Recognizing and Responding to Midlife Crisis

Mature male running on waterfront path, Perth, Australia
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Scott just came home with a sleek new sports car. Jeff is frustrated with his receding hairline and is thinking about getting a hairpiece. Stan is getting restless in his now 20 year long marriage and is wondering if life would be better and more fulfilling as a single guy.  Each of these men is exhibiting symptoms of midlife crisis.

What is Midlife Crisis?

Midlife crisis hits most men as they reach the middle of their adult lives and seems to happen when the finally come to grips with their own mortality and that they have not experienced all in their lives that they think they might have.

Sometimes midlife crisis is triggered by physiological changes like hormonal drops or decreasing metabolism, or they may result from other transitions like the death of parents or coming to grips with a lack of career progress.

How Do You Know if You Are Experiencing Midlife Crisis?

Men that I have worked with who have been through the midlife crisis process have identified a number of feelings or behaviors that helped them know what they were experiencing.

  • A feeling of boredom with life; a sense that you are living the same day over and over again and you feel desperate for a change
  • A sense of dissatisfaction with your current spouse and desires to either leave her for someone younger and more exciting or to have an extramarital affair
  • A belief that you are getting older and that you want to look and feel younger, so you go about making changes that help you feel young and more attractive
  • A desire to spend money on something you would never want to do otherwise like a new sports car, a motorcycle, or a home theater
  • Feeling like you are bored with your career and wanting to make a wholesale change
  • A new problem with substance abuse
  • A classic case of depression including despair, sleeplessness, hopelessness or a major change in eating habits
  • A preoccupation with your youth, a former girlfriend or simply the things you missed in your past

    What Can You Do to Get Through Midlife Crisis?

    Check your testosterone levels. At midlife, men often find that their levels of the hormone testosterone drop off, and that chemical change can trigger a number of psychological responses that reflect the symptoms of midlife crisis. At your next physical exam, ask the doctor to include a testosterone test in your lab work and see what is going on. There are good treatments for low testosterone that might make a difference.

    Evaluate your approach to diet and fitness. Like with many issues in life, our nutrition and exercise can make a difference in the symptoms of midlife crisis. As men age, we tend to become a bit more sedentary, and as metabolism slows, we can begin to feel our youthful vigor slipping away. A healthy and balanced diet and a regular exercise regimen can help alleviate many of the symptoms of midlife crisis.

    Write a new mission statement. Midlife crisis can be a good time to evaluate life in a new phase. Rethinking your mission statement and refocusing your energies can help a man better establish key priorities. Emphasize addressing your own needs and still allowing a focus on the needs of others in how you spend your time and your energy.

    Communicate your needs. Keeping the midlife crisis feelings bottled up can cause a lot of stress. This is a new transition for men as they hit midlife, and so sharing your feelings and working through your needs with others is a good approach. Talk to a trusted friend or mentor. Share appropriate feelings with your spouse or partner. Then listen to the good advice from the people who care about you - often their perspective will be invisible to you otherwise!

    Think about your legacy. As we enter the middle years of life, we often tend to think about what we are leaving the world in terms of our legacy. Think about the influence you have had on your children, and if it has not been everything you think it should be, start making changes. Consider writing a life history and creating a personal journal to record your experiences for posterity.

    Reconnect with your inner self. Midlife crisis can be a good time to reflect on your life and your personal values and see if your conduct has measured up. If so, celebrate and keep on going! If not, make some changes to recalibrate your life with your vision. One of my favorite professors in graduate school talked about the principle of being "congruent." This meant aligning one's behavior to one's values. When we are congruent, life goes well; when we are not, we have to make a change. Thinking deeply about our values and priorities and then aliging our behavior and conduct with them is a good exercise at any point in life, but especially in midlife crisis.

    Get into a men's support group. If midlife crisis is really interrupting your normal life, you may want to consider getting counseling or joining a men's support group. Getting into a situation where you can share your experiences with other men going through similar transitions can be a real positive. Many churches or local mental health organizations will sponsor men's support groups, so see what might be available in your area.

    Focus on connecting in your relationships. Midlife crisis is often a time when men turn away from their current relationships and seek new ones. When you start to feel midlife crisis symptoms, work on the quality of your current relationships. Take your partner on a date this weekend. Make time to have individual experiences with your children at their level. Go fishing with a long time friend. Improving the quality of personal relationships so that they are deeper and more fulfilling will help with the negative feelings of midlife crisis.

    Families can be harmed and relationships ruined if midlife crisis goes unchecked. The midlife feelings don't last forever, but the damage to personal relationships can. So taking steps to intervene in the midlife transition and to help it be more positive and valuable is a worthy endeavor and one that you will be glad to have taken once life gets back to normal.