Midlife crisis

Is the ‘Midlife Crisis’ a Real Thing? Stereotypes Debunked

You’ve probably heard the term “midlife crisis” used many times before, or you may even be wondering if you’re currently going through one. That’s because it’s common for society to label any period of difficulty or change that a middle-aged person goes through as a “midlife crisis.”

However, despite its widespread use, most experts believe that a midlife crisis is more likely to be a myth than reality. The term was first coined in 1965 by a psychoanalyst, but it became popular in the 1980s when Daniel Levinson, a psychologist at Yale University, used it in his book ‘The Seasons of a Man’s Life.’

While its early use in academic papers and books gave the term some credibility, nowadays, it’s heavily stigmatized and feeds into age-based negative stereotypes. This article hopes to bust the myth and explain why these periods of reflection and adjustment are normal and can even be beneficial.

What Is a Midlife Crisis?

The term “midlife crisis” is often used to describe a middle-aged person struggling to accept that their life is half over and perhaps, feeling like things haven’t gone as well as they envisioned.

The stereotype of a midlife crisis for men typically involves sports cars, dating younger women, or risk-taking as ways to overcome a sense of diminishing opportunity or significance. An example of a common stereotype for women could be having plastic surgery to retain a youthful look.

However, these are just stereotypes; they are not the definition of what a midlife crisis is. So what’s a midlife crisis? In reality, it’s thought to be more of a cultural phenomenon than anything else. It certainly isn’t a recognized condition in the medical community. Some middle-aged people may experience a crisis, such as an emotional crisis, but so can people of all ages.

It’s also inevitable that everyone will go through periods of reflection or experience dips in satisfaction at various points throughout their life. However, these too can occur at any age, not only during midlife. These phases can lead to mood or lifestyle changes but often turn out to be a positive thing in the long run.

What Causes Midlife Crisis?

There aren’t any known causes for a midlife crisis, as, after all, it is not a clinically recognized condition. However, there are various reasons why distress or difficulty may arise during your middle years, such as:

Major Life Events

A middle-aged person may experience one or several significant life events that could affect their mental wellbeing. Some examples include going through a stressful divorce or separation, being a caregiver for elderly parents, the death of a parent or loved one, job loss or financial difficulties, having a baby, children growing up and moving away from home, and more.

Physical Changes and Health

The physical changes that happen during our middle years may cause distress for some people, such as changes in our looks and attractiveness, lower sex drive, weight gain, or reduced mobility.

Generally, most middle-aged people are relatively healthy. However, they are more prone to certain conditions and illnesses than younger people, such as high blood pressure, cancer, arthritis, heart disease, strokes, diabetes, high cholesterol, hypertension, and vision problems.

Mental Health Issues

Mental health issues can affect people of all ages. However, data shows that, on average, around 18% of middle-aged people experience signs and symptoms of depression, and it’s slightly more prevalent among women than men. In addition, the rate of suicide in the US is highest among middle-aged white men.

Most mental health issues are treatable when professional help is given. However, some middle-aged people confuse their mental health issues with a “midlife crisis” and don’t seek the support they need.

Societal Pressures and Stigma

Cultural expectations and stigma can affect the well-being of some middle-aged people. For example, as a middle-aged person, you may feel that others around you expect you to be married, have children, own your own home, have a good career, or be financially secure.

When your reality doesn’t meet society’s expectations, you may feel excluded, judged, or isolated. This could negatively affect your self-esteem, and it may spur you to make lifestyle changes.

Regrets

Some middle-aged people may look back and reflect on how their life has played out so far and how it could have been different. They might regret not doing certain things when they were younger or not taking a different path.

These regrets could revolve around their careers, financial circumstances, relationships, or lifestyle choices. Dwelling on things you regret and feeling like you’ve missed opportunities can negatively affect your mood. It may also drive some people to take radical action to make up for what they believe is “lost time” or a lack of achievements or experiences.

When to Seek Help?

While challenging phases during midlife can often resolve themselves, it’s highly recommended you seek professional help from a doctor or mental health specialist if:

  • Your ability to function is impaired, and you’re struggling with everyday activities.
  • You’re having difficulty concentrating.
  • Your personal, work, or family life is being negatively affected.
  • You’ve been feeling down or experiencing distressing symptoms most days for two weeks or more.
  • You’re having suicidal thoughts.

If you meet any of the criteria above, it’s important not to delay getting help as most mental health issues are treatable but can worsen if left untreated.

Can a “Midlife Crisis” Actually be Positive?

It’s normal to experience a dip in satisfaction or go through periods of reflection and soul searching at various points throughout your life, including during midlife or any other age.

These moments of reflection may arise because you find yourself in some form of crisis needing a solution. However, they can also occur without a clear reason being present; you may just feel something needs to change.

While periods like this are usually challenging for a while, they also open the door for new positive changes to occur. That’s because people tend to be more open to new ideas and willing to take advantage of opportunities during these phases. These changes can often result in greater life satisfaction and self-confidence.

How to Look After Your Mental Health During Midlife

Looking after your mental health can help keep an emotional crisis at bay and help you cope if any challenging moments arise. Here are some tips for maintaining good mental health during midlife:

  • Keep physically active, eat well, and stay hydrated
  • Prioritize getting enough sleep
  • Stay connected and talk about your feelings with others
  • Do things you enjoy or are good at
  • Foster a positive attitude
  • Meditate or do other relaxing activities
  • Reduce alcohol consumption
  • Get therapy if you need to

Summary

People can experience a crisis or go through periods of reflection at any age, not only during midlife. However, everyone experiences these things slightly differently, so the stereotypes surrounding the “midlife crisis” are false and unhelpful.

If you are going through a difficult period and would like to speak to a professional, our online therapists at Calmerry are ready to talk anytime. They can help you work through any challenging emotions and find practical solutions to your problems.

Kate Skurat

Kate Skurat

Licensed Mental Health Counselor | Washington, United States

Kate has a B.S. in Psychology and M.A. in Clinical Psychology from Pepperdine University and has worked in healthcare since 2017. She primarily treated depression, anxiety, eating disorders, trauma, and grief, as well as identity, relationship and adjustment issues. Her clinical experience has focused on individual and group counseling, emergency counseling and outreach. Read more