What is a mid-life crisis: What you need to know

By Stephanie Kirby
Medically reviewed b: 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 midlife 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 midlife 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 study found that 26%, or around 1 in 4, of Americans admit that they’ve experienced a midlife 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 midlife crisis?
A midlife 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 perhaps you haven’t done yet. 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 “midlife 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, during which they become more acutely aware of their mortality.

When does it occur?
There is no magic age when a midlife crisis occurs. It tends to occur around the mid-40s to the mid-60s, which is approximately the phase of middle adulthood, but can occur before or after this period, or not at all. It’s said that midlife crises occur differently between the sexes. A man may have a longer midlife crisis than a woman. A man’s midlife crisis may last up to 10 years, while a woman’s typically lasts 5 years at the most. Also, women may have their midlife crises earlier than men, despite living longer on average. Some may experience one as early as in their 30s. At that age, you’re still fertile and can have children if desired, but your biological clock is ticking, and this may lead to the feeling of crisis many women have.

Causes
Midlife crises can be caused by a number of factors. Here are a few:
Aging. Perhaps the best-known cause of a midlife crisis is aging. An adult is hitting middle age, their looks may be starting to fade, along with their stamina, mental/physical strength, and other functions. The realization of one’s mortality can create a midlife 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 midlife 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, or how to improve things.
Children. If you have children, they are starting to get older, and realizing that your children are becoming independent adults 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 wonder if you made the right decision.
As discussed earlier, the stereotype of a midlife 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 midlife crisis start cheating on their wives with younger women (this isn’t necessarily true; remember, everyone is different and midlife crises exist on different scales and spectrums depending on the person and situation).
This might be the way that some people deal with a midlife crisis, but it’s not true for everyone. The symptoms of a midlife crisis can look very different and can even lead to more serious situations such as depression. Understanding that midlife crises don’t always look like the stereotype is important in people getting the help that they need.

Symptoms of midlife 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 seems 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 just wanting to experience more pleasure while you can. Or you may experience the opposite and have less desire for sex. One stereotype of a couple with a midlife crisis is them wanting to “spice things up” in bed.
Wanting to spend more time with friends. One common regret that can occur in a midlife 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 feel 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, oftentimes those experiencing a midlife crisis find this sudden self-imposed pressure to move forward, grow, right any perceived wrongs, etc.
There is an overall crisis of identity. Those who experience a midlife crisis may wonder what their place in this world is. Have they fulfilled their identity? Has it been realized fully? There may be a heightened sense of who you used to be, who you are now, and who you wish to be. 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 midlife 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 midlife 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 midlife 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 midlife 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 feels more accomplished and settled, and starts to reflect on one’s life; 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, and if you feel some feelings of regret or increased self-reflection, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re having a midlife crisis. However, if you recognize the signs and symptoms discussed in this article, you shouldn’t take them lightly.

Treatment options
Midlife crises often come with the urge to accomplish everything that has been left undone, and as soon as possible. However, there are ways to prevent or treat a midlife crisis without resorting to drastic measures.

Self-care
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 in the current stage in your life.

Change your outlook on life
Not everyone experiences a midlife crisis, and those who 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 midlife crisis. For example, those that have had other crises in their adult life are more likely to experience one during middle age. Alternatively, those who have already experienced some hardships are statistically more likely to handle a midlife crisis in a healthy manner.
Also, those that are happy with where they are in life are less likely to experience one at all. In other words, if you want to avoid a midlife crisis, focus now on living a life that you are proud of. Go after the jobs that you want, spend time with the people 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 midlife 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.

Seeking help
Those who experience a midlife crisis may have questions about how to cope. You don’t want to live with it 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 learn how to accept yourself. Knowing that you are making positive changes in your life can help you through a midlife crisis. It can also help you to be excited about all the life that is still in front of you.
Although at least a quarter of the population experience a midlife crisis and approximately the same amount report needing counseling, only approximately 13.4% of them actually seek out and receive therapy. A study conducted on BetterHelp found that this is due to stigma associated with therapy and difficulty in actually getting to therapy due to location. This same study, however, found that BetterHelp drastically reduces these barriers, making effective online therapy accessible to those who need it both anonymously and without worry about geographic constraints.
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. In addition, since you don’t need to commute to sessions and our therapists don’t have to pay to rent out office space, BetterHelp tends to be cheaper than in-person therapy services. You can read reviews of BetterHelp counselors on our site.**

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