You’ve probably heard of the phrase “midlife crisis”—it’s a phrase used to describe the period when someone’s behavior suddenly changes as they hit middle age, in response to the sudden longing for their youth. It may be characterized by bouts of dejection, splurging on expensive purchases, or other impulsive behaviors and activities to help them feel young again.
But can you really go through a midlife crisis, or is the concept just a myth or excuse that people use to justify making certain choices as they get older? Although experts are conflicted about using the term “midlife crisis”, it turns out that it really can signify a legitimate condition that many adults face as they age.
What Really Is a Midlife Crisis?
Many experts believe that a midlife crisis exists for both men and women in some form or another, although many would argue that the term “crisis” isn’t necessarily accurate. It’s believed that a midlife crisis is more of a normal transition period that usually occurs around the time of a major life event that emphasizes getting older, like your youngest child going off to university or a parent’s death.
One psychologist from Yale University suggested that the “midlife crisis” is just another stage of adult development with its own life structure. For example, your teenage years may be structured by school and the start of a new career. The midlife crisis stage is characterized by a period of reevaluation—your kids have now grown up, you’re established in your career, and you’re better able to focus on things that you may have missed out on when you were younger.
If that’s the case, why doesn’t everyone go through a midlife crisis? The reason is because the process of reevaluation can be pleasant for some people. They’re satisfied with how their life has turned out so far and have no real regrets. For other people, it can be harder to cope with the fact that you’re getting older, but haven’t achieved everything you wanted to. Some people develop a fear that they’re running out of time, and this is what can then result in the spontaneous behavior that we usually associate with a “midlife crisis.”
It’s important to note, however, that not all big purchases are the result of a looming midlife crisis. A lot of older adults have made their money and are now getting the chance to enjoy it, hence the fancy car or big screen TV—they can afford it, so why not?
It’s when the big purchases and spontaneous behavior come with negative feelings and attitudes. The biggest problem when it comes to the so-called midlife crisis is that it can turn into depression, which can be especially precarious as you age. Some of the signs of a midlife crisis developing into the onset of depression may include fatigue or insomnia, feeling hopeless, restlessness, and a loss of interest in hobbies or activities that were once enjoyed. It’s important to recognize these signs to avoid a midlife crisis from turning into a more severe age-related condition.
Dealing with a Midlife Crisis
When an older adult suffers from a midlife crisis, it can have a ripple effect on the rest of their family. The sufferer may try to alleviate their depression by doing whatever they can to recapture their missed “glory days,” whether it’s by hanging around with a younger crowd, or purchasing expensive items that make them feel more empowered, like a sports car. This can obviously lead to financial struggles and other major obstacles in personal relationships. Here are a few tips for how to put a positive spin on a midlife crisis:
• Try to find a way to add new purpose and passion to your life. Take up a new hobby, volunteer, or travel. It helps to take your mind off of what you could have done, and refocuses it on new things you can do now.
• Visualize all of your accomplishments and achievements, rather than dwell on days past. Make a list so that you can refer to it whenever you feel like your midlife crisis is starting to take over.
• Give yourself something to work towards. This will help guide your thought process to further development instead of receding to what you could have done when you were younger.
Doheny, K., “Midlife Crisis: Transition or Depression?” WebMD web site; https://www.webmd.com/depression/features/midlife-crisis-opportunity, last accessed November 1, 2013.
Poremba, S.M., “Probing Question: Is the mid-life crisis a myth?” Pennsylvania State University web site, April 14, 2008; https://news.psu.edu/story/141278/2008/04/14/research/probing-question-mid-life-crisis-myth.
Smith, R.R., “How to have a mid-life crisis,” Psychology Today web site, April 29, 2011; https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/breakfast-socrates/201104/how-have-mid-life-crisis.