Hollywood’s made a million bucks making parodies on clichés of midlife crisis and many dinner parties have been busy with jokes about “that kooky 40-something”. But what is midlife crisis?
First identified by the psychologist Carl Jung, a midlife crisis is a form of emotional transition experienced most commonly between the ages of 37 and 60.
What happens during a midlife crisis?
Typically, a man or woman may go through an emotional imbalance, where there’s a likely change in personality and outlook. The crisis may be triggered due to a specific event, such as the death of a loved one, the success of another person, unemployment or a struggling career, an illness, weighing debts, or children leaving the nest. It often makes people take stock of their lives, and leads to significant changes in one or more aspects of their life – career, romantic relationships or physical appearance, etc.
Symptoms of a midlife crisis
Those going through a midlife crisis may experience some of these feelings:
Depression: A sense of despair and listlessness often leads to a neglect of all relationships and routine activities. It may also manifest itself in unusual sleep patterns, excessive alcohol intake, loss of appetite, and weight loss/gain.
Resentment towards the spouse: The confusion experienced is projected onto the main relationship – one with the spouse. It’s blame games and discontentment. In such a scenario, the spouse must refrain from reacting.
Loss of interest: In this phase, there’s an overarching unhappiness with the life, lifestyle, choices and people that have given the person joy for many years.
Uncertainty about the future: The person feels incapable of deciding where they’re headed in life. Choices made years before are questioned, and they don’t know who they are or where they want to be in life.
Desire for a new intimate relationship: Often there’s a tendency to grow tired of the spouse, to an extent that the person may begin to doubt whether they ever loved or still love their spouse. There’s a strong urge for a new romance and most resort to infidelity to quell the desire, and even seek divorce, as a rash reaction.
Midlife crisis – Men or Women or Both?
The “middle-age man comes undone, gets a red sports car and a 20-something” stereotype would have you believe that only men go through a midlife crisis. In fact, women may also experience a midlife crisis, albeit for a shorter duration than men. It is believed that for every 2-5 years of a woman’s midlife crisis, a man goes through it for about 3-10 years.
However, the crisis manifests itself differently in men and women. Men, indeed, tend to be more concerned with “proving something” and focus more on their career, failing at their goals, ageing, afraid of becoming less attractive to the opposite sex, or becoming ill. Women, on the flip side, are more concerned with assessing their performance as a mother, a wife, and in questioning how they have lived their life. They’re likely to go do things they’ve put off for the sake of motherhood or a binding lifelong career.
Taming the beast – dealing with a midlife crisis
Since it’s an emotional and psychological condition, the healthiest way to deal with it is to realise the problem and to address it headlong.
Appreciate life: Take a moment to remind yourself how lucky you are for the life you have and the joy your family and friends fill your life with.
Keep busy: An idle mind is the devil’s workshop couldn’t ring more true. Put your energy in finding and developing a new hobby or one you neglected along the years.
Stay healthy: A healthy body equals a healthy mind. That bumper sticker quote will go a long way in averting a midlife crisis. Schedule regular check-ups, eat healthy, exercise daily, take up a sport – invest time in yourself.
Embrace the change: Let’s face it, you’re going to change. Instead of letting it swallow you whole, look forward to the second lease of freedom – children out of the house and retirement from a desk job in a few years.
Talk: The worst thing to do is to bottle up. Speak to your spouse or a friend, or visit a therapist to help you through this phase.
Everyone is most likely to experience some extent of a midlife crisis, but what is most crucial is to be aware, accept, and be willing to stay in control of your life. If necessary, in case of severe depression or feeling of helplessness, seek professional advice. It’ll save you the cost of a sports car or a botox treatment.
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