Updated: Mar 30
I have a cousin who had a midlife crisis when he was 47. It started off with him being overly concerned about his appearance. He took up running, and lost 50 pounds. Next, he started up hobbies he had left behind years ago, including week-long hikes in the wilderness. Then he made friends with a woman 20 years his junior, which turned into an affair.
My cousin had travelled the world in his early 20s, and had many adventures, but then met a woman and settled down with two kids. Now the eldest child was just finishing university, while the younger one was entering their senior year in high school. In hind sight, I can tell he had hit a mid-life crisis and was longing for his youth. In an attempt to recapture that youth or the potential of if he had chosen a different path, he was hurting the rest of his family.
What is a midlife crisis?
Funnily, it is actually a social construct, developed in the mid-20th century. Possibly because humans are living longer, that as we hit what is our middle life, we begin to question ourselves. On average, a person goes through a midlife crisis between the ages of 45 and 60. Suicide rates are highest among people in their midlife. In 2021, 564 women aged 40-59 in the UK had suicide as the cause of death on their certificate (ONS). Interestingly, not all cultures experience a ‘midlife crisis’, and not everyone in western cultures experiences one either.
We question the choices we made in the past, and we worry about the future. In our midlife, we begin to know more and more people who have died, so we begin to question our own mortality. We long for our youth once more. So, we revisit the past. We might reconnect with old high-school friends, now more easily done than ever through social media. We might take up hobbies that we had when we were younger, before we had a family. We might purchase things that make us feel younger.
On the other hand, a midlife crisis can bring on regret, and often we hear of men and women just leaving their families, and moving elsewhere, with no explanation. Sometimes people buy themselves a flashier car. Although research would suggest that people are less likely to buy a sports car now, and more likely to buy an SUV.
What are the signs of a midlife crisis?
Some of the more obvious signs of a midlife crisis include:
Neglect over personal hygiene
Or becoming overly concerned over your appearance.
Changes in sleeping habits. (See my blog- Tips to Tackle Insomnia)
Increased anger, irritability, sadness, and anxiety (See my blog about ways to manage anger and irritability)
Apathy about life in general
Making rash decisions
Having a dismal vision about the future
Drinking more alcohol
Giving up on relationships
Why do we have a midlife crisis?
There are a few events that can trigger a midlife crisis, other than age. By the time we hit our midlife, we have gone through several major events in our lives. Experiencing too many major events at one time can cause us stress. So, it is no wonder that we might have a midlife crisis.
Losing a loved one can cause us to question our own mortality, and worry about the future. Losing a loved one can include our children leaving the home, beginning to make us feel older, or divorce. Western culture does not value ageing as much as other eastern cultures do. Eastern cultures value the wisdom that comes with age, and that wisdom is seen to be beneficial to passing down to younger generations. In other cultures, ageing is celebrated, whilst in the West, older people are sometimes just put on a shelf and forgotten about. This cultural attitude can definitely trigger anxiety and depression in people, especially if you’ve worked hard to achieve a successful life.
Job loss is another reason we might experience a midlife crisis. Even though the age for retirement keeps rising here in the UK, there is still the worry about being replaced by a younger person in your role. Losing your job in midlife comes with the worries about how to provide for your family and whether or not someone else will hire you.
For women in their perimenopause, brain fog can cause anxiety about job performance and how they will be perceived. A woman can be at the top of her game, and high up the corporate ladder when she enters her menopausal years. The brain fog that accompanies perimenopause can be stressful, especially if you are perceived as someone who has an excellent memory, and relies on that brain for her work.
I would like to clarify at this point, that menopause and midlife crisis are not the same thing. Going through the menopause isn’t just age-related (although 1% of the population goes through an early menopause), it is brought on by hormonal changes in our body, which affects women physically. On the other hand, a mid-life crisis is a social construct, with outside factors contributing to our anxiety, stress and perceived change.
What can you do to help in a midlife crisis?
I. Focus on your wellbeing. This could be by exercising more, meditation and yoga. If you are new to meditation, there are plenty of podcasts on Spotify that can guide you, including my own.
II. Go to counselling. Seek out a therapist in your area, to help you change your mental construct about your ageing.
III. Talk to friends. Be open about it. You’ll be surprised to learn how many of your friends feel the same and can offer advice. Especially if you’ve lost a loved one, do not isolate yourself.
IV. If you or someone you know are having suicidal thoughts, please contact a charity such as The Samaritans to talk it through.
V. Journalling. Don’t bottle up your thoughts. Sometimes when we do that, those thoughts can fester, and simply make things worse. When we unload our thoughts onto paper, we can see things more clearly, and make more sense of them.
Let me know in the comments below if you found any of these tips helpful. Please share this with friends whom you think might be going through their own midlife crisis. Remember, you are not alone.