We’ve all heard the term “midlife crisis” more than a few times, and it’s fair to say it’s rarely something that is spoken about either positively or sympathetically. The usual connotation of the term is of a person – usually, but not always male – who gets fed up with their life and starts behaving oddly. They might buy a new, flash car that’s inappropriate for their needs; they may have an extramarital affair, or try to; they might even quit their job and announce an entirely unrealistic plan to retrain as a pilot or a stunt person.
The truth of the matter is that a midlife crisis is something that happens to a lot of us, though we usually only get to hear about the ones that conform to cliche. It’s not simply a matter of someone trying desperately to regain their lost youth. There’s a lot more to the concept of a midlife crisis than a lot of people realize – and it’s only right that we explain this in a bit more detail so that you can spot it in someone you care about, and help to bring them out the other side.
What is a midlife crisis?
Although the concept of a midlife crisis is not something that has a medical consensus behind it, it is broadly agreed that there are certain aspects that define it. It is considered to strike between the ages of 45 and 65, and is driven by specific factors:
- A focus, often obsessive, on the inevitability of death
- A belief that one’s best days are in the past and that a decline is inevitable and inexorable
- A feeling that one’s achievements in life amount to nothing
Different people will react differently to these stimuli; hence, those who feel that their best days are behind them may try to cling on to aspects of youth – trying too hard and in inappropriate ways to relate to people decades their junior, for example. They may also panic about leaving a legacy, which is why some people quit a well-paying job to follow a dream they may not have had even when they were younger.
How else may a midlife crisis affect someone?
The focus on death and the feeling of insignificance may bear itself out in the cliched examples set out above, it’s true. It might also have a more prosaic and darker path, leading to feelings of depression and stress that can become damaging to a person’s health. It’s been remarked upon that the timing of a midlife crisis tends to coincide with a time when hormone production begins to change in the human body, and men may experience positive results with testosterone replacement therapy. In any case, stripped of the Hollywood-style image we have of a midlife crisis, feelings of depression or stress are not to be taken lightly and should be approached in a sensible, sensitive way.
What signs might we see in a person experiencing a midlife crisis?
Many of the signs to look for are similar to someone experiencing depression and/or stress. They may be perpetually tired, but struggle to actually sleep. They may cease to find enjoyment in the things they used to love doing. Some people will become irritable and shout more often, and some may dramatically change in appearance; sometimes gaining weight; sometimes losing their hair; sometimes simply ceasing to care about how they look. Although they will often become more monosyllabic, on the occasions they do open up they may well express a sense of regret about the way they have lived and lament missed opportunities.