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Recognizing and Avoiding a Midlife Crisis
The idea of a midlife crisis has been used and reused on television shows and in the movies for so many years, it has become a cliché. Commonly, the midlife crisis sufferer is a male who cheats on his wife with a younger woman, trades in the station wagon for a sports car, and quits his job to pursue some zany, idealistic venture. By the time the credits roll, the hilarious situation was completely resolved and everyone learned a valuable lesson.
With such prevalence in the media, it is easy for someone to build a flawed understanding of a midlife crisis. In reality, midlife crises occur outside of the TV, but they will take on characteristics and qualities that differ from those portrayed on the screen.
This misguided understanding of the signs and symptoms, the population at risk, and the possible triggers of the condition can leave someone without the power or perspective to change their own situation.
To know if you are having a midlife crisis, you must first understand what the condition truly means, what factors contribute, and the symptoms you may experience. From there, you can find yourself in a position to reduce the crisis and limit its influence.
How can you identify a midlife crisis? Here’s how:
What Is a Midlife Crisis?
Think of a midlife crisis as a transitional point in someone’s life. The period can begin anywhere from someone’s late 30s to their 60s. During this time, the person begins to take inventory of their life.
Often, there is an external event that sparks the desire to take an inventory like:
- A significant birthday or anniversary
- New job or retirement
- Milestone with children (empty nest)
- A medical or mental health diagnosis
- Death of a loved one
- New or recent birth
Any or a combination of these will trigger thoughts of self-reflection where the subject will ponder questions including:
- What have I accomplished so far?
- What would I like to achieve in the future?
- What is my position at work, home and in the community?
- How does my current standing differ from my childhood goals?
- What barriers are preventing me from completing my goals?
- Who am I?
- Where am I going?
The inventory and answers to these questions lead to changes in self-perception, self-esteem and identity.
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If you were certain you were going to become an astronaut or spy and you became a data entry specialist, you may be frustrated and unhappy with your present situation. If you thought having a loving spouse and children would bring happiness, but they bring more disappointment, you will feel confused and trapped.
Whenever there is a large gap between established goals and reality, the crisis will be more prominent.
Midlife Crisis Signs and Symptoms
The crisis will be an attempt to change or correct the path of the person’s life. They will take measures that are extreme, impulsive or illogical to find a sense of happiness or balance they might be lacking.
The decision-making skills will be poor, which may lead to:
- Work changes
- Appearance difference with changes in clothing, hair or style
- Plastic surgery
- Initiating drug and alcohol use
- Overspending on cars, vacations, electronics, etc.
- Starting a new set of activities and interests
- Beginning new relationships
Along with these behavioral changes, someone in the midst of a midlife crisis may exhibit emotional changes that may include:
- Increased depression with lower motivation or interest in things
- Increased worry, stress and anxiety
- Increased irritability and anger
- Increased apathy or a general lack of concern
Note that both men and women are affected by a midlife crisis, but they may show it in different ways. Men may be more likely to have outward behavioral changes and irritability while women may internalize their feelings leading to depressive or anxious symptoms.
Prevention and Reduction
Whether your midlife crisis has already begun or symptoms are looming on the horizon, strategies are available to aid your ability to maintain a desirable way of life. Prevention will work to stop problems before they begin while reduction will minimize symptoms that are present.
Here’s how to take the crisis out of midlife:
Having good relationships with family, friends, coworkers and other supports is crucial during all stages of life, especially midlife.
As people age, their social networks naturally shrink due to deaths, people moving away, fewer connections linked to children, and changed coworker status. Because of this, you will be well-served to continuously maintain old and seek out new social connections.
Being actively engaged in peer relationships can prevent and minimize a midlife crisis.
A midlife crisis may explode all at once, but often the process builds for some time before erupting to the surface. With your supports in place, work to communicate your thoughts and feelings to the people around you.
Let them know what you are experiencing and possible reasons for these feelings. Ask for their feedback and opinions. With good communication and listening skills, you can process your concerns with people who care about you.
The biggest risk of the midlife crisis is reacting too quickly — impulsive decisions can lead to poor results. If there is a looming decision to be made, put the task on hold until a set deadline.
Deliberate about that choice in the meantime to ensure your judgment is grounded in rationality.
Take Small Steps
The pull for change is at the center of a midlife crisis: the more you do nothing, the more the crisis evolves and strengthens. Making bold decisions can be just as problematic, though.
Instead, work to address your needs through subtle, planned moves that are not drastic. If you feel your job is a problem, do not quit without warning.
Instead, begin to pursue other opportunities or activities that could get your closer to your goal. Set a timeframe in which to accomplish these steps for more consistent results.
Midlife does not have to be a crisis. Rather than being surprised by the transition and self-reflection of midlife, make a point of assessing your feelings and identity on the regular basis.
By noting your needs and wants often, you can eliminate problems before a crisis begins. For you, a midlife crisis can be a midlife opportunity.