an urge to accomplish as much as you can and right all the wrongs you can before it is too late. The term "mid-life crisis" was coined in the 1960s by Elliot Jacques, a Canadian scientist. He was creating a timeline of people's lives, and he discovered that at a certain point in life, many people face a crisis, usually during middle age.
When Does It Occur?
There is no magic age when a mid-life crisis occurs. It tends to occur around the mid-40s to the mid-60s, which is approximately the phase of middle adulthood. It's said that mid-life crises occur differently between the sexes. A man may have a longer mid-life crisis than a woman. A man's mid-life crisis may last up to 10 years, while a woman's typically lasts 5 years at the most. Also, women may have their mid-life crises earlier than men, despite living longer on average. Some may experience one as early as their 30s. At that age, you're still fertile, but your biological clock is ticking, and this may lead to the feeling of crisis many women have.
Mid-life crises can be caused by a number of factors. Here are a few:
- Aging. Perhaps the best-known cause of a mid-life crisis is aging. An adult is hitting middle age, and their looks are starting to fade, along with their stamina, mental strength, and other functions. The realization of one's mortality will create a mid-life crisis, and the person wants to accomplish as much as they can before it's too late.
- Your Job. By middle age, you probably have a well-established career. But if you aren't satisfied with your job, you may start to fret. You may look for a new job or try to climb the corporate ladder faster. If you're 45, you still have around 20 years of work left in you, so why not spend it doing something you love? In fact, for men, this is one of the big reasons for mid-life crises.
- Relationship Struggles. You might start to realize that your relationship isn't what you'd hoped it would be at this point in your life. You might be unhappy in your marriage and start to wonder if you made a mistake.
- Children. If you have children, they are starting to get older, and realizing that there are no more little ones to come along can cause you to think about your own age and stage of life. Alternatively, if you never had children, you may feel upset that you didn't, or you may want to take action before it's too late.
As discussed earlier, the stereotype of a mid-life crisis involves doing things like spending money on a large purchase that is out of character, such as a sports car. It's also stereotyped that men having a mid-life crisis start cheating on their wives with younger women.
This might be the way that some people deal with a mid-life crisis, but it's not true for everyone. The symptoms of a mid-life crisis can look very different and can even lead to more serious situations such as depression. Understanding that mid-life crises don't always look like the stereotype is important in people getting the help that they need.
Symptoms of Mid-Life Crises
Some of the symptoms that you should watch for in yourself or your loved ones include:
- Regret. You may feel regret for the past and goals that they you have not met yet. There may be a sudden rush to accomplish as much as you can before you get too old.
- Jealousy. You may see friends or family members who seem to be better off than you are, and it starts to bother you. Maybe their job is better, or their family appears to be more functional. At any age, envy is going to happen, but it can intensify around middle age.
- Wanting to feel youthful again. There may be a push to get into shape or buy items to make yourself look younger. It's not uncommon for middle-aged people to have surgeries to help hide their wrinkles or to try to enhance their bodies in other ways.
- Change in sexual desire. This can go either way. You may have heightened desire due to regret over not having had enough sexual partners or wanting to reproduce before it's too late. Or you may experience the opposite and have less desire for sex. One stereotype of a couple with a mid-life crisis is them wanting to "spice things up" in bed.
- Wanting to spend more time with friends. One regret of a mid-life crisis is not having spent enough time with certain people, which can cause you to want to have fun with them before you're too old.
- Feeling more emotional. You may be depressed, angry, or regretful about your life.
- Desire to travel more. You may start to regret not exploring the world. It's not uncommon for people at this stage to book a flight to another country.
- There is a rush to make things right. Be it resolving old grudges, trying to get the job of your dreams, or accomplishing your goals as fast as you can.
- There is an overall crisis of identity. Those who have the mid-life crisis may wonder what their place in this world is. Have they fulfilled their identity? Has it been realized fully? It can leave you trying to figure out who you are, what you like, and what you're supposed to do next.
When you boil it all down, the theme of the mid-life crisis is regret. Life is short, and you cannot possibly accomplish everything you want to before you leave. We are all going to regret something, and a large part of the mid-life crisis is the drive that makes us want to make things right. Sometimes it's the push we need to tie up as many loose ends as possible. Other times, it will lead to a fruitless goose chase that can result in depression or the loss of your marriage or job.
"Is It Even Real?"
There is a debate as to whether all adults go through a mid-life crisis, or if the phenomenon is as big as the world portrays it to be. Is it something that happens naturally, or something constructed by society?
It is hard to say, and the mid-life crisis phenomenon has been scrutinized. Some studies indicate that most middle-aged people are happier than they were when they were younger. It's a period when one starts to reflect on one's life, and this can be a positive thing.
There is no doubt that some people do experience a crisis when they reach middle age, but it may be overblown by the media. In other words, you don't need to sit around and wait for your crisis to begin. However, if you recognize the signs and symptoms discussed in this article, you shouldn't take them lightly.
Mid-life crises often come with the urge to accomplish everything that has been left undone-and right now. However, there are ways to prevent or treat a mid-life crisis without resorting to drastic measures.
Exercise and a good diet can help keep your appearance youthful and your mind and body healthy. When you take care of your physical body, it also impacts your mental health. Having confidence in the way that you look and feel helps you to be happy with where you are at the current stage in your life.
Change Your Outlook on Life
Not everyone experiences a mid-life crisis, and those that do don't all struggle in the same way. There is some indication that the way you've handled your life so far impacts your mid-life crisis. For example, those that have had other crises in their adult life are more likely to experience one during middle age.
Also, those that are happy with where they are in life are less likely to go experience one at all. In other words, if you want to avoid a mid-life crisis, focus now on living a life that you are proud of. Go after the jobs that you want, spend time with the people that you want, and learn how to accept yourself and build your self-confidence.
Talk to a Loved One
You don't have to hide the fact that you're struggling. Talking to someone else can help you process your concerns and get reassurance that you're on the right path. Friends and family can help you recognize all that you've done and the impact you've already made in the world. This can help you to see things from a new perspective and help you accept your life as it is.
Set Realistic Goals
A mid-life crisis can be turned into something good. Take time to evaluate the changes you want to make in life, and assess which ones are realistic and good. For example, if you really do hate your job, then why continue to work at it for 20 more years? That doesn't mean you need to run out and quit right away, but you can start to explore your options and see what else might be available.
Don't be afraid to set goals that will help you make positive changes in your life. For instance, if you're feeling disappointed in your relationship, don't run out and cheat on your spouse; look for ways to improve what you've already got.
Those who suffer from a mid-life crisis may have questions about how to cope. You don't want to suffer long-term, and you don't have to. Talking with a therapist can be a great way to work through the feelings that arise during this time in your life.
A licensed therapist can help you identify negative thought patterns and replace them with realistic, positive ones. They can also help you work toward building your self-esteem and self-confidence and learning how to accept yourself. Knowing that you are making positive changes in your life can help you through a mid-life crisis. It can also help you be excited about all the life that is still in front of you. With BetterHelp, it is easy to get the help you need in the privacy of your home and without taking travel time out of your busy day. You can read reviews of BetterHelp counselors below, from people experiencing similar issues.
"When I signed up for BetterHelp I was in the midst of a major life crisis. I was seeking a compassionate, experienced counselor like Jillian to help me cope with the initial pain, anger, and anxiety. Also, I chose Jillian because in her self description she states, 'I'm a big believer in seeing life challenges, especially the most painful ones, as a catalyst for self-discovery, personal growth, and positive change.' This really resonated with me. I knew that I wanted my experience to be an opportunity for personal growth. I am incredibly grateful that Jillian indeed helped me grieve and work through the challenges of divorce and early motherhood. She helped me learn about myself and transform my life in a positive way. She offered practical, specific tools to incorporate into my daily routine. She helped me to reconnect with myself and clarify and move towards my life goals. She offered constructive advice for interacting with my ex-husband and maintaining boundaries. Through working with her I was able to care for myself so that I could be a mindful, present mama and really soak in the precious moments with my newborn daughter. My sessions with Jillian made a huge difference as I navigated this time in my life. I could not recommend her more highly."
"Absolutely brilliant! He helped me out of a pretty dark place and was nothing but helpful! For men who are looking for a counselor who understands what it is like to be a man in today's world with a family, with kids and responsibilities, job, etc, I was extremely impressed with his ability to get down to it and understand what I was talking about. He's great at getting to the root of the issue too. No need to slog through 8,000 words to find out what point he's trying to make. He has a knack for asking exactly the right question in about 2-3 sentences. If you're looking for a counselor who isn't the typical counselor, he's your guy!"
While it's not uncommon to experience a mid-life crisis, it's also not something you have to struggle with on your own. The tips provided above can help you to get back to life the way you want it to be. Take the first step today.