What are the signs of a midlife crisis? (2024)

A midlife crisis often refers to a period where a person may experience changes in their emotional or physical well-being leading to changed behaviour or a decline in their mental health. While having a midlife crisis is often thrown around as a joke, it can have serious effects and take a toll on many aspects of a person's life.

Trigger warning: this article contains a reference to suicide, suicide attempts and self-harm.

The history of the midlife crisis

The phrase "midlife crisis" was first used by Canadian psychologist, Elliott Jacques in his Death and the Midlife Crisis paper, published in 1965. In this paper, he noted that some of the most famous artists changed their style or lost creativity upon reaching their late 30s, but their creativity picked up again in their late 50s.

Historically, a midlife crisis was regarded as a turning point in someone's life, generally between the ages of 40-60.

Is midlife crisis a medical condition?

Although a midlife crisis is a popular term, it is not a real medical diagnosis. It is not defined as a mental illness either and does not appear in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).

What is a midlife crisis?

Dr Deborah Lee of Dr Fox Online Pharmacy explains that a midlife crisis tends to span a period when adults experience a range of emotions related to the passage of time. Adults may be grappling with getting older or having career regrets or dealing with personal events such as divorce, loss or redundancy.

She adds that a person is likely to experience multiple demands at this time in their life. These include:

  • Caring for teenage children.
  • Looking after elderly or sick relatives.
  • Battling with their own health.
  • Empty nest syndrome after children leave home.
  • Relationship breakdowns or infidelity.

"For those going through menopause, the hormonal upheaval can take a toll, as can the health consequences of ageing, poorer health and the unwanted changes associated with changing physical appearances such as grey and thinning hair, balding, wrinkles and weight gain," says Dr Lee.

How common is a midlife crisis?

It's difficult to say exactly how common a midlife crisis is especially as it's not a medical condition. We don't know whether it's avoidable or just a natural part of ageing. It is often believed to be a manifestation of stress, anxiety and depression.

However, depression and stress are most common in midlife. In 2020 men and women aged 45-49 years had the highest age-specific suicide rate which has been the case for a number of years. There were 457 registered deaths for males and 138 for females in this age group.

Dr Lee adds: "In one piece of research in the year 2000 the number of midlife crises reported was said to be 10%-20%. By 2013 a UK survey found 40%-60% of adults said they had experienced this.

"A midlife crisis is said to be strongly linked to ageing. Psychologists have recognised a U-shaped curve linked to happiness and ageing. This means adults are happiest in their youth and older age and least happy in middle-age."

What triggers a midlife crisis?

A midlife crisis looks different for each person so multiple life events can be a trigger.

Dr Lee explains how midlife tends to be a time when adults look critically at what they have achieved in their lifetime and may experience regret. This can be coupled with a realisation of their own mortality and feeling a lack of purpose.

"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.

"When people are younger they are so energetic that they feel they can do anything they want but a decrease in liveliness makes them notice the limitations on life and their activities."

Who is most at risk of a midlife crisis?

Despite the difficulty in establishing how common midlife crises are, it's thought that certain people might be more at risk.

Factors that pose risks to overall health can contribute to a midlife crisis. These factors include smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, obesity and lack of exercise.

Caregivers can also be at increased risk of having a midlife crisis, especially adults who care for disabled children with additional needs. This can bring added pressure, a blurred work-life balance, exhaustion and financial problems.

Can you prevent a midlife crisis?

One study identified protective factors against a midlife crisis and depression when ageing, including:

  • Healthy emotion regulation.
  • Strong social connections.
  • Positive health behaviours (such as getting better sleep and regular exercise).

These lifestyle factors have also been associated with longer telomeres. These are DNA segments at the end of chromosomes. Shortening telomeres are a sign of ageing. Therefore, not smoking, being physically active, becoming less stressed, less exposed to pollution and eating a balanced diet could slow your pace of ageing, while also helping to reduce your risk of disease.

"One of the key elements in preventing a midlife crisis is staying in control. Midlife is often hectic and a time for major financial decisions. Those who manage to stay in control seem less likely to succumb to the midlife crisis," adds Dr Lee.

What does a midlife crisis look like for a man?

Dr Lee explains some of the typical symptoms and signs of a midlife crisis, many of which occur in both men and women.

  • Feeling sad and unfulfilled.
  • Constantly looking back at the past.
  • Feeling like life is meaningless.
  • Developing sudden impulses (for example, making unhabitual expensive purchases).
  • Having an affair.
  • Feeling like everyone else is happier than you are.

"Men often experience erectile dysfunction and intense feelings of sadness during a midlife crisis," she adds.

What does a midlife crisis look like for a woman?

A woman's midlife crisis tends to be affected by the hormonal imbalances associated with going through menopause which is natural and expected.

Perimenopause (the time around menopause when the body makes a natural transition to the end of its reproductive years) can start at various ages but tends to last for five years, sometimes longer. In the postmenopausal period, when the body is adjusting to life without oestrogen, these changes can contribute to the experience of a midlife crisis or mental health issues.

Dr Lee explains that oestrogen deficiency can cause a range of unpleasant symptoms, such as hot flushes, night sweats, insomnia, exhaustion, mood changes, joint pains, vaginal dryness and painful sex.

Nippoda adds that changes in appearance and body shape can bring on a midlife crisis in women.

"They realise they are no longer who they used to be and they might experience a loss of confidence or sadness or fear that nobody cares about them."

"Many women struggle mentally while going through menopause. One specific problem they face is menopause-related depression which is depression that appears to be specifically precipitated by oestrogen deficiency," says Dr Lee.

There is an increased likelihood of experiencing depression during menopause if you have been diagnosed with depression in the past.

"Women have to accept the physical changes brought on by menopause and ageing which can be difficult. Women tend to be more affected by their emotions in midlife and may weep more than men."

One study found that the majority of women aged 60 and over say they cry "every few months," while men over 60 mostly said they "never" cry.

How long does a midlife crisis last?

"It's hard to say when a midlife crisis is likely to be over but it tends to happen when the person reaches a stage of acceptance about their life changes," says Dr Lee.

Nippoda says the length of someone's midlife crisis depends on the person.

"Although it might be a great shock initially if the person accepts that this is part of life they can start to focus on what they can do according to their age and continue to enjoy life. However, some people find it difficult to admit they're changing and want to stay young," she says.

If this happens, a person's mental well-being can be deeply affected, as they are disappointed about the gap between their perception and the reality of who they are.

What are the signs of a midlife crisis? (1)

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What are the signs of a midlife crisis?

The American Psychological Association offers useful advice on how to spot the signs of a midlife crisis in a loved one - or in yourself.

  • A notable change in personal behaviour.
  • Lack of usual personal hygiene.
  • A dramatic change in sleeping habits (either being unable to sleep or sleeping all the time).
  • Reduction in work performance.
  • Emotional outbursts (including anger, irritability or anxiety).
  • Preoccupation with death.
  • Withdrawing from social activities.
  • Giving up on relationships.
  • Drinking more alcohol.
  • Smoking more heavily or abusing illegal drugs.
  • Becoming obsessed with appearance.

These symptoms can come on suddenly but it's more likely you will notice them gradually over a period of time.

How to help someone with a midlife crisis

If a midlife crisis has affected your relationship with a loved one, or they act out of character, it can be difficult to know the best way to support them, especially if they are often stressed.

However, communication remains of utmost importance.

Keep talking to the person you are worried about. You can approach the topic in a sensitive way using open-ended questions such as, "You don't seem yourself at the moment and I'd really like to help if I can. How are you feeling?". This can help a person feel like you are genuinely concerned as opposed to scrutinising them.

Other ways to show your support include:

  • Staying calm and being patient.
  • Allow for quiet time and listen when they want to talk.
  • Look for signs of depression or concerning behaviour.
  • Encourage them to develop resilience and learn coping skills.
  • Encourage them to become accepting of the changes they are facing and practise self-care.
  • Help them develop a more positive mindset by being optimistic yourself.

Remember, there is no "quick fix" for a midlife crisis but your loved one can get through it gradually and you can help by showing them compassion and helping them embrace life again.

Where to find support during a midlife crisis

If you are worried about suicide, contact The Samaritans on freephone 116 123.

The Samaritans also offer resources for supporting someone else.

Relate can help if a midlife crisis is affecting a relationship.

You can also make a GP appointment if you are struggling to cope and would like to be referred for therapy or prescribed antidepressants. You can take someone with you to the appointment so it isn't as daunting as going alone.

UKCP has a list of counsellors and therapists who can help you too.

What are the signs of a midlife crisis? (2024)

FAQs

What are the signs of 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 ...

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.

How do you snap out of a midlife crisis? ›

10 Tips to Turn a Midlife Crisis into a Fresh Re(start)
  1. Focus on yourself.
  2. Keep track of changes.
  3. Learn something new.
  4. Reconnect.
  5. Make time for your love life.
  6. Stay active.
  7. Add healthy habits.
  8. Spend time outdoors.
Oct 14, 2021

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 ends a midlife crisis? ›

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 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.

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 do men do during midlife crisis? ›

A midlife crisis is likely to affect the mood of the man experiencing it. Some will move towards sadness, disappointment, and self-pity. As they experience a lack of motivation and life satisfaction, they could sleep more, eat more, and give up on their goals.

What are the regrets of midlife crisis? ›

The regret of most individuals experiencing midlife crises has a lot to do with the disappointment that they did not live a good or full life. They feel they were untrue to themselves and lived a life based on the approval of others. Do not focus on what-ifs. This will only bring confusion and self-doubt.

What age does midlife crisis end? ›

A midlife crisis might occur anywhere from about age 37 through the 50s, he says. By whatever term, the crisis or transition tends to occur around significant life events, he says, such as your youngest child finishing college, or a "zero" birthday announcing to the world that you're entering a new decade.

How do you deal with someone in midlife crisis? ›

How to help a friend going through a midlife crisis
  1. Recognize the signs of change. One common characteristic of a midlife crisis is a drastic departure from usual behaviour and activities. ...
  2. Don't judge. ...
  3. Be honest. ...
  4. Don't assume a change needs an intervention. ...
  5. Help your friend work toward her goals.
Sep 18, 2012

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.

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.

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 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 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 wife regrets in midlife crisis divorce? ›

Common midlife crisis divorce regrets include: Regretting hurting loved ones. Regretting allowing emotions to guide impulsive decisions. Regretting wanting everything in life to change.

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.

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.

Do men have affairs during midlife crisis? ›

Yes, there is definitely a connection between midlife crisis and affairs. However, this happens in both men and women (though more common in men), as both are similarly burdened by the fear of aging and their mortality.

What is the psychology of male midlife crisis? ›

“Male midlife crisis is about fear of dying. It's rooted in separation anxiety and fear of mortality. Many men still live and function under the archaic division of role models and beliefs about self-identity,” says Beverly Hills, California, family and relationship psychotherapist, Dr. Fran Walfish.

What is the average age for a midlife crisis? ›

Men and women can both experience a midlife crisis, but it may look different for each. On average, most people experience one between the ages of 40 and 60 years old, but you may have it before or after those ages, as well.

What age is a man's midlife crisis? ›

A male midlife crisis often refers to a “phase in a middle-age person's life between the ages of 35 to 65 where they feel compelled to face or reevaluate their mortality, confidence, identity and accomplishments.” This term was first coined in 1965 by psychologist Elliott Jaques.

What age is a man's mid life crisis? ›

Experts believe that midlife crises in men occur between the ages of 40 and 60. The timing of one's midlife crisis has much less to do with their age and more to do with their situation–a 38-year-old person who is faced with great challenges is just as likely to enter a midlife crisis as someone who is 63.

Who is most likely to have a midlife crisis? ›

A midlife crisis is a transition of identity and self-confidence that can occur in middle-aged individuals, typically 40 to 60 years old.

How do you help someone in midlife crisis? ›

How to help a friend going through a midlife crisis
  1. Recognize the signs of change. One common characteristic of a midlife crisis is a drastic departure from usual behaviour and activities. ...
  2. Don't judge. ...
  3. Be honest. ...
  4. Don't assume a change needs an intervention. ...
  5. Help your friend work toward her goals.
Sep 18, 2012

What happens to a man during midlife crisis? ›

The midlife crisis is more of a social phenomenon than a specific mental illness. It's a term that refers to the dissatisfaction, anxiety and feelings of depression or remorse that many men start to feel as they transition from the first part of their adult life into middle age.

Do men regret their midlife crisis? ›

Some, however, feel some sort of wistfulness or even regret. Some feel lost, while some think they are missing out in life, and that they could be happier if they make drastic changes. These are the exact sentiments that often trigger a midlife crisis in men, and affairs often follow.

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