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Last Updated on March 7, 2022

What Is a Midlife Crisis: Signs, Causes And How To Cope With It

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What Is a Midlife Crisis: Signs, Causes And How To Cope With It

In this article, I’ll explore the ins and outs of a midlife crisis, specifically what it is and how can you spot the early signs. We’ll uncover why it occurs and what to do about it.

To kick-off, a midlife crisis typically occurs in individuals between the age of 40 to 59 years old. It can begin gradually, increasing in its intensity over time, or it can make itself known all of sudden.

One day, you’re looking at yourself in the mirror, trying to catch a breath. You see the deepening wrinkles in your forehead, they’re more pronounced than usual. Then, you notice the patch of grey hairs has spread, almost overnight.

“When did this happen!? Am I turning into my dad?”

On top of this, you hear yourself repeating the same words your parents said to you to your kids—things you vowed never to do now make more sense.

It can feel like the rug has been pulled from beneath you, the curtain is drawn back and your impending death date looms over you while the visual reminder in the form of your aging body stares at you and a stack of unfulfilled dreams are still left achieved.

You’re not ready for it to be over yet, but you have this stark realization that time has now slipped away and you are closer to the end than the beginning.

A midlife crisis is a very real—and sometimes troubling—experience. At its core, you become acutely aware of your mortality and the time you hope to have left.

Signs of a Midlife Crisis

Part despair, part guilt, a dose of frustration and a longing to be younger, regrets about years misspent and golden opportunities squandered can lead to feelings of depression. This is on top of the very real concerns about health, longevity, and legacy that start to make a frequent appearance.

That business you wanted to start is still an idea. That car you always wanted is being driven by your neighbor. Your life has turned into a predictable, comfortable mess. All you do is pay bills, go to work, and take care of the responsibilities of life.

At its most extreme, you decide to abandon the rule book you’ve spent a lifetime building and say, “To hell with it, I’m living for the ‘now’.”

You start saying yes to drinks after work. You use your salary to get a bigger credit limit and buy your dream car. After all, why not? You only live once.

It’s a quick fix—a band-aid, a temporary high that leaves you chasing the next one to stay away from the reality that nothing really changed. You seek pleasure. You take the easy road. Those sugary snacks in the fridge become a nightly escape from the mundane grind of daily life.

This is a slippery slope. You look for ways to switch off, to numb the feeling inside that you haven’t done enough—that you aren’t where you want to be and that it’s okay because, at least, you’ve got your girls’ nights with wine and poker with the boys.

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Now that I’ve painted the road to the worse case and the one that you might feel most familiar with, let’s pause for a second. Is this really what happens? To everyone?

Are the Signs the Same For Everyone?

The answer is no. Yet at first glance, you’d be right to think so.

Due to the media’s constant propagation of this negative portrayal of life during the middle, we are encouraged to believe this stereotypical turn of events is normal, par the course and part of growing old.

The mid-life crisis has found itself the butt of most jokes in movies, the press, and comedy for decades. It is not hard to see why a midlife crisis seems almost inevitable.

If we didn’t know any better, we’d assume it was a stage that most adults are destined to reach at some point due to a U-shaped happiness curve that is touted everywhere and describes life satisfaction as a function of age which—you guessed it—reaches the lowest point between the ages of 40 to 59.

Is What the Media Presents About the Midlife Crisis Correct?

The truth is, we’ve been sold a lie. It’s not as clear cut the mainstream media would have us believe.

In fact, 1.8 billion people (23.1% of the global population) are aged between 40 to 59. Yet there’s a major issue, this cohort of society is not featured as often in lifespan development research studies.[1]

This means that there’s an interesting juxtaposition at play. The data is weak, but the narrative of a mid-life crisis (due to the media) is strong. The underlying effect is that the appropriate investigation, care, and understanding are not provided to those who are suffering.

This is a concern, considering that suicide rates spike during this period. There is a very real need for more research into this stage of life so that those who are affected can get the help they need.

There also seems to be a major misconception occurring here. If every person aged between 40-59 experienced a midlife crisis, it would wreak havoc on the lives of the elderly and the young—the people that ultimately depend on the middle for support. This indicates there must be something else going on.

A study found that only 10% to 20% of adults report having a midlife crisis.[2]

Of those who report having a mid-life crisis, another research found that 50% were due to anxieties about aging, and specifically, those with neurotic personalities were at a greater risk.[3]

The remaining 50% were due to cohort differences like traumatic life events, such as bankruptcy, health-related issues, and divorce.

Therefore, we have two camps: those who have neurotic tendencies and are significantly worried about getting older, and those who experience hardships.

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What this means is that the reverse is also true—the middle life stage can also be a period of growth, self-development, and prosperity.

This might explain why the findings are inconsistent, and some individuals experience a linear approach to life satisfaction and happiness, which sees them getting happier throughout life as occupational status, goal attainment, marital relationships, fulfillment, and self-confidence increase.

Causes of a Midlife Crisis

Let’s outline some of the causes of midlife crisis that we should be to be aware of.

1. Realizations About Family and Friends

Ultimately, life has changed, at 45, when you look in the mirror and don’t see the fresh-faced go-getter you used to be. Injuries from the gym start being more painful. and recovery takes longer. It all adds up, and combined with the narrative we see in films, we tend to assume a midlife crisis could be on the cards.

Typically, triggers can include the kids leaving the nest and going away to University. It’s a stage of life that was always some time in the future, and now you’re living it.

It could be family and close friends who you thought were indestructible getting sick. This is a real shock when it happens.

It drives home the message that life is a temporary ride, and it’s time not to take it for granted. It can happen slowly, especially when your friendship circle is all the same.

How can you expect to achieve great things when the people you are hanging around with are doing the same as you? It doesn’t work that way.

The solution: we are the average of the five people closest to us. A diverse and fierce mastermind group is needed to keep you at the top of your game.

When you don’t have exciting goals or a mission, you don’t plan to upgrade yourself. You get stuck in a rut, and you start to feel less satisfied with where you imagined your life would be and present-day realities.

How you see yourself and your identity matters. Do you just pay the bills, put food on the table, and play the part?

2. Being Too Comfortable

Another factor is comfort. Being too comfortable or seeking comfort is an enemy!

When we get comfortable, we stop pushing. We reduce the unknown, and it affects our growth.

As humans, we need to keep growing mentally, physically, and spiritually. Comfort is keeping you from your full potential.

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That fire inside is snuffed out. Maybe you’re reading this, and you know if you’ve still got it. You can feel it inside starting to roar. If this resonates with you, it’s still there but you need to stoke the flames and get closer to what makes you excited.

I realize that up until this point, I’ve painted a rather dark picture of this crisis. That’s because I want you to understand that this is the less-than-average way to handle it, and you, my friend, are everything but average.

You need to realize that change—even reaching the middle of your life—is an opportunity to win bigger and better than ever.

Instead of focusing on what’s lacking and living in the past, let your imagination play through all the scenarios where you could have had a better, different, and more compelling life.

In the next section, I’ll show you how to do that.

How To Cope With a Midlife Crisis

Here are some tips on how to cope with a midlife crisis.

1. Realize That Midlife Crisis Is Not Inevitable

Realize that a midlife crisis isn’t an inevitability or a foregone conclusion. But if you do find yourself drifting into lethargy and life dissatisfaction, it’s time to focus on becoming the best version of yourself.

Trust me, I have been there. That’s why I write—to help others find their purpose, their bigger meaning in life and then get out there and make it happen.

This is where the hard work begins. You need to shift your identity and realize that the dreams, the job, the marriage, the fulfillment, the goals, and the lifestyle is 100% your responsibility.

2. Commit to Bettering Yourself

The turning point comes when you find yourself committed to bettering yourself daily. When you make this shift in your identity, nothing can stop you. It’s a subtle but powerful shift. You pause longer to read an article on anti-inflammatory foods that the longest living people on earth eat every day.

You have a more conscious awareness about your mortality, yet that doesn’t define you. It pushes you to do more. That legacy you want to leave depends on you getting your act together and truly going for it.

It’s about switching from a lack mentality, especially comparison. This is an enemy that will erode your self-confidence to write down and execute a bucket list of experiences that you attack daily.

3. “Get To” Not “Have To”

Remember this phrase: “get to,” not “have to.”

Apply this technique to everything, saying these statements out loud: “I get to go to work today”, “I get to hit the gym today,” and “I get to eat this healthy food.” Author Jon Gordon speaks around this topic.

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4. Make a List of Your Values

Success comes from putting one foot in front of the other and walking in the right direction, drinking more water (4 liters per day), hitting the gym more than five times a week, and doing things that suck every day.

One of the most inspiring entrepreneurs, dads, and men I look up to is Jesse Itzler. His story goes from a failed record deal to multiple wins on the business field.

He sold Marquis Jets to Berkshire Hathaway after doing $5 Billion in revenue, Zico coconut water to Coca-Cola, married Sara Blakely (Founder of Spanx), and is a top endurance athlete. The list goes on, but that’s not why I brought him to your attention.

When David Goggins (Former Navy Seal) came to live with Jesse for a month, he got him into the practice of doing something that sucked every single day. This was to toughen the mind.

Jesse has a list of values, one being “I am never too tired for my kids.” This is a fantastic exercise to complete yourself as it relates to your identity.

Make a list of your values and what you stand for. The important mindset shift that needs to take place is that you are committed to being the best that you can be every day—not getting hung up on the past missed opportunities but maximizing the opportunity you have right in front of you, being grateful that you get to take on the world one more day.

5. Find the Right Mentors and Friends

Make sure you’re influenced by the right mentors. Choose a couple of podcasters to follow, and develop a virtual mastermind group.

Raise your awareness. You need a friendship circle that is ahead of you and expects greatness from you so that they can call you out on your mediocre attitude when you don’t deliver.

6. Take Time for Yourself

Finally, be sure to take time for yourself. A weekly massage, daily water consumption, energy regulation through proper sleep, and celebrating your wins are all critical.

Persistence is key. Never give up.

Final Thoughts

A midlife crisis does not have to mean your complete downfall and the unraveling of your life. Instead, put these tips into practice and let this stage of your life be an inflection point to become your best self.

Enjoy your relationships, wisdom, and quest to see how much you can improve. It’s a good life, and it starts with self-inquiry and a mission to grow.

Featured photo credit: Krists Luhaers via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Tim Castle

Bestselling Author, Coach and Co-Founder of My Book Habit

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