Female midlife crisis test

Table of Contents

Midlife Crisis in Women: How to Find Your Silver Lining

In “Learning to Walk in the Dark,” Barbara Brown Taylor asks, “What if I could follow one of my great fears all the way to the edge of the abyss, take a breath, and keep going? Isn’t there a chance of being surprised by what happens next?” Midlife may be the best opportunity to find out.

If the U-curve scientists are right, your midlife malaise may resolve itself as you get older. But if you want to nudge the needle on your satisfaction meter sooner rather than later, here are some things you can do. Talk to a doctor. Many of the symptoms of midlife crisis overlap with depression, anxiety disorders, and hormonal imbalances. If you’re experiencing midlife blues, your doctor may prescribe hormone replacement therapy, antidepressants, or anti-anxiety medicines to help with your symptoms.

Talk to a therapist. Cognitive therapy, life coaching, or group therapy might help you work through grief, manage anxiety, and plan a path toward greater fulfillment.

Talk to your friends. A 2012 study shows what many women know from firsthand experience: Midlife is easier if you’re surrounded by a circle of friends. Women with friends have a greater sense of well-being than those who don’t. Not even family members have as great an impact.

Reconnect with nature. Studies show that spending time outdoors, even for a few minutes a day, can lift your mood and improve your outlook. Sitting by the seashore, forest bathing, and outdoor exercise all combat sadness and anxiety.

Try home remedies and healthy eating. Here’s more good news: You have reached the age where you never have to eat boxed macaroni and cheese again. Eat the good stuff — leafy greens, fruits, and vegetables in all the rainbow colors, lean proteins. Your diet can help you live longer and feel better. Melatonin and magnesium supplements can help you get a better night’s sleep, and they can also help reduce anxiety.

Write down what you’ve accomplished. Not just the big things like awards, degrees, and job titles. Write it all down: traumas you’ve survived, people you’ve loved, friends you’ve rescued, places you’ve traveled, places you’ve volunteered, books you’ve read, plants you have managed not to kill. This grey period is not your whole story. Take time to honor all you have done and been.

Take steps toward a new future. Novelist George Eliot said, “It is never too late to be what you might have been.” Take an online course, do some research for a novel, open a food truck, or a start-up. You may not have to radically overhaul your family or your career to make a material change in your happiness.

Read. Read books that inspire, empower, or motivate you to try something new.

Midlife crisis reading list

Here’s a midlife reading list. Some of these books will empower and inspire you. Some will help you grieve. Some will make you laugh.

  • “Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead” by Brené Brown.
  • “Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy” by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant.
  • “You Are a Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life” by Jen Sincero.
  • “Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear” by Elizabeth Gilbert.
  • “Learning to Walk in the Dark” by Barbara Brown Taylor.
  • “I Feel Bad about My Neck: And Other Thoughts on Being a Woman” by Nora Ephron.
  • “Shine On: How to Grow Awesome Instead of Old” by Claire Cook

Is this it? Women and the modern mid-life crisis

Yet what can feel like a period of uncertainty or crisis can pave the way for a much-needed reappraisal of everything. Or, as the French poet Charles Péguy said, “Forty is a fearsome age. It’s the age when we become who we are.”

O’Keeffe says: “In my experience, there are times in a woman’s life where a transition feels like a crisis, but it can be a real opportunity for growth, or a move into a more authentic life.

“Often what happens in my work, a woman’s feelings are finally being given some space, and then they realise there’s so much potential there. It’s like a gift.”

“There Are No Grown-Ups: A Midlife Coming Of Age Story,” by Pamela Druckerman is out now via Doubleday Books.

‘Women tend to be collaborative; I guess that’s how we deal with crises’

Liberty Henwick, blogger, 46

“From a personal point of view, I went to university, studied and got a job, then gave it up and had a family. You get to your 40s and your family starts to not need you. My youngest is nine, and I started investigating going back to work. That’s when I hit a crisis. I didn’t have the skills anymore that I used to have, and I couldn’t imagine being a housewife for the rest of my life.

Liberty Henwick with her husband, Athol, and their children, from left: Nathaniel, Fia, Eva (standing) and Rebecca.

“The couple of years before I turned 40 – 37 and 38 – were actually the worst for me. For those few birthdays I became almost emotional. I think it was the realisation that 40 is a big milestone.

“The menopause or peri-menopause was a real area of confusion and I didn’t know anything about it at all. It’s also an age where there are a lot of procedures like the mammograms or the hysteroscopy, and nothing prepares you for the physical disruption to your body.

“On the one hand, it’s a good thing to be busy and occupied with something that gives your life meaning or value, whether it’s in the home, community, workplace or family. I’ve seen women take up community work or hobbies and do things in groups. I’m in an adult dance class; in times of crisis I think women tend to seek solace and comfort with each other. Men might be a little more competitive, but women tend to be collaborative. I guess that’s how we deal with crises.”

Liberty’s blog can be found at libertyonthelighterside.com

‘The good thing about getting older is the benefit of hindsight’

Darryl Bannon, business consultant, 42

“For a lot of women it’s actually the beginning of a new chapter. Being in one’s 40s is actually life reaffirming. We have spent enough time worrying about what others think and have the belief in oneself to get on with it. You kind of grow a pair. Previously, there was a sense of you must do this or you must get that done by a certain age, but instead you take stock and say well, I did do all those other things. We need to stop putting pressure on ourselves to get married or have children. Things happen when they happen. We just need to tell people to stop getting into other people’s business and being so competitive with each other.

Darryl Bannon: ‘Being in one’s 40s is actually life reaffirming.’

“Have I started to worry about looking older? It hasn’t hit me yet. Maybe when I’m in my 50s it might, but it can be a doubled-edged sword when you’re baby-faced like me. Maybe when I do start to lose my looks more, I’ll be taken more seriously in business. That said, I do meet a lot of men and women younger than me and see that they face a different type of pressure than us. I think a lot of younger girls feel invisible, too. The good thing about getting older is the benefit of hindsight. You don’t have to put up with a lot of stuff.”

Darryl Bannon’s consultancy can be found at darrylbannon.com.

‘The luxury of this age is the security it brings’

Claire Ronan, Ocean FM broadcaster, 52

“The truth is, I was so scared of the empty nest and how it would affect me – my last child leaves for college in September – that I made a decision to prepare myself. I’m dreading September in many ways, but I am definitely having a more exciting life than a couple of years ago. I have my work, and I made a determined effort to spend more time with family, friends and kids.

“My experience of mid-life crises is that rather than it being a crisis, it’s more of a blessing. I got to the stage where I thought, right, I’m going to rock the rest of this life. As Victor Hugo said, ‘Forty is the old age of youth, but 50 is the youth of old age.’ I decided once it finally came upon me, to embrace my mid-life rather than fear it.

“Having spent so many years performing caring duties, minding and rearing five kids, supporting my husband and helping to care for my parents, it was now time for me. The beauty of this age is that your need for approval is not important, as you know yourself very well. My friendships are long-standing, stable and secure, and the people I love know me and love me back. I really don’t care about the rest. The luxury of this age is the security it brings.

“I think you can lament your ageing looks, your figure and indulge yourself by focusing on what you haven’t done, or you can get off your a** and have new adventures.”

Claire Ronan can be heard on Ocean FM on “Up And Running”, Saturdays at 9.30pm.

Money Crashers

Buying an expensive sports car, getting some fancy bling, and getting Botox injections: What do these three behaviors have in common?

They may be signs that someone is having a midlife crisis. A midlife crisis happens to many men and women, often between the ages of 35 and 55. A midlife crisis can dig a significant hole in someone’s savings and retirement accounts, and while some studies have shown that only about 10% of the U.S. population has a legitimate, identifiable midlife crisis, the process can be painful for many people.

Most people manage to work their way through a midlife crisis without too much trouble, but others struggle to find balance in their life again. The concept of the “passing of youth” pertains to millions of people struggling with these feelings on a daily basis.

What Is a Midlife Crisis?

The phrase “midlife crisis” was first introduced by Elliot Jaques in 1965, and used extensively by Freudian psychologists like Carl Jung. It was described as a normal period during the lifespan, when we transition from young people to older adults. During this time, adults evaluate their achievements, goals, and dreams against what they had wished for in the past, and what stage they are facing in life.

Both men and women can experience a midlife crisis, but they experience the crisis differently. Men focus directly on their achievements, and their desire to prove their success to others around them, while women tend to fixate on their physical appearance, sexual attraction, and what they can do once their parenting duties have ended.

People who spend their lives dedicated to fulfilling their aspirations and objectives are less likely to have a midlife crisis; growing older is easier for them. Others go through life on autopilot, and suddenly realize that they are getting older, time has passed them by, and that they haven’t accomplished very much.

This can leave them with a feeling of malaise and regrets, often accompanied by a midlife crisis. The crisis can take on many forms ranging from mild to dangerous, and may impact health, well-being, and finances. Adults can survive a midlife crisis by recognizing the symptoms and addressing them as they occur.

Signs & Symptoms of a Midlife Crisis

1. Buying a Sports Car
Adults looking to recapture their childhood may purchase an expensive car. The car symbolizes success and youth, two important needs of someone suffering through a midlife crisis.

2. Drastic Changes in Habits, Mood Swings, and Impulsive Decision-Making
Adults trying to cope with a midlife crisis may suddenly change their habits, feeling the need for a new schedule and new challenges. People suffering through a midlife crisis may seem irritable or angry without justification or warning. In addition, adults may also demonstrate an increasingly erratic decision-making process.

3. Shifts in Sleeping Habits
Symptoms of a midlife crisis may include the inability to sleep or oversleeping, while the mind works overtime to make sense of the changes happening.

4. Obsession with Appearances
A midlife crisis might include unexpected changes in personal appearance, including different styles of clothing, makeup, and exercise routines. The adult suffering through the crisis may have a need to remain attractive to others.

5. Disconnecting from Old Friends, and Replacing Them with Younger Friends
Nothing makes a person feel old like noticing that their friends have aged. Someone going through a midlife crisis may surround themselves with younger friends.

6. Feeling Tied Down, with No Chance for Change
Signs of a midlife crisis include a feeling of general hopelessness and being “stuck in a rut.” Many of these adults think they have fewer options for their future.

7. Thoughts of Death or Dying
Many people suffering through a midlife crisis begin to think about their own mortality. These thoughts can lead to a dangerous obsession with death, and lead to depression.

8. Changing Careers
A midlife crisis might include changing career paths, as these adults feel unfulfilled.

9. Leaving a Spouse or Having an Affair
Some adults having a midlife crisis commit infidelity, or file for divorce. These adults crave respect, attention, and affection from a new partner.

10. Bouts of Depression
Symptoms of a midlife crisis may include feeling “sad, blue, unhappy, miserable, or down in the dumps.” Signs of depression might include difficulty with accomplishing and focusing on simple tasks.

11. Increased Consumption of Alcohol or Drugs
Adults may turn to drugs or alcohol to mask feelings of regret and depression, which go hand in hand with these kinds of crises.

12. Listless and Bored
Adults suffering through a midlife crisis may begin to feel listless and bored with their lives. A beloved hobby becomes dull, a once-fun job seems tedious, and a lifetime dedication to spirituality becomes a sham.

13. Assigning Blame
A common symptom of a midlife crisis includes assigning blame to others. Confused about the changes happening, adults may accuse spouses, family members, and friends of trying to malign them, hurt them, or stop them from moving forward.

14. Recent Traumas
Going through a divorce, getting fired, a death of a family member or friend, or empty nest syndrome, can all trigger a midlife crisis.

Tips & Strategies for Dealing with a Midlife Crisis

1. Acknowledge the Crisis
Acknowledging the changes happening can help you find a way to move past the crisis.

2. Think Before Making Any Radical Changes
Before quitting a job, buying an expensive car, or leaving a spouse, talk to family members and friends. Sometimes, having an outside opinion can provide a useful perspective.

3. Get Professional Help
This can include different kinds of therapy, medicine, and holistic treatments.

4. Midlife Crises Are Not Inherently a Bad Thing
Use new thoughts and ideas in a positive way. With careful consideration and preparation, attitudes can improve with change, lessening the effects of the crisis.

5. Move Outside Your Comfort Zone
Trying a new activity, increasing a base of knowledge, and traveling can also help you move out of your comfort zones.

6. Volunteer More
Volunteering to help others can offer a new perspective to the problems caused by a midlife crisis. Working with the homeless or victims of domestic violence, for example, can help provide you with context during a midlife crisis.

7. Talk About the Crisis with Loved Ones
Sometimes, just having a compassionate ear can make all the difference. Have frank discussions with loved ones to help ease the pain of a midlife crisis.

8. Create New Goals
If the current plan for aging and retirement has lost its luster, changing the plan may help. Reconsider where to live during retirement, or whether to continue working for the same employer. Taking steps towards positive changes can bring new energy into a marriage and into a career. Make a list of everything to accomplish in the next year, in the next five years, and in the next twenty years. Talk to a spouse or loved ones about the new personal goals, and how they can be achieved.

9. Exercise and Eat Healthy Foods
Incorporating exercise, yoga, or meditation into a daily routine can help people suffering through a midlife crisis to gain perspective. Eat organic superfoods and take supplements for a much-needed energy boost.

Final Word

Many people do not believe in the concept of a midlife crisis, which makes living through one all the more difficult. Many experience a midlife crisis, or something akin to a crisis, when they reach middle age, and they need the support of friends and family members closest to them. A midlife crisis may be the beginning of a personal, emotional, and financial decline in an adult’s life. Watch for the signs, and take steps to deal with the crisis accordingly.

Have you or a friend experienced a midlife crisis? What strategies helped to resolve it?

It was supposed to be, says the writer Louise Doughty, a feminist indictment of the criminal justice system and of how women are still judged on their sexual conduct in a way that men aren’t. Instead – of course – it has become about the sex. Hot middle-aged sex. A middle-aged woman having hot middle‑aged sex with someone who is not her husband. The TV adaptation of Doughty’s novel Apple Tree Yard began last Sunday, with Emily Watson playing Yvonne Carmichael, a successful geneticist – plus wife and mother to grown-up children – who finds herself with a handsome stranger in a broom cupboard, deep beneath the House of Commons, where she has just been giving evidence before a select committee.

The Observer called it “groundbreaking”, the Spectator noted that midlife crisis novels were “traditionally a male form”. Doughty finds the fuss a bit bewildering. “I honestly didn’t believe I was doing anything that radical when I wrote the book,” she says. “In retrospect, it makes me sound really naive, but as a middle-aged woman who occasionally has sex, I really didn’t think it was big news, and neither did it feel like big news to any of my friends the same age.”

We have seen endless depictions of the male midlife crisis, but very few where a woman derails her previously comfortable life. “I think it’s nonsense that the midlife crisis is the preserve of men,” says Doughty. “I think there are lots of reasons why it doesn’t get talked about so openly by women. I think a lot of women prioritise protecting their families in a way that men maybe don’t. And also, for middle-aged women, it’s very common to still have a huge amount of caring duties. Even if your children are teenage, that doesn’t mean you haven’t still got a lot to do. Quite often you might also have elderly parents.”

So, it seems that there isn’t much time for the indulgence of a midlife crisis, regardless of whether it includes an affair or not. Perhaps women’s midlife crises happen more internally? “I think they do,” says Doughty. “I think they happen externally as well, but I think quite often for women there is a crisis of identity in a more internal way.”

Doughty also points to the changing roles of mothers, as their children grow up. “Once that self-identification starts to fall away, you can end up reassessing who you are and what you want,” she says. “I think that back in the days when women were more likely to be full-time housewives and mothers, once that role had ended there was a sense of the nest being empty. I think one of the bonuses of keeping your career going throughout child-rearing is that you still have something there.

“I wouldn’t want to over-emphasise a crisis of confidence, I think actually a lot of women my age are more confident than we’ve ever been. If you asked me to swap my 53-year-old self with my 23-year-old self, I would tell you to take a running jump. I’m so much happier now. There’s a line very early on in the book where Yvonne says, ‘Self-awareness, it’s our consolation prize,’ and that was very personal to me – I love knowing who I am and what I want. I think it’s something society forgets in its obsessive portrayal of young women as attractive. What you actually know, if you’ve been a young woman yourself, is that often behind the physical attractiveness lies a huge amount of insecurity and worry.”

Although the modern idea of a particular kind of middle-age malaise goes back to Freud and Jung, the term “midlife crisis” was coined in a 1965 paper by Elliot Jaques, a Canadian psychoanalyst, who described how people entering middle age are confronted with the limitations of their life and their own mortality. Middle age, writes the journalist Miranda Sawyer in Out of Time, her book about making peace with her own age, is full of “money problems, of work responsibilities and looming insecurities, of boredom and frustration and a lack of self-realisation, of caring for those younger and older than ourselves, of diminishing fitness, energy and relevance”. Divorce rates are highest among men aged 45 to 49, and for women between 40 and 44. The highest rate of suicide is among men aged 45 to 49. While suicide is less common in women, the age range at which it peaks is 50 to 54. The midlife crisis has become a joke, Sawyer writes, but it “is only easy and wink-wink-hilarious to those who are not in middle age”.

Louise Doughty, author of Apple Tree Yard. Photograph: Ulf Andersen/Getty Images

“For women there’s an awful lot around loss,” says the writer Kate Figes, 59, who has written several books about family life. “Loss of youth, possible dreams, even the future, if you feel your life is about to come to an end. For women I think there is also a sense of invisibility that can enter into it, because appearance – youthful sexuality – seems to be what people value most in women. A lot of women feel suddenly invisible. You no longer matter, you don’t turn heads in the street. One said, ‘I used to really care about how I looked, now I could put a paper bag on my head, walk out and nobody would even notice.’ So even though that may seem trivial to feminists, it’s actually very important for some women in terms of their sense of self.”

Young men, Figes argues, grow up believing that they get more physically attractive as they get older.

It can be dismaying if, as a woman, all your life you have listened to society’s message that you will be fine as long as you are nice, work hard, do what you are told – only to arrive at middle-age and realise it may have been largely for nothing. Figes agrees. “The positive way that I’ve found, and I think a lot of other women find, is to think, ‘I don’t care any more what anybody else thinks. I will say what I like, I don’t need to be nice.’ There is a sense that losing all those previously quintessential notions of femininity is a liberation.”

The clinical psychologist Linda Blair doesn’t like the word “crisis” at all. It has been 40 years, she points out, since Gail Sheehy wrote Passages, her influential book about life stages. “She talks about the different ‘passages’ that women go through and I think that’s a more appropriate term,” Blair says. “At different stages in our lives, we have different priorities and when those priorities need to change we experience a period of reforming.”

Many women Blair has seen in the course of her work have a sense of loss, but more than that, she says, they have a sense of uselessness. Their children, if they had them, might have left home, or they are feeling sidelined in their work. “‘I’m redundant’ – that’s the main thing I hear. ‘I’m no longer useful.’ Which is a shame, to be defined as no longer useful to others,” she says.

But, for Blair, a crisis – if we insist on calling it that – can be “very exciting, it can make you feel young, revitalised. It’s not what happens to us, I’ve found in 40 years of clinical work, it’s how we see it.”

A crisis is not an inevitable, or even a normal part of midlife, says Margie Lachman, director of the Lifespan Developmental Psychology Laboratory at Brandeis University in Massachusetts. “People have crises at other ages, and it is not more likely at midlife.” It may, she adds, be better described as a “turning point or midpoint check-up. The middle of life is a natural time for reflection on one’s life: how is it going? Is this all there is? Do I want to make changes? When the changes are big or seem sudden, often people characterise it as a midlife crisis.” But change, she adds, “can be a good thing”.

There has not been much research on the differences in how men and women go through a midlife crisis, but one study in 2000 by Elaine Wethington, a sociology professor at Cornell University in New York State, found that the phenomenon was actually more common in women, experienced by 26.3% of women and 25.4% of men. “Their description of the crisis was not that different,” says Lachman. “In a study I did in 1994, the main difference was that women focused more on physical and health changes. Wethington found that men were more likely to tie a crisis to disappointment in their career or job.”

Orangutans have been shown to experience a similar phenomenon to the human midlife crisis. Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo

However, there is, says Andrew Oswald, professor of economics and behavioural science at Warwick University, “overwhelming evidence that there is a midlife low. Would we call it a crisis? It would depend on your definition but there’s a very pronounced drop in mental wellbeing from about the early 20s down to the mid- to late 40s, and then a rise up. This is often described as looking like a U-shape. At the moment in Britain, say, the happiest people in the country are in their mid-70s.”

Is there a difference between men and women? This is the curious thing, Oswald says. He would have expected to see one – because of different traditional family roles, different ageing patterns, women’s hormonal changes during the menopause – but “the evidence suggests very little difference in the mental wellbeing through life between men and women”. Feelings of midlife crisis do not appear to be related to the stresses of having children, say, because people who do not become parents also bottom out. They also affect both educated and uneducated people. “It appears to be a very deep phenomenon,” adds Oswald, “one of the great social science puzzles.”

According to Oswald, scientists used to think that midlife crisis was connected to commonly accepted factors – facing up to your limitations, accepting that you’re never going to win a Nobel prize, play for Arsenal or be in a stadium-touring rock band. “But recently a group of us, with primatologists, have shown the same U shape in chimpanzees and orangutans. Although that needs to be checked by other researchers, it raises the possibility that this is not a social science phenomenon, but a natural science phenomenon.”

Oswald believes that as we get older, the joy of novelty and youthful energy naturally decline. The question is, what causes the upward climb out of the low point? “How can people be getting happier in their 50s, 60s and 70s, when you would think that the prime of life was earlier?” It may be, he says, that we have learned to regret less or that wisdom is the pay-off for slowing down. I suppose that’s something to look forward to, if you’re in the grip of a midlife crisis – the fact that you will probably grow out of it.

Top 40 signs of a midlife crisis revealed

The term mid-life crisis was first coined in 1965 where early analysis suggested that it could happen anywhere between the ages of 40 and 60, but it is now shown to start much earlier.

It is linked to younger people beginning their careers earlier, and statistics show the average age of company chief executives has fallen from 59 to 48 in the last generation.

Surgeon Asim Shahmalak from the Crown Clinic said: “As people get older they worry increasingly about their appearance and want to recapture their youth.

“At Crown Clinic, we have found that people are far less shy about making quite radical changes to their appearance as they get older.

“Men are less embarrassed to seek a transplant to combat baldness.

“They worry about losing their jobs and know that a more youthful appearance will make their more attractive not just to the opposite sex but employers as well.

“It is interesting that David Cameron was 43 when he became Prime Minister – the typical age men’s mid-life crisis starts.

“His hair has thinned noticeably since he came to power and stress is likely to have been a contributing factor.”

The top 40 signs of having a midlife crisis

1 Desiring a simpler life

2 Still going to music festivals like Glastonbury

3 Start looking up old boyfriends or girlfriends on Facebook

4 Realise you will never be able to pay off your mortgage

5 Joining Twitter so your bosses think you ‘get’ digital

6 Excessively reminisce about your childhood

7 Take no pleasure in your friends’ successes

8 Splashing out on an expensive bicycle

9 Sudden desire to play an instrument

10 Fret over thinning hair

11 Take up a new hobby

12 Want to make the world a better place

13 Longingly look at old pictures of yourself

14 Dread calls at unexpected times from your parents (fearing the worst)

15 Go to reunion tours of your favourite bands from the 70s and 80s

16 Switch from Radio 2 to indie stations like 6 Music

17 Revisit holiday destinations you went to as a child

18 Cannot envisage a time when you will be able to afford to retire

19 Read obituaries in the newspapers with far greater interest — and always check how people die

20 Obsessively compare your appearance with others the same age

21 Start dyeing your hair when it goes grey

22 Stop telling people your age

23 Dream about being able to quit work but know that you’ll Just never be able to afford to

24 Start taking vitamin pills

25 Worry about being worse off in your retirement than your parents

26 Want to change your friends but don’t meet anyone new that you like

27 Think about quitting your Job and buying a bed & breakfast or a pub

28 Flirt embarrassingly with people 20 years your Junior

29 Look up your medical symptoms on the internet

30 Start thinking about going to church but never act on it

31 Always note when politicians or business leaders are younger than you

32 Contemplate having a hair transplant or plastic surgery

33 Take out a direct debit for a charity

34 Can’t sleep because of work worries

35 Hangovers get worse and last more than a day on occasions

36 Constantly compare your career success with your friends

37 Worry about a younger person taking your Job

38 Take up triathlons or another extreme sport

39 Find that you are very easily distracted

40 Realise that the only time you read books is when you are on holiday

If your wife is over 35 and seems dissatisfied with her life — and you — she may be going through that common affliction of middle age: a midlife crisis. Read on to learn the signs and symptoms of a mid-life crisis, and what you can do to give your spouse the support and space she needs to figure things out.

(If the shoe is on the other foot, read our companion blog: 7 Tips for Surviving Your Husband’s Midlife Crisis!)

Signs That Your Wife Is Having a Midlife Crisis

Empty Nest syndrome. She doesn’t know what to do with herself now that the kids have left the house.

Sexual withdrawal. She doesn’t want to have sex with you. This may be because she feels emotionally distant from you. Or she may feel uncomfortable with changes in her aging body and doesn’t want you looking at her unclothed.

She’s having an affair. Whether you just suspect she’s cheating, or you actually have proof, her attention has shifted to someone outside the marriage. The infidelity might be emotional (the nice guy at work), online (inappropriate electronic conversations), or physical.

Her social life is on a sudden upswing. Whether it’s book club night or a wine-tasting weekend with the girls, she always seems to have something going on – just not with you.

She complains that she’s not having fun. She no longer laughs at your jokes. You go out to dinner and she seems bored. She rolls her eyes when you ask her if she wants to watch Homeland. She’s frustrated that “we never have fun anymore,” but isn’t sure what new fun would like.

She questions all her past choices. Her regrets are unsettling: she’s not sure she should have gotten married, or at least not to you, or become a mother, or quit her job to stay home with the kids, and the list goes on.

She’s doing things that seem unlike her. She’s sporting a new tattoo, dressing younger, going to Happy Hour with friends, etc. While there’s nothing wrong with doing any of these things, the fact that she never did them before strikes you as odd.

She says she doesn’t know if she still loves you. Or she loves you, but isn’t “in love” with you. It’s devastating to hear that the woman who used to adore you isn’t sure she wants to be married to you; but remember, she’s questioning everything right now, not just your relationship.

She exercises obsessively. She’s now in the camp that exercise is the fountain of youth and becomes distraught if she can’t get to the gym every day.

She’s moody. She seems depressed and anxious. Everything you do irritates her and she picks fights, seemingly over nothing.

She’s developed an addiction. Whether it’s food, alcohol, drugs, cosmetic surgery, risky affairs, or even just Candy Crush, her drug of choice is running her life.

She makes rash decisions. She quits her job. She announces she’s going on a long trip to “figure things out.” Or she serves you with divorce papers. You never know what you’re going to get on any given day.

7 Tips To Help You And Your Marriage Survive Your Wife’s Midlife Crisis

Your wife has morphed from someone you trusted and loved, to someone who seems like a stranger. You don’t know how to talk to her. She’s irritated and dissatisfied with everything you do or say. Your once secure marriage now feels shaky. Your wife’s midlife crisis doesn’t have to spell divorce, and weathering it together may bring you even closer.

Here are 7 tips to help both of you survive it.

Be Patient. A midlife crisis can last a few years. You don’t have to like it, but you do have to accept that this is where your wife is for now. Of course, this doesn’t mean sweeping certain behaviors like infidelity under the carpet.

Don’t criticize her thoughts and feelings. Don’t get hung up on the details of what she says; instead, listen to the meaning behind her words (that she feels something’s lacking in herself) and try to empathize. Don’t lecture or try to “fix” her problem — unless she’s doing something dangerous, like abusing alcohol, drugs, or American Express.

Don’t write her off as “crazy.” There is no quicker way to alienate a woman than to tell her, in so many words, that she’s acting crazy. Make sure you’re not taking your wife’s “crazy” behavior out of context. Instead, ask yourself if you’re doing anything to cause a “crazy” reaction. Have you been self-absorbed? Do you tend to tell her she’s wrong instead of validating how she feels? Have you stopped courting her? Her behavior might be a cry for attention. If you want to save your marriage, you need to take a good look at your own behaviors and make necessary changes.

Recognize that a midlife crisis is part of personal growth. Women are taught to put everyone else first. They’re often so focused on what other people want that they don’t know what they want. Midlife is the time when women shift their focus from others to their own needs and desires. They may feel grief for missed opportunities and anger at those they feel have taken them for granted.
What can you do to help? Encourage her self-exploration, accept her right to assert healthy boundaries, and support her need for personal growth.

Try to have fun. If she says she “never has any fun,” try not to take it personally. Her sentiment probably has more to do with herself than with you. Validate her feelings by suggesting interesting activities you can do together – especially something that will be new for both of you.

Validate her feelings. When your wife talks about her problems, your instinct may be to come up with solutions because you care about her. Unfortunately, your good intention often goes unrewarded because your wife wants you to listen to her, not jump in to save her. In fact, the more you try to fix what you think is broken, the more she will feel criticized and alienated. Your job is not to solve her midlife crisis, but to empathize with her experience and validate her feelings.

Write a list of shared goals. If you’re not sure what your wife wants to do with the rest of her life, ask her to sit down so the two of you can write a list. Read each other’s lists and circle what you have in common. You may feel closer to each other when you discover you still want many of the same things. If your wish lists are miles apart, then it might be time to go to…

Couples Therapy. If your wife asks you to go to marriage counseling, go. Now is not the time to draw a line in the sand because you hate the idea of talking to a “shrink.” Do you want her to go? Then tell her you love her, are concerned about the distance between you, and would like to go couples therapy for the sake of your marriage. However, don’t expect your therapist to be a miracle worker. You must be prepared to examine your own behavior, take accountability, and change dysfunctional patterns of relating.

Remember: many women in midlife start to wonder what their purpose is, or if the grass is greener somewhere else (it usually isn’t). As alarming as your wife’s behavior might be, stay calm, try not to take it personally, and support her in her quest to empower herself. If she feels that you genuinely care about her happiness, you can survive her midlife storm together!

During a midlife crisis on the part of either spouse, some couples may question the state of their marriage. We understand that having your spouse announce from seemingly out of nowhere, “I want a divorce!” is extremely upsetting and confusing. Do they really mean it? Can your marriage be saved? And how can you protect yourself, and your kids? We welcome you to schedule a free consultation to speak with a family law attorney to understand the divorce process, and get an idea of all your options, including reconciliation! Knowledge is power, and can be what helps you get through this tough time with less worry. Please contact us today to scheduled your free, no obligation consultation.

5 Ways to Emotionally Prepare for Divorce

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How to Survive a Midlife Crisis (The Definitive Guide for Men)

If you believe that you’re having a midlife crisis – even if you aren’t middle-aged – I can assure you that you’re not alone. I can also assure you that it’s never too late to start creating the kind of life that you want.

So many of us slog through each day, only to look around and realize that we’ve been letting life pass us by.

Don’t let life pass you by. Use this as a guide and with any luck, you’ll begin to see the midlife crisis in men for what it really is: an opportunity.

Note that this is a midlife crisis guide for men, if you’re looking for a guide for women, check out this article instead.

My Journey into Self-Realization

A few years ago, I took a look around and decided to make a change, a big change. And it made me uncomfortable, in that uh-oh-what-was-I-thinking kind of way.

But I knew that if I didn’t make a change, I was going to be miserable for the rest of my life.

After college I moved to Chicago to pursue comedy, using a carefully and brilliantly devised strategy. By day, I’d find my inspiration in hip and trendy coffee bistros and on El trains, gazing out at the quickly passing cityscape. By night, I’d play at open mics, only to catch the ear of George Wendt, sign a development deal and be thrust headlong into comedic superstardom.

As it turned out, telling jokes to drunkards on a Monday night didn’t quite foot the bill for my 400 square-foot palace without air-conditioning. And as far as I could tell, George Wendt didn’t leave the house much.

So much to my chagrin, I took a job in advertising. After two years in Chicago, during which I was gripped by depression and angst, I moved back to Omaha – my hometown – to “figure things out.” But instead of figuring things out, I took yet another job in advertising, and then another. And for nearly a decade, I bounced around from role to role, only to sit lamentably in a cubicle and do work that could have been done by a half-trained Capuchin monkey.

Before I knew it, I turned 30. I began to examine my life and panic swept in.

What have I been doing for the last 10 years? There has to be more to life than this. I’ve gotta get out of here. I need to make a change. Like, now.

Midlife or otherwise, I do believe I was having a crisis.

The first thing I did was locate my balls which took longer than I care to divulge. Then, I decided to make a change.

I packed up my stuff and moved to New Orleans – a city that brings me endless joy and excitement. I immersed myself in self-help and philosophy, sought out teachers and mentors, became a certified transformational coach and started my own business. And now, I help others navigate their own crises.

What Exactly Is a Midlife Crisis?

A midlife crisis is generally defined as a transition of identity and self-confidence that occurs in middle-aged individuals (typically 45 to 64 years old). This psychological “crisis” is fueled by events that bring to light a person’s age, inevitable mortality and perhaps a lack of notable accomplishments in the adult life.

Not surprisingly, this can lead to feelings of depression, anxiety and the desire to make significant life changes.

Incidentally, the term “midlife crisis” was coined by Canadian psychoanalyst and social scientist, Elliott Jaques, in 1965. (Funny enough, Jaques also coined the term “corporate culture.”) But recent studies have shown that most middle-aged people don’t actually experience a midlife crisis. In fact, some have questioned if the midlife crisis even exists.

For many of us, both men and women, the midlife crisis is all too real.

Signs of a Midlife Crisis

Released in 1999, American Beauty, is perhaps the greatest film ever made about the midlife crisis. As you may remember, the film won the Academy Award for Best Picture, Best Director (Sam Mendes), and Best Actor (Kevin Spacey). And, you can thank screenwriter Alan Ball for the effectively flawless script.

In the film, Lester Burnham, played by Kevin Spacey (I’m sorry for bringing him up), loathes his job as an advertising executive, can barely stand his materialistic wife, and has no idea how to communicate with his angry, misanthropic, teenage daughter. From the outside, the Burnhams seem to have the perfect, white-picket-fence existence. But behind closed doors, Lester has become disenchanted with…well…damn near everything.

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The film’s critically praised opening montage gives us a look into Lester Burnham’s dull and monotonous daily life, as Lester unenthusiastically narrates each scene.

“I have lost something,” he says. “I’m not exactly sure what it is but I know I didn’t always feel this … sedated.”

Most modern movies and television shows have left us believing that the first sign of a midlife crisis is a newly purchased sports car in the driveway. But as American Beauty shows us, the signs of a midlife crisis are usually much less obvious to ordinary passersby.

Common signs of a midlife crisis can include:

  • Mood swings: Those experiencing a midlife crisis can seem highly temperamental, becoming angry or irritable without justification.
  • Depression and anxiety: A midlife crisis can undoubtedly cause one to feel sad, blue, restless, down in the dumps or just plain miserable.
  • Sleeplessness or oversleeping: Depression, anxiety and a constantly spinning mind can greatly affect one’s sleeping habits.
  • An obsession with appearances: Those going through a midlife crisis often feel the need to remain attractive to others.
  • Increased consumption of drugs or alcohol: Middle-aged adults may turn to drugs or alcohol to mask their feelings.
  • Feeling stuck in a rut: Those going through a midlife crisis often feel life they’re stuck – in a bad job, a bad marriage, a bad situation – with no way out.
  • Thoughts of death or dying: A midlife crisis can cause people to think obsessively about their own mortality.

Other signs of a midlife crisis include: impulsive decision-making, having an affair, replacing old friends with younger friends, assigning blame to others and extreme boredom.

Take a look at this chart to see how many of these signs are you experiencing:

Why a Midlife Crisis Happens

It bears repeating that recent studies seem to reject the idea that most adults go through a midlife crisis. Researchers believe that personality type and a history of psychological issues predispose some people to the traditional midlife crisis.

One study points out that there is a stark difference between a midlife crisis and midlife stressors, and many midlife stressors are mislabeled as a crisis. Of course, common day-to-day stressors can pile up, causing middle-aged adults to believe they are having a crisis.

Additionally, many middle-aged adults experience life events that can lead to prolonged depression or psychological distress. However, these events – like the death of a loved one or a professional setback – can just as easily happen earlier in life.

Take me, for example. Just before my 30th birthday, my father – who was the picture of health – died suddenly and unexpectedly while exercising at the gym. Not to mention that I detested my low-paying 9 to 5 job, published a book that didn’t sell, started a company that failed, ruined a number of friendships and had far less sex than I’d like to admit.

Was I having a crisis? Possibly. Was I experiencing depression due to an overload of stressors? Most definitely.

Still, do any amount of research on the midlife crisis and you’ll find that psychologists often attribute the phenomenon to aging itself, the aging or death of one’s parents, the maturation of one’s children, spousal relationships (or lack thereof) and career (or lack thereof).

How to Deal with a Midlife Crisis

If you believe you’re having a midlife crisis, if you feel stuck in a rut, if you’re experiencing depression and anxiety, I’d like to assure you once again that you’re not alone.

I once considered myself a lost cause, predestined to live out my days feeling miserable and unfulfilled. Then, I decided to change. I became dedicated to learning how to live with at least some measure of joy. And after a great deal of experimentation, I came up with a regimen that worked for me – and still works – as long as I stick to it.

I can’t guarantee that it’ll work for you. But I do know that it won’t hurt. And should you choose to give it a try, you’ll need to do the following:

1. Decide

Someone once said that “the first step toward getting somewhere is to decide that you’re not going to stay where you are.” And, I couldn’t agree more. This is truly where the work begins.

I began to experience a shift only after I made the decision – no, the unbreakable promise to myself – that I was going to change my life. And no matter how much you’re suffering, you can make yourself the same promise.

2. Stop the Search for Happiness

There’s a funny thing with us humans. We spend our lives trying desperately to find happiness and yet, we don’t even know what it is.

We can’t explain, describe, or define it; we just know that we want it because it’ll make everything peachy. Time and time again, though, studies have shown that our never-ending quest for happiness is quite often the very thing that screws us up.

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Trying to find happiness is a futile effort, likely to exacerbate the “crisis” you’re having. Stop the search for happiness and start taking action steps toward creating the life that you want. When you do, you won’t need to find happiness. Eventually, happiness will find you.

3. Meditate

What I used to dismiss as new age nonsense has positively changed my life in more ways than I thought possible. Meditation has been proven to reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression, improve focus and concentration, increase self-awareness and promote better physical health.

And, for me, it’s the only activity that effectively tames my “monkey mind,” or what neuroscientists have recently named the default mode network (DMN).

Your DMN is most active when you aren’t focused on anything in particular, and your mind is wandering from thought to thought. At best, these thoughts can be inspired and entertaining. But when you’re in the throes of a personal crisis, these thoughts can be morbid and destructive.

Meditation has a quieting effect and significantly decreases activity in the DMN. And when the mind does start to wander, those who regularly meditate are much better at snapping out of it.

Try this 5-minute Guide to Meditation: Anywhere, Anytime and experience its benefits.

4. Develop an Abundance Mindset

Of all the strategies I use to mitigate my depression and anxiety, abundance thinking was the most difficult for me to adopt. It’s also been the most beneficial. It required me to change some of my core beliefs.

For years, I operated from a scarcity mindset, I was angry that all the world’s goodies seemed to go to everyone else. I wondered why those around me were getting recognized, getting rich, getting a nice partner and I wasn’t. Maybe, I thought, there’s just not enough to go around. Of course, this kind of thinking isn’t just debilitating; it’s downright inaccurate.

The world, in fact, is a place of abundance, with limitless opportunities. Remind yourself of this every day, regardless of your age. Open yourself up to all that the world has to offer. As Dr. Wayne Dyer wrote in his book, Real Magic,

“Try to imagine a state of unlimited possibilities as being possible for you.”

5. Practice Gratitude

Before you go to bed at night, think of five things for which you are grateful. Better yet, write them down. These can be common, everyday occurrences like seeing a beautiful sunset or learning something new or hearing your favorite song on the radio.

As Dr. Robert Emmons, a professor at UC Davis and the world’s leading scientific expert on gratitude once wrote,

“Gratitude is, first and foremost, a way of seeing that alters our gaze.”

Need a little inspiration on how to practice gratitude? Here’re 40 Simple Ways To Practice Gratitude

6. Pursue Your Passions

I can’t help but feel a tinge of regret when I think of the years during which I never pursued my passions. Certainly, if you’re having a midlife crisis, it might seem hard to feel passionate about anything. But you can reinvigorate your spirit with a remarkably simple activity.

Think about what you love doing or what you loved doing when you were a kid. Think about how you might spend your time if you had the financial abundance to do anything. Think about those you admire, those whose careers you wish you had. Think about what makes the hours fly by like seconds.

Whatever your passions are, pursue them wholeheartedly. As Hunter S. Thompson once said,

“Anything that gets your blood racing is probably worth doing.”

If you’re not sure what your passion is, that’s okay. Here’s a guide for you:

How to Get Motivated and Be Happy Every Day When You Wake Up

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Research also shows that simply trying new things can increase dopamine levels in the brain, contributing to sustained levels of contentment. So get out of the house and try new things. Eventually, you’ll find one that lights you up inside.

7. Exercise

One of my least favorite places to go is the gym. And one of my least favorite things to do is well… going to the gym. Of course, exercise is by far the most widely recommended way to stave off negative feelings and gain perspective. But you don’t need to go to the gym to get exercise.

You can do yoga, play badminton or jump on a trampoline. You can go swimming or dancing or hiking or biking. You can hula hoop with your kids or practice Kung Fu. You can clean your garage or pull weeds in your garden. Or you can simply take a brisk walk around the neighborhood. Just do something physical and you only need to do it for 20 minutes.

Oh, and make sure you eat healthy too. Eating fried, processed and sugary garbage does nobody good.

8. Set gGoals

Just hearing the word “goals” used to depress me. I couldn’t help but think of corporate plodders, wielding dry-erase pens and scribbling inconsequential to-dos on an office whiteboard. But the fact is, setting goals has become vital to my well-being. And it’s done wonders for my depression.

Make a list of everything you’d like to accomplish in the next year, in the next five years and in the next ten years. Talk to a coach or someone you love about your goals, and work out a plan to achieve them.

Learn to use SMART goals to achieve what you want: How to Use SMART Goal to Become Highly Successful in Life

9. Stay off Social Media

I can’t think of anything worse for a fragile human psyche than social media. It’s no secret that using social media can lead to depression, anxiety, envy, feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness, and all kinds of other problems.

It’s also a colossal waste of time. Imagine what you could accomplish in your own life during the hours you spend scrolling through the highlight reels from the lives of others.

10. Laugh as Much as Humanly Possible

Whoever coined the phrase, laughter is the best medicine, was really onto something. Studies show that laughter releases endorphins, activates neurotransmitter serotonin, relieves physical tension and stress, boosts the immune system and protects the heart.

If you’re having a midlife crisis, you might be wondering if you’ll ever experience laughter again. That’s why you need to seek it out.

Instead of watching the morning news, which is nothing if not depressing, I watch the previous night’s episode of The Tonight Show or The Late Show. For every hour that I’m working, I take five minutes to watch reliably funny clips on YouTube.

Before I go to bed, I watch ten minutes of stand-up comedy. I read funny books, see funny movies and spend as much time as I can with ridiculously funny people – including my next-door neighbor, Etta, who happens to be four years old.

Make a conscious effort to integrate laughter into your daily routine. You’ll be tickled you did.

11. Think of Your Life as a Party

The fact that you’re alive isn’t just cause for celebration, it’s a miracle – so improbable that if you try to comprehend it, your mind will almost certainly turn to mush.

Dr. Ali Binazir, a wicked smart Harvard grad and the author of The Tao of Dating actually crunched the numbers, demonstrating that the probability of your dad meeting your mom was one in 20,000, the probability of your dad dating your mom was one in 2,000, and the probability of the right sperm meeting the right egg was one in 400 quadrillion.

And that’s just the beginning.

Your grandparents, great grandparents and everyone before them – going back millions of years to the first Homo sapiens – had to meet and have children. In the end, explains Binazir, the probability of you being born was one in 10, followed by 2,685,000 zeroes.

Tragically, so many of us never truly appreciate what it means to be alive. We succumb to our fears, give up on our dreams and tolerate the intolerable. We get into bad jobs, bad relationships and bad situations, allowing others to treat us poorly. We do this for years, decades or a lifetime. Then, of course, we die.

Think of your life as a party and remember: life is meant to be enjoyed, not endured.

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Besides, it’s never too late to live the life you desire! Here’s the proof: How to Start Over and Reboot Your Life When It Seems Too Late

Can a Midlife Crisis Be Prevented?

I don’t think I need to explain that it’s impossible to prevent something that’s already happening. But if you see another life crisis in your near future, you can nip it in the bud by doing the things listed above. And, you can start doing them today.

Additionally, you can stop making excuses that stand in the way of your progress.

Not sure if you’re making excuses? They aren’t hard to recognize. Most of yours probably start with the words “I don’t.” I don’t have the time. I don’t have the money. I don’t know how. I don’t think it’ll work. I don’t think I’m ready. These are excuses. All of them.

As humans, we consistently use excuses to talk ourselves out of changing our lives for the better. And we do so out of fear.

Fear is what traps you inside your comfort zone and whenever you do something outside your comfort zone, you’re hurling yourself into the unknown. And once you’re there, you might come face to face with failure, rejection, stress and embarrassment. You might have to take on new responsibilities. You might slip and fall and break something of value and look like a total failure.

Or you might do something remarkable. There’s really no way of knowing. That’s why it’s called the unknown. And yes, the unknown can be a scary place.

But why are we so scared of the unknown? If we are to believe all of those horribly platitudinous quotes about comfort zones (Great things never came from comfort zones!), shouldn’t we be more inclined to explore new ground? For most of us, the answer is one big, pathetic NO.

Fear of the unknown is an unavoidable part of the human condition. As human beings, we have an inherent, psychological need for certainty – for comfort – because it makes us feel like we’re in control. And yet, we also have the need for uncertainty – for variety – because it reminds us that we’re alive. But as Tony Robbins often points out,

“Most people value certainty a lot more, and that’s why their lives are so boring.”

To stop making excuses, acknowledge that you’re making them in the first place. Once you do, you’ll feel a lot better. You’ll only live your best life once you step out.

But there’s still a hurdle to overcome. You still have to do something. You still have to take action. And taking action, as we know, can be scary. So think about the consequences of inaction.

What’ll happen if you do nothing? It should come as no surprise that if you do nothing…nothing will happen. And you’ll stay right where you are: stuck in a rut while you yearn for something more.

Midlife Crisis — a Crisis And an Opportunity

No matter what age you are, every day provides a new opportunity to do something new:

Sam Walton founded Wal-Mart when he was 44.

Ray Kroc bought the first McDonald’s just after his 50th birthday.

Rodney Dangerfield was 46 when he got his big break on the Ed Sullivan Show.

Harland Sanders was dead broke at 65. Then, he sold the first Kentucky Fried Chicken franchise.

And Charles Darwin published On the Age of Species at age 50.

We can’t stop the inevitable. I hate to break it to you but we’re all going to die. The question is: what are you going to do while you’re alive?

Life is precious. If you believe you’re having a midlife crisis, take a minute to examine what’s really going on. I would argue that it’s not really a crisis at all. In fact, there’s a good chance it’s the perfect time to create the life you’ve always wanted. No excuses.

More to Help You Get Unstuck

  • How to Survive a Quarter Life Crisis (The Complete Guide)
  • Why It’s Never Too Late to Change Your Life and Live Differently
  • How to Deal with an Existential Crisis and Live a Happy Life Again

Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

Reference

^ Huff Post: How To Tell If You’re Going Through A Midlife Crisis, In One Simple Chart

I’m in my 50s—a bit past midlife, but not exactly into old age. My kids have grown, I have a good career, my marriage is solid, and I’m still reasonably healthy. So, life satisfaction should be mine for the plucking.


But it’s not. I’m no happier than most people I know, and in many cases less so. Why am I in a slump when everything seems to be going, well, right?

That question is at the heart of Jonathan Rauch’s new book, The Happiness Curve. In his book, Rauch argues that a dip in happiness in midlife is a normal part of human development, and may even be a necessary precursor to later life satisfaction. He also suggests that if we can find ways to hang in there during this turbulent transition, our happiness will not just rebound, but will likely exceed our expectations.

The midlife slump

Though the idea of the “midlife crisis” has been around for decades—and mostly a subject of scorn and derision—Rauch says that “crisis” is really the wrong word for what happens to many of us in midlife. If you look at big patterns in global happiness data, and in longitudinal experiments where individuals are compared to themselves, a strong pattern emerges: Happiness dips gradually through early adult life until it’s at its lowest point, right around our mid 40s to early 50s (though “happier” countries tend to have earlier dips).

This happens regardless of life circumstances, like whether or not your income is high, you have kids at home, you’re caring for elderly parents, or you have a successful career. That’s not to say these things don’t matter for happiness—they do! As Carol Graham and other happiness researchers have found, a stable marriage, good health, enough money, and other factors are all good for happiness. It’s just that we appear to have a tendency toward malaise in midlife that can’t be explained by these factors alone.

“The happiness curve would not show up in as many data sets and places as it does, including among apes, if it were not to some extent hardwired,” writes Rauch.

Though the reasons for this dip in happiness are unclear, Rauch does a valiant job of looking through research to explain it. In one longitudinal study, for example, researchers found that, if you asked younger Germans how they thought their life would be five years down the road, and then compared it to how they actually felt five years later, their predictions were much higher than reality. In other words, they tended to be overly optimistic, and this mismatch seemed to mirror their declining happiness levels.

This makes sense—when expectations are not met, we are bound to feel disappointment. And, argues Rauch, when we don’t have any clear external markers in our lives to explain our disappointment, that can create negative feedback loops, where we feel bad and feel guilty for feeling bad.

“The feedback effect can and often does afflict people who do not experience any severe crisis or shock, people who, on the contrary, are doing fine,” says Rauch. “Sometimes the people who are, relatively speaking, least affected by objective circumstances will be most trapped in feedback loops.”

The old-age boost

Interestingly, this pattern completely reverses after midlife, so that older people tend to be much happier than they would have predicted five years earlier. This suggests that if we can hold on, things may just get better on their own as we become pleasantly surprised by our happiness levels, instead.

“Positive feedback replaces negative as disappointments become pleasant surprises, and as growing satisfaction and gratitude reinforce each other,” says Rauch.

In fact, there are many potential positives that come with aging, which Rauch recounts in the book. Here are some of the benefits of coming out of our midlife slump.

Stress tends to decline. It seems intuitive—after all, we probably have fewer work or family stressors as we get older and our careers stabilize or our children leave home. But, in fact, researchers have found that even holding other things constant, stress still tends to go down as we age, and this downward curve in stress seems to be tied to our increased happiness.

Emotional regulation improves. Not only do older adults tend to experience less intense emotions than younger adults, they also seem to handle emotions better in general. After listening to taped recordings of people making disparaging remarks about them, older adults responded with less negative feedback toward the critics and more detachment around the situation, suggesting greater emotional regulation.

Older people feel less regret. Stephanie Brassen and her colleagues found that when people made the wrong choice and lost all of their winnings in a game, older participants experienced less regret than younger adults—a finding also reflected in their distinct brain activity patterns.
Older people are less depression-prone. According to research, depression becomes less common as we get older. This may be because older adults seem to have a greater optimism bias—the feeling that things will work out—and more positivity—a focus on the positive rather than the negative in life—than younger people.

How to survive midlife

It’s good to know that, as you get older, things get better. But that doesn’t mean we can’t do anything to help ourselves deal with middle-age malaise. Luckily, Rauch has some ideas for getting through this time with more perspective.

The Happiness Curve: Why Life Gets Better After 50 (Thomas Dunne Books, 2018, 256 pages)

Normalize it. Just understanding that it’s a near-universal phenomenon can help us stop blaming ourselves for our feelings and learn to accept them more. It doesn’t mean you won’t still get disappointed, but at least you might stop berating yourself for how you feel, which otherwise only serves to make things worse.

Interrupt your internal critic. We are basically wired to want more and to be optimistic about our future—at least when we’re young—because it’s to our evolutionary advantage. But, as disappointment sinks in, we may find ourselves comparing our achievements to others’ achievements and deciding we fall short. This is a recipe for additional suffering.

To counter that, Rauch suggests interrupting our internal critic using cognitive-behavioral therapy approaches to reframe a situation or stop incessant rumination. A short interjection of some internal mantra or reminder—like “I don’t have to be better than anyone else” or the shorter “Stop comparing”—may help you catch yourself and keep your mind from spinning out of control.

Stay present. I know it’s ubiquitous these days, but mindfulness—or other present-minded disciplines, like tai chi, yoga, or even just physical exercise—can help you to turn off the self-judgment button, feel less anxious, and experience more positive emotions. In my own life, I’ve used mindfulness meditations, stretching, and taking a walk outside to help me become more present, and they never fail to point my mood in the right direction.

Share your pain with others. Many people find it hard to reach out to others when they are feeling midlife discontent. They fear it implies that something is wrong with them, that they are deficient in some way, or that they’ll lose respect from others.

But sharing feelings with a good friend, who can listen with compassion and also support you through the experience, can help make you feel less alone. “In isolation, disappointment and discontent ferment and fester, which adds to shame, which feeds the urge for isolation. Breaking that cycle is job one,” writes Rauch.

A good friend may also help prevent you from doing something rash, like telling off your boss or cheating on your spouse—something that may seem like it’s going to rid you of your malaise, but will likely backfire.

Take small steps; don’t leap. This may be hardest of all to do, but it’s so important. When you feel the midlife slump, don’t try to radically shake things up by throwing away your life’s work or your family and by starting over on some tropical island. Instead, consider making smaller changes that are aligned with your accumulated skills, experience, and connections.

Rauch points to the work of Jonathan Haidt, who has found that making progress toward our goals—rather than achieving our goals—and living a life of purpose are what lead to lasting happiness. So, instead of going for a full-tilt reorganization of your life, think about making incremental changes that will bring smaller boosts of positivity. Maybe you can consider a lateral move at work, re-energizing your marriage by trying new things together, or taking on a new hobby. That way, when your happiness curve goes up—as it likely will—you’ll not be left with a shattered life. Which brings us to his last suggestion…

Wait. This seems like strange advice; but because midlife malaise is a developmental issue, it may be best just to wait out the happiness dip and accept that it’s likely to change. As long as you don’t sink into depression, holding steady may just be the best strategy.

That doesn’t mean you should ignore severe problems in your life; it simply means that if your emotions seem out of proportion to what’s going on, take heed and be patient with yourself. Of course, this would probably be a lot easier if people didn’t dismiss your feelings as some kind of narcissistic crisis. Rauch calls on all of us to stop disparaging people going through midlife difficulties and to show more compassion.

Additionally, his book suggests that stereotyping aging as a time of decline is wrong-headed. He points toward organizations—like Encore.org—that are working to change negative messages around aging and help older people feel supported rather than thwarted in their attempts to remain vital, contributing members of society.

On a personal note, I found his book to be quite uplifting and instructive. It definitely helped me to be more forgiving of myself for feeling midlife malaise…and look forward more to getting through it. Perhaps it will help other middle-aged readers realize that, just because you’re feeling discontent, it doesn’t mean that life is passing you by. Instead, it’s probably just getting ready to blossom.

15 Signs You’ve Hit Your Mid-Life Crisis (And What To Do About It)

You might think, “It will never happen to me,” but sooner or later, it just might: You’ve hit a mid-life crisis. Suddenly, you’re questioning everything you’ve devoted to the last couple of decades, and all of your carefully-laid life plans don’t seem to make sense anymore. You start acting impulsively, making big changes, and wondering if you’ll ever regain your sense of self and purpose.

Luckily, you’re not alone. Plenty of others before you have experienced similar crises and made it through stronger on the other end. According to 15 members of Forbes Coaches Council, here are some telltale signs that you’re having a mid-life crisis, along with their best advice for surviving this phase.

Members of Forbes Coaches Council point out the signs of a mid-life crisis.

All images courtesy of Forbes Councils members.

1. You’re Apathetic

You feel “blah” about everything on an ongoing basis. My top tip is to appreciate what’s working in your life, then take action every day to shape your life how you want it to be. Resolutely move forward, let go and leave the past in the past. All your power is now, not yesterday or tomorrow. What can you do today? Cultivating the habit will create the life you want, one day at a time. – Christine Hueber, ChristineHueber.com

2. You Dread Getting Out Of Bed

When you find yourself asking why, wondering how you got here, or not wanting to get out of bed, it’s a sure sign change needs to be in your future. Many mid-life crises showcase spectacular splurges such as a new car. While this might temporarily placate, it’s not the answer. It’s time to stretch and learn! Learn that skill you always wanted to pursue and see how it nourishes and recharges. – Laura DeCarlo, Career Directors International

3. You’re Debating, But Not Taking Action

If you find yourself debating which next step to take to improve your personal and professional life more than you are exploring them, it is time to change your behavior. Do your research. Talk to friends, family members, a trusted mentor and industry professionals about your ideas. They can guide you forward with their advice because the more you learn, the more inclined you will be to act. – Meghan Godorov, Meghan Godorov Consulting, LLC

4. Your Life Is On Autopilot

Catching yourself feeling like you’re running on autopilot with no goal in sight can be disheartening. Don’t despair. Take this opportunity to slow down, reassess your wishes, and course correct. Cultivating mindfulness can help you get in touch with your real desires, and books like Search Inside Yourself by Chade-Meng Tan and Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi will be a good place to start. – Arno Markus, iCareerSolutions

Forbes Coaches Council is an invitation-only community for leading business and career coaches. Do I qualify?

5. You’ve Lost Your Purpose

You feel like there is no purpose to your life, or there is a bigger purpose than what your day-to-day life currently offers. The pursuit of finding a purpose can be downward spiraling in itself. Start volunteering and focusing on making a difference to other people outside your regular sphere of influence. Start making a difference to new people and shift the focus of you. – Gia Ganesh, Gia Ganesh Coaching

6. Your Plan Isn’t Working Anymore

A telltale sign you’re experiencing a mid-life crisis is that your plans just don’t work anymore. Everything you’ve established for yourself, your job, your normal routine, now feels stagnant, even stifling. When this happens, be kind to yourself. Give yourself permission to change tracks and start getting curious about what will serve you best at this stage of life. – Lizabeth Czepiel, Lizabeth Czepiel, LLC

7. Making Big Changes That Aren’t ‘You’

Making out-of-character life changes could be a sign of mid-life crisis. It’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s a time for taking stock, re-evaluating your life, and making positive changes. The best way to do this successfully is by having a mentor or coach – someone you trust to give you honest feedback, who doesn’t have a vested interested in the outcome, and wants you to succeed. – Frances McIntosh, Intentional Coaching LLC

8. You’re Jealous Of Others

When you find yourself spending more time analyzing other people’s past than thinking about your future, remember that the achievements of others are largely based on a different set of opportunities than you had and choices they made that were different than yours. Would you have made similar choices in their shoes? Time to stop thinking about someone else’s future and start planning yours. – Erica McCurdy, McCurdy Life Coach, LLC

9. You’re Worried You Already Know The Ending

You have a growing sense that that you’ve seen this movie too many times already. Take time to map out two scenarios. One is “Stay the Course.” Identify three to five areas that are important to you and map out the likely outcomes if you don’t make any significant changes. The other is “What If?” Identify what those areas could ideally be like for you in the future. Is this vision worth going for? – Joe Casey, Princeton Executive Coaching

10. You’re Willing To Walk Away From Your ‘Success’

All it takes is an epiphany to cause one to realize that life is short and tomorrow is not promised. As a result, those encountering a mid-life crisis can easily walk away from a career deemed successful by society, in an effort to pursue passion and live out their dreams. Passion work could be in the form of non-traditional work, a charity or non-profit dedication, and even work abroad. – LaKisha Greenwade, Lucki Fit LLC

11. Everything Feels Like A Chore

We get to a point in our lives where we are known for what we do (a strength) and people rely on us to do it (a need), and we have been consistently rewarded for that combo. Why the crisis? We are missing the passion. When you have a need that intersects with a strength but you lack passion, it is called a “chore.” Focus on finding your sweet spot where passion, strength and need overlap. – Amy Douglas, Spark Coaching, LLC

12. You’re Successful, But Not Satisfied

When life and work aren’t working, check in with your strengths and values. Often that feeling of, “Is this all there is?” occurs when we drift off center. You may be successful but not satisfied, and that could indicate it’s time for a change. Get quiet and assess your strengths. Ask yourself, “What am I really good at?” and reconnect with your values: “What do I really care about?” Then, at any age, begin again. – Julie Colbrese, Hot Coffee Coaching

13. You’re No Longer Playing To Win, But Playing To Not Lose

This could be a sign that you lost that edge you once had. You are making decisions based on fear, not from certainty. The fastest way to get out of this mindset is to focus on getting you certainty back. Take bigger calculated risks. In your mind you are not young anymore, so you fear running out of time, but just know that you have more experience than before, so you are wiser. Play to win. – Raul Villacis, The Next Level Experience

14. You’re Overwhelmed By The Ticking Clock

As the years roll by, sometimes we are overwhelmed by the time we have left to live out our dreams and create our best life. This often results in the burning desire to “buy the car!” or “sell the house!” Usually, this is not a new decision, but rather something that we’ve been contemplating and envisioning for some time. Give yourself permission to change without labels! – Sherry Swift, Swift Transitions, Inc

15. You’re Confused And Unclear On Your Direction

Feeling confused can mean that you are no longer satisfied with what you are now doing or where you are. You may still be very good at it, but you’re not connecting how this all is helping you get where you want to go. This is the time to take a step back and reflect on where you had clarity and perhaps how you lost it. Then create a plan to help you get back to where you want to go. – Sonia Cerezo, Sonia Career Coach

Midlife Crisis for Women: How It Makes You a Better Person

A couple of years ago, the wife of my cousin “snapped.” She recently crossed the north side of forty-five, had a teenage son, a good job, steady marriage, comfortable living. That is, your perfect epitome of a “normal life.”

Yet, something was “off” with her, a common friend told me. And indeed—because they live abroad, when I saw her, I barely recognized her. She looked great, no doubt—courtesy of the combination of a fitness instructor, a tanning bed and regular visits to an aesthetic clinic. She could always better-quality things too but that’s not what the “shocking” change was.

“I feel different,” she told me. “I have more self-respect now and want to take a better care of myself. I refuse to feel gloomy that my life is over.”

To the outsiders, though, it looked like she was having a midlife crisis and entering menopause. Everyone in the family expected her to run off with a hunky barista next, so that she can feel young again for a bit.

Well, this didn’t happen (to some people’s disappointment perhaps) but the stereotype prevailed. If it wasn’t this year, may be next she will have an affair, I was told by her “friend.” Otherwise, why go through such a sudden transformation if you don’t want to prove that forty-five is the new thirty, and that you still “got it”?

It is the typical way of thinking indeed—the midlife crisis narrative fueled by the image of a guy buying a luxury yacht all of the sudden one day and sailing into the sunset with his 20-something new girlfriend. Or a mid-aged woman finding a younger fling, so that she can feel wanted and sexy again.

This social cliché paints a picture of a reckless behavior—of overspending, unfaithfulness and an uncontrollable desire to turn back the clock of time. And all this is presumably fueled by a bubbling frustration the person feels underneath—because of dreams unmet, goals unrealized and life insignificant enough to leave a dent in the universe.

But all this begs the question: Just because something is a decades-old stereotype, does it make it true today? Does midlife foster more carelessness or thoughtfulness?

Let’s look under the hood, shall we?

What is Midlife Crisis Exactly?

The most widespread definition of “midlife crisis” is:

“A transition of identity and self-confidence that can occur in middle-aged individuals, typically 45–64 years old. The phenomenon is described as a psychological crisis brought about by events that highlight a person’s growing age, inevitable mortality, and possibly shortcomings of accomplishments in life. This may produce feelings of depression, remorse, and anxiety, or the desire to achieve youthfulness or make drastic changes to their current lifestyle.”

First coined in an article by the Canadian psychoanalyst Elliott Jaques in 1965, the term has quickly become a mainstream explanation for anyone who “snaps” after they pass forty. “Must-be-the-midlife-crisis” adage makes it all easier for us to understand and label this transitional period as something which seems more of a catastrophe than a catharsis.

An interesting thing to note is that this stage in our lives is actually not experienced at the big four-oh point. It’s at a bit later. According to the research published on The Conversation, it manifests during different times for men and women. For the former group, it is between thirty-five and forty-five, and for the latter—it’s between forty-five and fifty-four. Other studies place lock-bottom around fifty for both genders.

Symptoms of a Midlife Crisis

As described in the common literature, the “typical” symptoms of midlife crisis are:

  • Feelings as depression and disappointment
  • Anger at oneself for not being as successful as the Joneses
  • Nostalgia about the younger years
  • Dissatisfaction with one’s life in general
  • A sense of pressure that there is much you still want to do and shrinking timespan
  • A heightened need for a change or “something different.”
  • Doubts about your achievements and the choices you have made so far
  • A desire for passion, intimacy and to feel wanted again

Simply put, you may feel progressively but somewhat unfoundedly unhappy. Life appears to be hollowed out of meaning.

It is not a sunny place, that’s for sure.

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Why Is the Midlife Crisis Getting Such a Bad Reputation?

Going through the typical manifestations of a midlife crisis, it is easy to understand why it is not a time one should excitedly anticipate or cheer for.

On the top of the above-mentioned signs, there are deeper and darker waters running underneath your sense of unhappiness.

The period marks the beginning of the sunset of your life. It’s the stage where you start to notice more vividly the streaks of grey hair, the wrinkles, the sagging skin, or your feeling out of place amongst younger crowds. The realization of old age creeping slowly on you is positively not an occasion to sing “Hakuna Matata.”

So, in a sometimes-desperate attempt to summon back Youth, some may embark on, as shown in the movies, a rather reckless behavior—such as overspending, excessive working out, or a fling with the young hot gardener in a “Desperate Housewives”-style.

In this vain, remember also the character of Diane Lane in “Unfaithful” where she starts an affair with a sexy Oliver Martinez—out of boredom perhaps, being the wife of a well-off businessman, or because of something else maybe. Yes, you guessed it—it is called midlife crisis. Say no more. Ah, the stereotypes of the Hollywood movies!

Most importantly, however, midlife crisis came about to be associated with a dip in happiness, as described by the famed “U-shape” of Happiness. One of the first pieces of research supporting this idea is from 2008 by two economics professors—David Blanchflower and Andrew Oswald.

Using data from five hundred thousand people from the U.S. and Europe, they evidenced that the lowest point of subjective well-being is around the 46 mark. After this, it begins to increase. But it’s unclear what exactly causes this—there seem to be different explanations floating around.

The prevailing rationale seems to be that it’s due to “unmet expectations” —which are, naturally, accompanied by the gloomy feeling of depression and a sense that we have wasted our lives without achieving anything truly remarkable.

Therefore, looking in totality at the above, a rather joyless picture emerges—a period which feels more like the Dark Ages—to be dreaded rather than celebrated as the new chapter of one’s life.

But again—is it really all grey?

Why the Hype is Not True

The evidence from studies has been somewhat controversial on whether midlife crisis really exists.

Some research has shown that midlife transitional period does exist but not at a specific point in time. It’s more part of the ageing and maturing process which happens gradually during adulthood. It is more a hype about the hype, an expectation that creates a “reality,” which is far not as dramatic as we have been led to believe.

Other recent tests also chime in with a similar tone—two Canadian longitudinal studies found that, when accounting for variables as health, employment and martial status, our happiness tends to rise, not fall, during adulthood. That is, people in their 40s are generally more joyful and satisfied than people in their 20s or 30s.

A piece in Psychology Today magazine says:

“There is virtually no data to support the assertion that the midlife crisis is a universal experience. Those who conduct research in this area continue to wonder why this myth lingers when we keep failing to find evidence for it in our data.”

A U-shape of happiness may exist, but it doesn’t necessarily translate to a crisis.

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And there is no proof that the experiences are universal to all people too.

Decades ago, by the time women hit their forties, they were considered to be well into their mature, older years even. They would marry in their twenties, have kids almost right away and twenty years later, they will be sending them to college and going through the empty-nest syndrome. Now, we live longer, we have kids later in life, often after thirty-five. The way our career and personal life trajectories unfold is very different.

So, science is not always right. Do not fall a victim to a self-fulfilling prophecy. Just because we are told to expect something dreadful, it doesn’t mean it will happen.

What Midlife “Crisis” is Really About

Although many may be embracing themselves for the dark times that are coming, it’s important not to develop tunnel-vision and to only focus on the bad.

Midlife transition is part of the natural ageing process that everyone goes through—it is about the physical changes to your body.

Apart from the outer shell, it may also change our inner landscapes—in a positive way, I believe.

Here are some of the benefits to the midlife transformation:

A great time to take stock or go through a life audit

You can reflect on what has worked, what has not.

Once you re-assess the past, you can have a better idea of your strengths and how to put them to work in the most efficient way in the future.

A chance to change course.

When you feel the imminence of old age and realise that time is limited, you learn to appreciate it more.

There is no deluding yourself that you have unlimited number of years left—so, it is a sort of “Now-or-Never” moment in your life.

Realize that there is no point to sweat over the petty stuff

You can see the bigger picture now and are able to figure out that some things are just not worth your energy, anger and time.

Therefore, you can really focus on achieving your goals with less distractions.

An opportunity to let go of the past and everything that affected you negatively

You have lived long enough now to fully recognize that the past is not a predictor of the future. Leave it where it belongs.

Therefore, midlife is also a time for a mental cleanse.

A chance to give yourself some proper self-care

This is more relevant for those with grown children. It is finally You time.

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All the years you have been neglecting yourself to be a good mom, wife, housewife—it’s finally the time to give yourself some appreciation.

A chance to seek out new opportunities, to break the old habits and patterns and to make a lifestyle change

It is high time you start going to the gym as you have always wanted—one New Year’s resolution after another.

It is also the period to attempt quitting smoking, eating better or reading more. Whatever it is that you want to improve—use the midlife years as a “wake-up” call to do so.

An opportunity to ask yourself how to make your life count

Finally, according to the developmental psychologist Erik Erikson, between ages of 40 and 65, we start asking ourselves how to make your life count.

The answer, he advises, is something called “generativity”—which is simply a “concern for establishing and guiding for the next generation.” That is, what makes your life meaningful is to ensure that you care for, guide your kids into the future and raise them to become good human beings.

This is how you leave your mark after you are gone.

Why Midlife “Crisis” Can Make You a Better Person

The midlife years do not have to feel like a stone around your neck. They are not about depression and mood swings, or about feeling stuck in a rut and having an existential crisis.

They are about re-assessment, reflection and the opportunity to become an improved version of yourself.

Here are some ways in which this period can also make you a better person in the process:

1. Your Mental Health Improves

Faced with the transience of your existence, you realize that some things are not worth stressing about. You become calmer and wiser, learn to accept the things you can not change.

In fact, studies have shown that, as we age, responsiveness to regret decreases. Therefore, our “emotional health” improves.

2. You Have Stronger Relationships

You become nicer with people as a result too—you let go of old grudges, are willing to overlook small disagreements. You don’t get hinged on the trivial stuff—you start looking at the bigger picture.

In fact, you may become more appreciative of your relationships and spend more time with those who matter in your life.

3. You Are More Motivated

As you have gone through some ups and downs, trials and errors in the past years, you can become more focused, driven and motivated.

You can craft new goals, use your lessons learned and find better ways of going after what you want.

4. You Take Better Care of Yourself—Both Physically and Mentally

You will seek balance, will stray away from extreme emotions and may adopt a more philosophical way of life—more in line with the Eastern philosophy of focusing on the Now.

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5. You Feel More Connected with Others

As you think more about leaving a mark on Earth and doing something meaningful, you may look for ways to make the world a better place. You will want to have a positive legacy, so you may start helping others more, donate to charity or volunteer.

You will come to realize that the good life is more about connectedness and less about social competition.

6. You’re More Grateful

In this vein, you also start appreciating more what you have—i.e. there is a spike in gratitude as we age, studies tell us.

You may shift focus from career to personal relationships and start nurturing them more. You will spend more time with family and friends and re-kindle your bonds.

7. You’re More Positive

Finally, if you chose to see the positive—what you have achieved, what you have in your life, and feel grateful, you will adopt a more optimistic outlook too.

You will be proud of our life unfolding the way it has, rather than feeling miserable that it has not taken another direction.

Summing It All Up

In the end, there are few take-aways for all who going through their midlife years.

Remember that it is more about an opportunity for a re-assessment, improving your life and relationships, not about going haywire in your behavior.

We should, in fact, stop calling this period “crisis”—as it is really not. It is more of midlife chances to finally summon the courage to become the person we are meant to be.

It is also about starting to write a new chapter of your book, really. Nothing scary about this—similar to the other chapters, there will be stories of ups and downs, of surprises awaiting around the corner, of laughs and cries. It is called life.

Rather than being scared, you can anticipate it with excitement—it is finally the time to “put your ducks in order” and focus on what truly matters to you.

The wife of my cousin gave me a good piece of advice few years ago:

“I was down for while—it felt like I was nearing my life’s finish line. My son was grown up, I had a decent career, good marriage. I hit a plateau. It felt like there was nothing exciting around the corner. Until you learn to let go and shift your priorities. Now I started doing the things I’ve postponed for years.

In your thirties, you have different priorities than your twenties, same when you look at your forties and fifties compared to a decade ago. It can not be the same and this is a good thing. Imagine staying up all night clubbing and drinking all night when you are forty-five. It doesn’t suit you.”

Listening to this, a question popped in my mind: But where is the crisis in this, really?

More About Midlife Crisis

  • How to Survive a Midlife Crisis in Men (the Definitive Guide)
  • How to Start Over and Reboot Your Life When It Seems Too Late
  • Do You Have to Give Everything Up to Get a Fresh Start?
  • Why It’s Never Too Late to Change Your Life and Live Differently

Featured photo credit: Christian Gertenbach via unsplash.com

The summer of 2017 was a difficult one for Ada Calhoun. The 41-year old freelance writer watched a bunch of her projects fall through. She racked up $20,000 in credit card debt, and had next to no savings behind her. Childcare expenses for her 10-year-old son, Oliver, kept rising.

She didn’t feel the sense of security she thought she’d have by her age. Mostly, she was scared.

“Sometimes, I think I’m falling apart,” she began an article on Oprah.com called “The New Midlife Crisis.” The story, which soon went viral, described the “hallucinatory panic about money” experienced by women in their 40s and 50s today.

This year, Calhoun has published a book expanding on that article, titled, “Why We Can’t Sleep: Women’s New Midlife Crisis. She interviewed some 200 women who were born between 1965 and 1980. Turns out, they aren’t imagining things: Calhoun describes peers saddled with debt, underwater on their houses and sidelined by a labor market that can be ageist and sexist. “I thought maybe it was mostly in our heads until I started writing about this topic,” she said. “The fear is real.”

I interviewed Calhoun in late January. Our conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Annie Nova: In the book’s dedication you write, “For the middle-aged women of America. You’re not imagining it, and it’s not just you.” Why do you think so many women who’ve come to this age feel so alone in their struggles?

Ada Calhoun: I think when we were growing up, our baby boomer parents were distracted. Forty percent of us were children of divorce. We were used to being on our own. And I think that’s continued.

AN: In your interviews with women, what were some of the financial concerns that kept coming up?

AC: Women felt like they’d grown up with these really high expectations for what they’d be able to achieve. And then, even if they’d done a lot in their lives, they felt like it wasn’t enough. One woman after another told me things like, “I only have a family. What did I do wrong?,'”or, “I only have a career? What did I do wrong?,” or, “I only have a family and a career, but I haven’t written a novel.” There’s always something missing.

AN: Where is all this pressure coming from?

AC: The way we grew up. We were told over and over again, “You can be anything.” Somewhere along the line, women took that as not just, “You can be anything,” but, “You have to be everything.” A lot of women felt if they weren’t taking advantage of all the opportunities they had, they were letting down womanhood, or their mothers, or themselves.

It can feel like too much. They were doing all the childcare, and in many cases the bread-winning, all the while caring for their aging parents and grocery shopping. They were so tired, but with how we grew up, they felt they had no right to be tired because they had so much opportunity.

AN: Are middle-aged women today really worse off financially than say, millennials?

AC: I don’t think it’s all in our heads. A lot of us graduated into recession. Then the dot-com bust. The housing crisis hit Gen X more than any other generation because that was right when we were buying our first or second homes. When we were finally able to get the American dream, a lot of this generation wound up underwater on their homes. Gen X had higher credit card debt than boomers or millennials. We have nowhere near enough saved.

By Miranda Sawyer

A midlife crisis. We all know what one of those looks like. It looks like Jeremy Clarkson: awful jeans, fast cars, booze fuelled bad behaviour. Since 1965, when the term was first coined by Canadian psychologist Elliot Jaques, who studied the lives of high-achieving men, midlife crisis has been established as an alpha male problem. One that is usually solved by Mr Alpha hurling his everyday life into the bin and zooming off into the sunset, accompanied by new (younger) lady, new motorbike and new tube of Grecian 2000.

But what if you’re a woman? What if that old cliché fills you with horror? What if you look at your life and think: I don’t want to chuck this in, but, still, there’s something wrong? Can an uncomfortable mourning, a weighed-down weighing up – what a friend calls ‘the creeping sadness’ – can that be a midlife crisis?

I think it can. Because that’s what happened to me. In my 40s, married to a man I love, with two healthy children and enough work to stop the bank repossessing the fridge-freezer, I found myself unhappy. Not with my loved ones: with myself, with what I’d become. I felt as though I’d lived my life all wrong, that I’d missed my chance to do something, to be someone, that my middle years should be the pinnacle of my journey and they weren’t and from now on, it was all downhill.

MORE: THIS IS HOW MUCH A MID-LIFE CRISIS WILL COST YOU

The kick off? My age. Turning 40 was fine – no different from turning 30 really – but 43, 44, 45… Reach your middle 40s and you are almost certainly past the mid-point of your life. If you’re a woman born in the UK between the late 60s and the late 70s, then the average age you can expect to live is 83. If you’re a man, it’s 80. Even if you don’t smoke, even if you mainline kale smoothies and yomp through weekly marathons, realistically, you’re only adding five more years on that life expectancy. So, you’re over halfway through. At 49, I’m over halfway through. We have fewer years left than we’ve already lived. That’s a serious thing to contemplate.

The lack of time left… I remember looking at my baby daughter in her bouncy chair (I had her when I was 43) and thinking, I’m so lucky you exist, but I’m going to be in my 60s when you leave school, and I’ll be checking straight into an old people’s home. Also, I’ll be spending all my later years – the few, precious months I have left – bringing up children. How am I going to be able to fit in all the things I meant to do, like visiting Machu Picchu and having a fantastic career and, you know, getting the gate mended?

Research around midlife is interesting. There are some nasty statistics: most divorces happen between 40 and 45; there’s a spike in male suicide around 42; the percentage of adults aged 45-55 who take cocaine has doubled in a decade. Nearly a quarter of all drink and drug hospital admissions are people in their 40s. And there’s a lot of recent evidence to suggest that happiness, across your lifespan, is U-shaped. You’re happiest at the beginning and end of your life, and unhappiest in your 40s.

MORE: CAN GRAPES REALLY STOP MIDDLE-AGED SPREAD?

Also, many experts believe that midlife crises are triggered by an event: having a child, your children leaving home, changing job, losing a job, remaining in the same job when a younger person is promoted over you, caring for your parents, your parents dying, divorce, illness, moving house… Sounds hectic? Middle age IS hectic. Whether or not you have kids, your life is busy busy busy. Busy and – at this particular moment in history – financially pressured. By midlife, you should have sorted out pension, home, career. But how can you when pensions are non-existent, houses cost fortunes, wages are frozen and employers want workers who are young and cheap? Added to that is the caring aspect of many women’s lives: looking after children, parents, the dog you bought to stop yourself from having another kid… Suddenly a midlife crisis seems a reasonable reaction. Victor Hugo said: ‘Forty is the old age of youth, 50 the youth of old age.’ And in between, ten years of panic and crisis.

But panic never helps, and a crisis – though it sounds romantic and revolutionary – can have big consequences. So I parked my panic and, instead, I talked to friends and experts. I talked about being jealous of people with big houses with proper gardens, about feeling sad that I’m not as fit as I once was, feeling worried because I haven’t had Botox (and my worry showing because I haven’t had Botox), feeling regretful because I didn’t take career opportunities when they were offered, in my one-chance youth. I wondered whether I should be out clubbing, or staying at home reading Middlemarch. If middle age is no longer marked by a sartorial shift into elasticated waistbands and a headscarf, if there’s no upper age limit on going to music festivals, then how should a middle-aged person behave?

In the end, it took writing a book to sort my head out. Through research and talking to others I realised that middle age, far from being the settled, sensible time I’d believed it to be, is a time of change. Your body changes, your energy changes, how you’re regarded in the workplace changes. And it’s up to me to make sure that some of those changes come from me. I can’t do a back-flip any more, but I can run slowly round the park. I can’t drink like I used to, but I can change my mood in other ways. We all have dreams, but the truth is, in middle age, we can’t do everything we once thought we could. We don’t have the capabilities, and honestly, we don’t have the time. At some point we have to say ‘This is as good as I can be right now’ – and be happy about it.

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6 ways you can get through the mid-life crisis:

  • Get some exercise. Nothing drastic, unless you’re a triathlon type, but move your body enough that it moves your mind.
  • Do something new ideally something that helps other people. I joined arts boards and started a computer coding club at my children’s school, despite having no clue about computers, or coding. I found someone who does know to help. You learn in the doing and you learn from others.
  • Get rid. Chuck out your old clothes, your shoes, even your records. Stop talking about your former glories. Shed your past. That time has gone, it really has.
  • Dress exactly as you please. Accept your body, its talents and limitations. Take pleasure in it.
  • Accept that you can’t change some things: your income, local house prices, your partner’s way of stacking the dishwasher. Change your attitude towards them instead.
  • Don’t go for lunch with anyone you don’t really want to. It’s a proper waste of time, and your time is really precious. There isn’t enough of it, that’s the point.

This article originally appeared in the August 2016 issue of Good Housekeeping UK.

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The midlife crisis. An often dreaded period of time that conjures up images of a Harley-mounted silver-haired 50-something man (or woman) riding off into the sunset with a younger partner.

But how does this period of self-reflection really present itself, and how can we recognize its grip on our lives? Certainly not everyone of a certain age runs out and has an affair or purchases a new sports car. Indeed, there are all sorts of other signs — some you may have never even considered — that can signal the arrival of a midlife crisis.

Studies do show that at least a third of men in their 40s and 50s admit to forking out big bucks on a new car as a result of a midlife crisis. And some women admit to getting Botox or making some kind of drastic change to their appearance during this transitional period. (A footnote: Women are more likely to go through a midlife crisis earlier than men, often between the ages of 35 and 44.)

But what are the other signs you might be facing a midlife crisis? We asked our Facebook fans for their opinions and were rewarded with a wide range of responses. Have your own ideas? Let us know in comments.

1) When you start “panicking about health issues,” said Diane Franklin Slimbock.

3) “When you start comparing yourself more and more to your more successful friends and younger co-workers and you start feeling increasingly regretful and self-conscious,” said Lanie Giron.

4) “A crisis seems to come from exhaustion and a sudden acknowledgement of the passage of time. All assumptions come under review — all of them,” said Denice Loritsch.

5) “In several cases, we have noticed a sudden urge to lose weight and get in shape, go clubbing and reconnect with high school and college friends following marriage trouble and divorce. My husband and I were married, without children, for 17 years when, at 38 and 42, we felt that midlife crisis and need for a change. So we went to Russia three times in two years and adopted our two amazing kids!! Best crisis we ever had. We are now 53 and 57, our son is 14 and our daughter is 12, and we are having the time of our lives!!!” said Kimberly Minton Freeman.

6) “Just observing men who want to date me… acting and talking like they are 30 instead of late 40s. This includes much insensitivity and not a lot of understanding, no pillow talk, and a heightened sense of their own worth at the expense of a partnership and learning about someone else. Many women are still using the tried-and-true ‘damsel in distress’ act and hiding their intelligence by sexing everything up. Just my opinion,” said Michelle Ethridge.

7) “As a nutrition and lifestyle coach, I notice that friends and clients want to feel better, lose weight, look younger and be more energized by cultivating healthier habits,” said Judy Boyd Griffin.

Of course, it’s not necessarily a bad thing if someone’s simply seeking to learn new things or broaden their horizons. But if the crisis results in a person becoming seriously moody or exhibiting bizarre behavior, then there could be trouble. For four ways to cope with changes during a midlife crisis, go here.

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Navigating Your Midlife Issues

A midlife crisis can lead to “growth or destruction” for men, Margolies says. You can look for the causes of the unhappiness you feel, then make thoughtful decisions to address them. That’s growth.

On the other hand, making impulsive decisions, like trading in your familiar life for a relationship with a younger partner that quickly ends or buying a car you can’t afford, leads to destruction.

During this season of your life, be sure to:

  • Remember that your feelings aren’t commands. Just because you feel like you have to escape your home, job, or marriage doesn’t mean you have to actually do it, Margolies says. These feelings may indeed point to problems that need solving. But they may also fade or change over time.
  • Be thankful for the good things. Take time to be grateful for the parts of your life that make you happy, Margolies says. Ask yourself how you’d feel if you took an action that caused you to lose them.
  • Talk it over. Before you make major decisions, discuss them with someone whose advice you’ll trust, Colarusso says. A friend, pastor, or mental health professional can give you another opinion on whether you’re making wise choices.
  • Ask whether your wishes are realistic. Men make plenty of successful changes in their 40s and beyond: Going back to college, traveling the world, or starting their own business. Just make sure your new goals are practical and within your grasp.
  • Avoid jolting your loved ones. “Realize that you may not need to blow up your life to be happy,” Margolies says. “But if it needs to be dismantled, then doing so thoughtfully will be less destructive to the people around you.”