Mental health issues can lead to significant problems in a person’s life. Some come and go and some predictably occur at specific stages of a person’s life. One of these is called the midlife crisis. As a person transitions through middle age they may experience an increased sense of mortality and increasingly wish for change. Unfortunately, many who go through the midlife crisis cope poorly and engage in unhealthy or even dangerous behaviors. Is a midlife crisis dangerous or is it just another step on the way through life?
What Is a Midlife Crisis?
Perhaps the only reliable factor that defines a midlife crisis is that it occurs between ages forty and sixty. Generally, this midlife experience includes changes in behavior, questioning of beliefs and life goals, abandonment of previous coping mechanisms, and very strong feelings. A common thread is that if a person has not achieved a reasonable portion of their projected life goals going into their forties they will experience a crisis in which they question what those goals were, their core beliefs, and even their personal worth.
Signs of a Midlife Crisis
The basic issue in a midlife crisis is that a person believes that their life no longer makes sense and they are searching for answers. For some people there are very few external signs but a lot of internal turmoil. Here is often where a midlife crisis can be dangerous because no one else recognizes that the person has a problem and they have no help working through their midlife crisis. Others seek to cope with the changes, or lack of them, in their lives. Those coping mechanisms may be successful or may damage their financial situation, their health, and/or their relationships.
Typical midlife crisis clues include depression, anxiety, exaggerated worries about health, outright hypochondriasis, severe mood changes, irrational or impulsive behavior, acting antisocially, compulsive focus on the past or romanticizing things in the past, or constantly thinking about and regretting past mistakes. What the world may see is a person who abruptly quits their job, moves to a new home, cheats on a marriage or a long standing relationship, neglects taking care for their appearance, is very indecisive, spends excessively and without reason, stops their normal routines, gains or loses weight, becomes involved in a new religion, and makes irresponsible decisions regarding their finances, personal relationships, or work.
What Is the Point of Midlife Crisis Changes?
While much of what others see in a person who is going through a midlife crisis appears irrational or even crazy, these things make sense for a person whose crisis it is. Research summarized in the book Seasons of a Man’s Life was what showed us about the midlife crisis. The authors of that book noted that reliably a man needed to be able to move to a midlife stage in their life by about age 42 or they would have problems. They note that people in their 20s are entering adult life and people in their thirties are becoming proficient and successful in adult life. By their forties people who are successful are generally in charge of their lives, giving back in terms of teaching others, and enjoying the fruits of their labors. If this has not happened, a person often begins to question if their goals were rational, if they were up to the task, of all of the effort was really worth it, and more. This is typically where all of the apparently irrational thinking and behavior of a midlife crisis comes from.
When Is a Midlife Crisis Dangerous?
A person’s life may have been on track to be very successful until an unforeseen event like a global pandemic, a financial crisis, an accident, or an illness derails it and erases what was shaping up to be success. And there are times when a person has been working hard at a plan that was flawed in some way and was not leading them to success no matter what. Either way a person now feels betrayed, stupid, afraid, depressed, and confused. Unfortunately, the decisions a person makes at this time can make their situation worse just as easily as make it better. People who bottle everything up inside forgo the help of friends and family who are willing to help and commonly could offer useful insights. People who give up or “try something different” often go down a wrong path and make things materially worse. Getting professional help at this time or simply taking time to talk to friends and family and rationally take stock of the situation offer the best opportunities to get through a midlife crisis unscathed and successfully.