What is a Midlife Crisis and Why People Have Them

The world-renowned midlife crisis. If somehow you’ve never heard of it, you might think it's just an excuse to buy a sports car. But trust me, it’s much more complex than that.

what is a midlife crisis

Let’s dive into what a midlife crisis really is and why it happens to so many of us. As a life coach, I've seen it all, and I'm here to help you understand this fascinating (and sometimes frustrating) phenomenon.

Understanding the Midlife Crisis

Definition and Origin

A midlife crisis is a period of emotional turmoil typically experienced between the ages of 40 and 60. This is typical but it seems with each generation, the age is getting lower and lower.

I've seen people as young as 30 experiencing symptoms. This has brought the new term 'early life crisis'.

This stage often involves significant self-reflection and questioning about one’s life choices, achievements, and future.

The term "midlife crisis" was coined by Elliott Jaques in 1965. It's a time when people start to confront their own mortality and the reality that they might not achieve all their dreams.

The Average Age

The average age for experiencing a midlife crisis is around 45. However, it can hit anyone between 40 and 60. So, if you’re feeling a bit off and you're in this age range, you might be in the midst of one.

However, as I said, the age is getting lower and lower. Younger people are being hit by the realities of life, not realizing they have decades ahead of them.

signs of a midlife crisis

The Psychological Aspect

A midlife crisis is not just about aging physically; it's a profound psychological event. It’s a time when individuals reassess their lives, often feeling a need to make significant changes.

This period of life can be marked by a desire for a new career, a fresh start, or even a drastic lifestyle overhaul. I'm so glad I took that gap year - but maybe it should have been a gap decade!

Different Interpretations and Meanings

The term "midlife crisis" can mean different things to different people. For some, it's a period of feeling stuck or unfulfilled. For others, it's a time of significant change and new beginnings.

Here are a few interpretations:

Crisis of Identity

People may question their purpose, identity, and what they’ve done in life so far. Who we are - or at least who we think we are - drastically impacts our experience.

Crisis of Accomplishment

There's often a fear of not having accomplished enough or living up to personal or societal expectations. Hitting 30 and not married? No career prospects? No kids? - So what!? You do you.

Crisis of Physical Decline

Physical changes can prompt concerns about aging and declining health. This one hit me the most.

Although I keep fit, the natural signs of aging got to me in my 30s. But I'm still staying healthy and functional - for as long as I can!

Crisis of Relationships

This can involve reevaluating personal relationships, leading to potential changes in marital status or friendships.

Letting go of friends was the hardest for me. As we get older, people drift apart and priorities change. I had to accept that and focus on my own life.

Cultural Perspectives

Different cultures have varied perspectives on midlife crises. In Western cultures, it’s often seen as a time for radical change or self-improvement.

In some Eastern cultures, this period is viewed as a time for introspection and spiritual growth. The cultural context can significantly influence how individuals experience and respond to a midlife crisis.

spiritual growth

Why Do People Have Midlife Crises?

Psychological Triggers

Psychologically, a midlife crisis can be triggered by a realization of aging and mortality. This realization often brings a sense of urgency to accomplish unfulfilled dreams.

When you hit your 40s and 50s, you start to realize that the years ahead are fewer than the years behind. This can be a profound wake-up call.

Emotional and Life Events

Significant life events like children leaving home, career changes, or the loss of loved ones can prompt introspection.

These events can make you question your purpose and direction in life. For example, the "empty nest syndrome" can leave parents feeling lost and in need of a new sense of purpose.

Societal and Cultural Influences

Societal pressures and cultural expectations also play a role. Comparing yourself to others on social media or feeling the need to meet certain milestones can exacerbate these feelings.

The pressure to look young, be successful, and live a certain lifestyle can be overwhelming. This is something I remind myself regularly.

Make sure the life you are living is YOUR life. Not one others deem of you.

Physical Changes

Your body starts demanding better care. You might notice changes like weight gain, decreased physical abilities, or a drop in sexual desire.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention emphasize the importance of regular physical exercise to maintain health. I started sledding in my 30s, and it was a game-changer.

Health Concerns

Midlife often brings about health concerns that were previously non-existent. These can include chronic conditions, hormonal changes, and the onset of age-related illnesses.

These health issues can serve as a stark reminder of aging and mortality, contributing to the feelings of a midlife crisis. It's a part of life, but there's a lot we can do to prevent, treat, and even cure ailments.

Work and Career Factors

Career dissatisfaction is another major factor. Many people in their 40s and 50s start to question whether they are in the right job or if they have achieved their career goals.

This can lead to a desire for a career change or the pursuit of new professional opportunities. It's never too late to change path - heck, I made a career out of it!

Financial Pressures

Financial pressures can also contribute to a midlife crisis. Concerns about retirement savings, supporting aging parents, or paying for children's education can cause significant stress.

These financial worries can lead to a reevaluation of priorities and life choices. I often talk to people about this to get them thinking about it ASAP. Time is a valuable commodity.

Desire for Personal Fulfillment

A craving for meaning and purpose can become overwhelming. You might start volunteering, taking classes, or pursuing hobbies that bring a sense of fulfillment.

Susan, another client, found her calling in community service, which gave her a renewed sense of purpose.

This area of purpose and meaning is one of my specialties as a coach.

Role Models and Media Influence

Role models and media can shape our expectations of midlife. Seeing celebrities or influencers making drastic changes can inspire or pressure us to do the same.

Media portrayals often highlight the glamorous side of midlife transformations, overlooking the real-life challenges.

It's hard when you see youngsters in their 20s becoming millionaires and overnight celebrities. Then you're sitting there in your 9 to 5 as a 50-year-old wondering 'Where did I go wrong?".

Answer: You didn't! You're just on a different path.

reacting to a midlife crisis

So, there you have it. A deep dive into what is a midlife crisis and why it happens. It's a period of emotional turmoil, but it also offers an opportunity for growth and self-discovery.

If you find yourself questioning your life choices, feeling restless, or craving change, you might be experiencing a midlife crisis.

Remember, it's a natural part of life, and with the right approach, you can navigate this phase and emerge stronger and more fulfilled.

Take the time to reflect on your values, set new goals, and seek support when needed. Embrace change and be open to new experiences.

Focus on personal growth and maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Strengthen your relationships and practice mindfulness to manage stress.

This period of transition can be challenging, but it’s also a chance to redefine what happiness means to you.

Here are a few things to think about as you move forward:

What truly makes you happy?

What new goals can you set for yourself?

How can you embrace change in a positive way?

Who can you reach out to for support?

What steps can you take today to improve your well-being?

You're not alone in this journey. With the right mindset and strategies, you can turn a midlife crisis into an opportunity for growth and transformation.

Embrace this time as a chance to create a richer, more meaningful life. You've got this.

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