Life doesn’t hit you all at once – it comes in phases and stages. Some of these are fascinating and joy-inducing, while some are dull; others require fortitude to get through or are plain confusing. The terrible twos, puberty and adolescence, the awkward early years of adulting, and then experiencing a midlife crisis, menopause, and the empty nest phase, and the onset of geriatric issues, to name just a few seasons in life. That’s not to mention the struggles and joys of relationships in between.
A midlife crisis is a stage of life that gets a lot of airtime on television and in movies. It usually shows up in men and shows them pursuing younger women and buying expensive but impractical sports cars. Is that the totality of what a midlife crisis looks like for a man?
This article will dig a little into this question, talking through the causes, impact, and ways to deal with a midlife crisis. You may be a man who’s undergoing a crisis, or it may be a loved one – your spouse, father, uncle, or friend. The article will also point out a few ways to stand with and support people that may be undergoing this experience.
What is a midlife crisis?
First, however, what is a “midlife crisis” and how many people does it affect? Midlife is a little tricky to pin down because of varying factors that affect life expectancies, but it is generally considered to be at the age of forty-five. According to one survey conducted in the United States, more than one-fifth of the people surveyed reported that they’d had a midlife crisis and that it occurred either after they turned forty and before they turned fifty.
There has been a shift in our society, and that has brought about a different experience. People used to have children earlier than they do now, and so while an approach to a midlife crisis that looks at a specific age range used to be meaningful, therapists are now finding that midlife crisis has more to do with a perceived loss of utility rather than the age a person is at.
Age has an impact, but most people who experience one indicate that significant life events such as job loss, relocating, getting divorced, becoming a grandfather for the first time, or losing a loved one were more significant triggers.“Midlife crisis” is not a medical diagnosis, but it can be considered a phase experienced by people of a certain age triggered either by coming to terms with aging or the experience of significant life events.
A midlife crisis can last from six months to anything as long as ten years, depending on whether the individual gets the help they need. It can occur any time after one’s mid-thirties but can also appear in a person’s fifties or sixties, and it can cause significant emotional turmoil in a person’s life.
Signs of a midlife crisis
It often seems as though a midlife crisis is about the fear of death and the desire to be young again, but the feelings that are associated with a midlife crisis are like those a person experiences in any other kind of life crisis they encounter. Similar behavioral changes that mark other emotional crises such as changes in sleep habits, changes in mood, and withdrawal from a set routine or certain relationships, may also be features of a midlife crisis.
For many men, their sense of personal identity is intricately linked to their success and achievements. As they assess their life in light of getting old or experiencing a significant life event, a midlife crisis may express itself in several ways, including:
- regrets about past decisions and actions they didn’t take earlier in life
- a desire to make major life changes/decisions
- dissatisfaction with life, including appearance, health, marriage, or career
- poor decisions such as starting an affair
- sudden urge to thrill-seek
Additionally, some people experience depression in midlife, and they may refer to that depressive state as their crisis. It is often hard to determine whether depression causes a midlife crisis, or if it’s the other way around, but the symptoms of depression such as a loss of sleep, dramatic weight loss or gain, shifting moods such as irritability and anger, are often present when someone is undergoing a midlife crisis.
It’s also the case that the rates of suicide are highest during middle age – people between the ages of forty-five and fifty-four are more likely to commit suicide than any other age group, and so those experiencing a midlife crisis, or their loved ones need to keep a wary eye out.
If you are having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 for support and assistance from a trained counselor. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, please don’t hesitate to call 911.
A midlife crisis affects more than just the person experiencing it. The loved ones in their life will also more than likely be impacted by it. The typical image of the older man leaving his wife and pursuing a much younger woman isn’t totally without precedent, even though that isn’t always representative of midlife crisis in men. Relationships can and do take a knock during a midlife crisis if care isn’t taken, and that includes spouses, children, friendships, and more.
Some have also pointed out the reality of economic abuse that can occur during the crisis. One of the signs of a midlife crisis is thrill-seeking, including economically risky behavior. In making out-of-the-blue choices, a man might decide to resign from his job. All of this has implications for his family – the loss of financial resources is among them, and this can create all sorts of problems.
On the other hand, a midlife crisis can also have positive outcomes. The feeling of mortality and the fear of a wasted life can drive some men to learn new things and become energized about their lives, relationships, or serving others. It can be a period of renewal and rediscovery of passions long buried. Depending on how one views and uses it, a midlife crisis can have decidedly negative outcomes, but it can also result in good behaviors with positive outcomes.
You can work toward these positive outcomes by taking steps such as:
Talking with someone
Going it alone during a midlife crisis should be avoided. Whether you’re contemplating a weighty decision or have questions about possible mental health concerns, talking with a mental health professional or a trusted friend is a good step. This will keep you from making rash decisions and provide you with any support you may need.
Prioritizing gratitudeIn what can be a time of paralyzing regrets over past decisions and choices, focus instead on the things you’re grateful for. Practicing gratitude in whatever way works for you will help elevate your mood and keep your focus on the good that God has blessed you with.
Not taking your feelings as commands
During a midlife crisis, strong feelings will assault you endlessly. However, these feelings aren’t commands that you need to obey. You can choose to not yield to them or base any decisions on them.
Knowing when to get help
Going through a midlife crisis can be a bewildering experience. If you experience any of the symptoms of depression, find yourself having suicidal thoughts, or see a decline in your overall wellbeing, seek professional help.
If you are the loved one of a person going through a midlife crisis, you can help them by being present for them. Being a good listener and available to help goes a long way. Encourage them to get the help they need from a doctor or other professional, especially if you see any of the changes in behavior or outlook pointed out earlier.
If they are suicidal or present an immediate threat to themselves, call 911. Additionally, you may want to also get help for yourself – taking care of a loved one is not easy, and you may need the support of a therapist to develop strategies to assist your loved one or learn coping skills for yourself.
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