Midlife Crisis: Signs, Causes And Treatments (2023)

A midlife crisis is defined as a period of emotional turmoil in middle age, around 40 to 60 years old, characterized by a strong desire for change. While navigating change is an inevitable part of the human experience, middle age can bring unique life transitions unlike earlier and later phases in life, including an increasing awareness of mortality.

Criteria for midlife crises are not well-defined and may differ from person to person, but they’re often marked by strong feelings, unhealthy coping skills and behavior changes, according to experts.

Understanding what a midlife crisis is, how to identify the signs and symptoms, and what treatments are available is important for recovery from (or supporting a loved one through) a midlife crisis and allowing the midlife years to be a time of healthy living, growth, joy and satisfaction.

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What Is a Midlife Crisis?

“A midlife crisis is a period or phase of life transition when a person begins to question the things that they have accomplished or achieved and whether those same things still provide a sense of fulfillment and meaning,” says Michael G. Wetter, Psy.D., a clinical psychologist practicing in Los Angeles. If not, a person may begin to question what can bring meaning and fulfillment to the later part of their life that may be missing or unexplored, he adds.

This questioning may lead to an abrupt change in occupation, commitment to relationships or hobby exploration, says Dr. Wetter, but it may also include more impulsive behaviors and actions, such as risky spending habits and health concerns.

However, the changing perspective and attention to mortality that occurs during a midlife crisis doesn’t always manifest in negative symptoms and may instead lead to a more concentrated effort and devotion to family or a stronger desire to focus less on work and more on living, says Dr. Wetter.

“While there is no one common sign, more often than not, it represents a shift in perspective relative to one’s self-image and engagement in life,” he adds.

Who Is Affected by a Midlife Crisis?

A midlife crisis may affect an individual in middle adulthood, approximately ages 35 to 65, according to the American Psychological Association. Research indicates that midlife crises may arise as a result of lifestyle changes (such as having children, receiving a promotion at work or retirement), changes in productivity and coming to terms with one’s mortality as they age. For individuals who have children, a midlife crisis may be spurred by children leaving their shared family home as they age—a phenomenon known as “empty nest syndrome”—in which individuals often reassess their priorities or the dynamics of their relationships.

What Causes a Midlife Crisis?

A midlife crisis can be triggered by any number of major factors, including divorce, the death of a loved one, boredom or a significant life event, says Krystal Jackson, a licensed therapist and the CEO of Simply Being Wellness Counseling in Farmington, Connecticut, who helps middle-aged clients navigate life transitions. The shift occurs when a person’s identity and their purpose in life are in direct conflict, usually due to aging, she says.

Midlife can be a time of many changes: You might see an increase or decrease in responsibilities, such as your children becoming more independent or having to care for an aging parent; you may realize your career path is less than satisfactory and regret missing out on pursuing work you consider more meaningful; you may start to realize your physical abilities have declined with age, your relationships are not what fulfill you or that you missed a major goal you wanted to achieve along the line.

Signs and Symptoms of a Midlife Crisis

The way one person responds to a midlife crisis differs from the next, according to both Jackson and Dr. Wetter. Some people may experience minimal outward signs but have feelings they don’t know what to do with, while others may develop coping strategies that can be damaging to their health, finances or relationships.

Common signs and symptoms of a midlife crisis may include:

  • Anxiety
  • Abrupt career or lifestyle changes, such as quitting a job or moving homes
  • Behavior changes, including becoming antisocial, impulsive or irrational
  • Chronic reminiscence and reflection about the past focusing on youthful memories, former lovers, past adventures or having fewer responsibilities during a previous life stage
  • Depression or major mood changes
  • Dishonor to romantic relationships (avoidance, cheating, marital infidelity, etc.)
  • Dramatic changes in appearance, behavior or self-care
  • Excessive indecisiveness
  • Feelings of anger, boredom, emptiness, irritability, loss of purpose, nostalgia, resentment, sadness or being unfulfilled
  • Financial irrationality and excessive spending
  • Hypochondria and exaggerated health concerns
  • Making major future plans, such as traveling or investments, that may not have previously been possible or responsible due to family, work or financial constraints
  • Religious and spiritual transitions, such as diving deeply into a religion, conversion or starting a new practice
  • Ruminating over past mistakes and failures
  • Sleep pattern disruption
  • Weight gain or loss
  • Withdrawal from normal routines

The major signs to look for are drastic changes in a person’s outlook or behaviors, according to Jackson. “They may be fixated on their past or romanticize their future. They may take more risks, such as quitting their stable job or buying pricey items,” she says, adding that crises can also result in stress-related difficulties that affect more than just the individual experiencing them, such as mood changes, sleep disturbances or acting out. “The emphasis here is they may feel like their current life no longer makes sense, and they’re trying to find ways to reconnect with themselves.”

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How Do I Know If I’m Experiencing a Midlife Crisis?

Signs that you may be experiencing a midlife crisis include greater feelings of anxiety or depression, feelings of boredom or disinterest toward objects or activities that were once enjoyable, withdrawing from social situations, increased feelings of nostalgia, ruminating over past experiences and spending money excessively or irresponsibly. Other indications that you may be experiencing a midlife crisis may include physical changes, such as fluctuations in weight, sleep disturbances and increased health concerns.

The Stages of a Midlife Crisis

Inner turmoil about reaching middle age could begin with a specific trigger or major life event, or stem from feelings of disconnect or dissatisfaction with reality. Jackson describes divorce, the death of a loved one or a significant unexpected life event as common sources, as well as less instantaneous sources of crisis feelings, such as boredom.

Often, a midlife crisis closely follows the stages of grief, usually beginning with some feelings of denial, which may be followed by anger. The crisis phase may next include constant ruminations about what could be and replaying the past or impulsive and reckless behaviors, the stress of which may result in feelings of depression or withdrawal, according to Jackson. With time and the right support, these feelings can fade into an acceptance and a resolution stage.

How Long Does a Midlife Crisis Last?

The amount of time a person experiences the symptoms of a midlife crisis depends on the frequency of their feelings and how they choose to resolve them.

“Humans thrive on having a routine, and a crisis can easily disrupt this,” says Jackson. She suggests that finding the root of the feelings, working with them to develop a new, healthy routine and reprogram harmful thoughts into a helpful perspective will allow a person to move forward with greater satisfaction as they enter their later years.

Signs A Midlife Crisis Could Be Ending

Research indicates that although happiness levels dip in middle adulthood, feelings of positivity tend to increase as individuals age—a phenomenon known as the U-shaped happiness curve. Signs that a midlife crisis may be coming to an end include increased satisfaction with oneself and greater optimism toward the future.

How Does a Midlife Crisis Differ From Depression?

It’s important to understand the difference between the symptoms that result from a major life transition and a mental health condition.

Clinical depression is defined as a mental health disorder and mood-related condition, whereas a midlife crisis is not, says Jackson. Depression, also known as major depression or major depressive disorder, is characterized by symptoms that include chronic sadness, isolation, withdrawal, suicidal ideation and sleep disturbance. “A person would have to meet the criteria of a depressive episode as outlined by the DSM-V in order to be diagnosed with this issue,” says Jackson.

In some cases, the two conditions may be correlated, but causation is not mutual. The stress from experiencing a midlife crisis can result in mood changes or even a depressive episode, says Jackson. Conversely, “a depressive episode is not indicative of a midlife crisis. Depression can be experienced at any age and doesn’t have to be a response to a stressor,” she says.

Not everyone who experiences a midlife crisis will feel depressed, according to Dr. Wetter. However, “those experiencing a midlife crisis might make decisions or engage in actions that can trigger depression. It’s often when these types of consequences occur that someone will then seek out help—not because of the midlife crisis, but because of the consequences of an action or behavior that stemmed from the phase of life transition,” he says.

How to Deal With a Midlife Crisis

There are many options available to help individuals cope with the symptoms of a midlife crisis. Some avenues for finding relief include increasing physical activity, talking with others and changing how we think about aging.

Get more exercise. Increasing your level of physical activity may bring a natural boost to your mood, while also making you feel more in control of your health.

Share your feelings with others. Feelings of shame and isolation are common symptoms of a midlife crisis, and may make it difficult to reach out to others for support. However, speaking with a friend or a mental health care provider may help to alleviate symptoms and provide relief.

Change your thinking. It may offer comfort to know that a downturn in happiness during middle age is a relatively common experience. Rather than ruminating on the past or dreading the future, aim to shift your view of getting older as rife with possibilities, such as more time to commit to hobbies or traveling.

Midlife Crisis Treatment Options

Since a midlife crisis is not classified as a medical condition, there is no singular cure or course of treatment. However, there are many options for those seeking help. To mitigate the effects of mood, behaviors or physical ailments related to midlife crisis symptoms and to reframe harmful thoughts into a healthier mindset and routine, experts, including Jackson and Dr. Wetter, often recommend seeking therapy, whether in-person or online, with a licensed mental health professional.

Rather than a condition to treat, “a midlife crisis is something to be processed, contemplated and explored,” says Dr. Wetter. “Therapy can also help minimize the chances of acting impulsively to the point of causing unintended negative consequences.”

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Who Can Help With a Midlife Crisis?

Help can come in many forms and is essential to navigating a crisis and moving through major life transitions, such as those experienced in midlife.

While family members or friends can be a great support during this time, a clinical psychologist or highly skilled therapist might be the most beneficial resource, according to Dr. Wetter. “Psychotherapy is a perfect modality and intervention for those moving through a midlife transition or crisis,” he says, as it is an intensely personal approach that provides a protected and private space in which a person can explore inner conflict, thoughts and perceptions of relationships without fear of judgment or negative assumption.

Jackson recommends cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which helps challenge unhelpful thoughts and gives people the opportunity to better understand their beliefs and values. “A major key here is to reset the mindset,” explains Jackson. “Because much of a midlife crisis is a disconnect between a person’s self-worth and their life outlook, it can be helpful to reframe the midlife crisis as an opportunity to reset or reestablish their vision for their life.” She also notes that If there have been mood or physical ailments due to the crisis, medication (from a qualified health professional) and nutrition improvements can be helpful in addressing those symptoms.

Additionally, therapy can allow a person to see that there’s room for positive growth during midlife transitions and can help resolve the crisis more efficiently. “It can help illuminate new possibilities and opportunities to engage in life, enhancing relationships and ending formerly destructive behaviors and patterns,” says Dr. Wetter.

Helping a person reestablish a routine that supports wellness is very beneficial to quality of life in later years, too, and the root of this work is to identify the source of a midlife crisis, according to Jackson. “It’s important to acknowledge how this life change has affected [a person] and take steps towards healing.”

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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What is the average age for a midlife crisis?

A midlife crisis may occur anytime from the ages of 35 and 65. Additionally, research indicates that happiness levels are generally at their lowest at the age of 47.

Do both men and women experience midlife crises?

Yes, midlife crises may affect both men and women. During middle adulthood, women may be affected by the physiological changes associated with menopause, as well as changes in family dynamics that may cause greater feelings of stress or depression.

Do marriages survive midlife crises?

Yes, a marriage can survive a midlife crisis. If the symptoms of a midlife crisis begin to interfere with your relationships, it may be beneficial to speak with a mental health provider to determine root causes of emotional challenges and develop healthy coping skills.

What does it feel like to go through a midlife crisis?

Symptoms of a midlife crisis may include depression or anxiety, irritability or mood swings, sleep disturbances, weight gain or loss, increased indecisiveness and more.


Midlife Crisis: Signs, Causes And Treatments? ›

Signs that you may be experiencing a midlife crisis include greater feelings of anxiety or depression, feelings of boredom or disinterest toward objects or activities that were once enjoyable, withdrawing from social situations, increased feelings of nostalgia, ruminating over past experiences and spending money ...

What causes a midlife crisis to end? ›

Resolution. The “crisis,” so to speak, generally ends when you feel more comfortable with yourself and begin to accept, perhaps even welcome, what life has in store.

What are four symptoms of a midlife crisis? ›

Keep an eye out for signs of depression.

Midlife crisis and depression have some common symptoms, including difficulty concentrating, insomnia, irritability, and reckless behavior. If the symptoms are persistent and show up every day, it's more likely to be depression.

Is there medication for midlife crisis? ›

By this, we mean that if you, as a man, are starting to feel dissatisfied with your life in your 40s, 50s or 60s, your mental health provider isn't going to formally diagnose you with a midlife crisis and prescribe medication or a specific type of “midlife crisis management” therapy.

Do midlife crisis go away? ›

In general, midlife crisis is a temporary phase in a person's life. Not everyone goes through this phase. This phase doesn't represent the whole picture of a person's work and accomplishments. For men, this stage can last around 3–10 years, and for women, 2–5 years.

Is midlife crisis a mental breakdown? ›

"When crisis point is reached they go through a profound psychological breakdown, often accompanied by symptoms of stress, anxiety and depression." Yuko Nippoda, psychotherapist and spokesperson for the UK Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP), adds that lack of energy and stamina can trigger a midlife crisis.

What is a midlife mental breakdown? ›

Symptoms of a midlife crisis can include:

comparing your life to that of others or some ideal you feel you've missed. nostalgia for the past. doing things more common in younger people. making impulsive decisions or rash ones, like overspending, a breakup, or affair.

Is midlife crisis a mental illness? ›

No, a mid-life crisis is not considered to be a mental illness. This means that it does not appear in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). The closest diagnosis for this type of distress would be an Adjustment Disorder.

What happens to the brain during a midlife crisis? ›

But as we hit midlife, our BDNF levels have peaked and started to drop. And as Leuthardt points out, “reduced plasticity is associated with depression. So there's this perfect storm: Just when you've reached all your initial life goals and you're trying to figure out your next phase, your brain stops cooperating.”

What prevents a midlife crisis? ›

Nurture Your Relationships

Human beings are social creatures, and positive relationships can help us feel happier, find fulfillment and meaning in life and even influence our health. Making time for your friends and partner during your middle years can help stave off loneliness and bring you more joy.

What are the most common midlife crisis? ›

Below are common symptoms of a midlife crisis in men and women:
  • Feeling sad or a lack of confidence, especially after a big milestone accomplishment or birthday.
  • Feeling bored; Loss of meaning or purpose in life.
  • Feeling unfulfilled.
  • Feelings of nostalgia.
  • Excessively thinking about the past.
  • Making impulse actions.

What are the three stages of a midlife crisis? ›

A midlife crisis can be broken into three stages: the trigger, the crisis and the resolution. The trigger is the event that causes stress, such as job loss.

What are the regrets of midlife crisis? ›

A midlife crisis can be tumultuous for the person experiencing it and everyone around them.
  • Impulsive, single-visioned, and self-centered behaviors can lead to actions that are hurtful and sure to cause regret.
  • Cheating on your partner, divorce, and financial irresponsibility are common actions that lead to regrets.
Jul 14, 2022

How do I know if I'm going through a midlife crisis? ›

Signs of midlife crises can vary (like stressors and the crisis itself), but some indicators include feeling depressed or anxious, having low motivation, having difficulty sleeping, struggling with questions of identity or purpose, and feeling overwhelmed or dissatisfied.

What triggers a midlife crisis in men? ›

Many men go through a phase when they take a hard look at the life they're living. They think they could be happier, and if they need to make a big change, they feel the urge to do it soon. These thoughts can trigger a midlife crisis.

What is the time frame for a midlife crisis? ›

The condition may occur from the ages of 40–60. Mid-life crises last about 3–10 years in men and 2–5 years in women. A mid-life crisis could be caused by aging itself, or aging in combination with changes, problems, or regrets over: work or career (or lack thereof)

What is the withdrawal stage of the midlife crisis? ›

The Temptation to Withdrawal

In Midlife Crisis, this is the stage when a person begins to separate from family and friends—cutting off a true source of demonstrated love, reassurance, and appreciation. Instead, they become solitary and isolated, refusing (or not even recognizing) the help they most need.

Can midlife crisis change your personality? ›

Individual-level personality change was found over about three years at mid-life. Personality change was associated with changes in self-rated health. Increased agreeableness, conscientiousness, and openness related to better health. Decreased neuroticism predicted better health.

What is midlife anxiety? ›

Feeling trapped – whether it's financially, career-wise, or in your relationships. Becoming preoccupied with death. Constantly wondering where your life is heading or regretting your life choices. Losing sleep or changing your eating habits. Dissatisfaction with the things that used to make you happy.

Do they come back after midlife crisis? ›

Yes, sometimes people who leave in the throes of a midlife crisis do come back. Sometimes, their partner no longer wants them. But rather than concentrate your energy on your husband's behavior and choices, I hope you will take a long look at your own life. Deal with your grief and the profound loss and change.

Which event would most likely trigger a midlife crisis? ›

Some common causes of midlife crises include personal life changes such as divorce, the death of a loved one, or an illness. Other causes of a midlife crisis include, but are not limited to: Aging. Declining health.

What do men do in midlife crisis? ›

A man's mid-life crisis can manifest in a variety of ways, but often include feelings of anxiety or depression, changes in eating and sleep habits, problems with focus or concentration, and increased levels of stress.

What are the signs of a midlife crisis? ›

Signs that you may be experiencing a midlife crisis include greater feelings of anxiety or depression, feelings of boredom or disinterest toward objects or activities that were once enjoyable, withdrawing from social situations, increased feelings of nostalgia, ruminating over past experiences and spending money ...

At what age do adults mostly struggle with midlife crisis? ›

The definition of a midlife crisis is a period of transition in life where someone struggles with their identity and self-confidence. It happens anywhere from 40 years old to 60 years old and affects men and women. A midlife crisis is not a disorder but is mainly psychological.

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