Surely, as you were growing up, you have heard people mentioning the phrase ‘midlife crisis’ every now and then. Some use it to justify radical decisions and outrageous behaviour, while some use it as it is defined by Elliot Jacques in 1965 – “A time in our life where we transition from young people to older adults. During this time, adults evaluate their achievements, goals, and dreams against what they had wished for in the past, and what stage they are facing in life.”
Even with a very detailed definition, a lot of people still find themselves confused when it comes to the topic. Instead of midlife crisis just being another phase in life just like puberty and adulthood, it becomes vaguer as society becomes more knowledgeable about other mental health issues that have similar symptoms. For example, depression has become a more commonly used term than it used to be, and when compared with midlife crisis, it could cause serious confusion. People with depression and people who are going through midlife crisis find themselves facing similar situations in life, making it harder for them to find help because they are jumping between two different conditions.
Note that not everyone goes through midlife crisis. Some researchers even believe that midlife crisis only exists mostly due to social construct – making most people think that they have to experience a breakdown some time in their 40’s. Some also believe that it is associated more with a significant event in life rather than age – something that triggers the breakdown, regardless of how old a person is.
But seen by psychologists as nothing more than a normal part of ageing, going through midlife crisis often becomes a cause for depression and anxiety too. A lot of people find it troubling when they first realise that life is passing them by, and most would worry that they have not done much in life at this point. This causes people to suddenly feel the need to change their normal routines and find a way to feel young and back on track again as quickly as possible, as they feel that time is running out.
Now, given these facts, you may start to wonder if you are nearing or currently going through midlife crisis. Be prepared and know when to ask for help. Here are a few signs to look out for:
1. Sudden impulsiveness
Adults who go through midlife crisis suddenly feel the need for changes in their habits and routines, and often make them as soon as possible, because they feel that they are running out of time. These sudden changes may be as simple as changing one’s hairstyle and colour, the way they dress, or to something as drastic as purchasing a sports car and taking out a second mortgage on their houses.
It is often the first and most obvious sign of midlife crisis. One of the most significant feelings during a midlife crisis is feeling old and wanting to feel young again. Impulsive decisions and radical changes bring a rush of adrenaline, making one feel young again.
2. Physical obsession
This part of going through midlife crisis proves that life is just a cycle. When we hit puberty, we become insanely obsessed with our physical appearance. This is where we begin to explore our bodies and get comfortable with certain aesthetics. At some point in life, we get used to our styles and appearances that we just stick to what we have already built through the years. While focused on your daily routine, you would be thinking more of sending those reports on time, making sure your work gets done, and paying your bills so you could live the way you have been for a while. You lose your focus on physical appearance and shift it towards something much more important to you.
Going through midlife crisis basically flips all of that around. Realising that you have been doing the same thing for years would give you a sudden feeling that your life has been plain and boring. This is what pulls you back to that phase in your life. You suddenly become obsessed with how you look like and how other people would see you, and you would find yourself focusing on new clothing, hairstyles, makeup, and even exercise routines in order to feel younger and more attractive once more.
Nothing can make you feel older than seeing the accomplishments of the people around you. Being part of a group where people are taking on different and seemingly exciting paths in life will soon become the reason for your crisis. And while it is very unhealthy to compare living situations with other people, it is in our nature to do so. This habit becomes one of the triggers of isolation and bouts of depression during a midlife crisis.
Someone going through midlife crisis would often feel sad, down, and detached. While most people focus on making themselves feel young and alive again, some would have a hard time shifting their attention and energy, and just wallow in their depression. Oftentimes mistaken as “acceptance” of the situation, isolation is likely to result in the development of unhealthy habits like alcoholism and substance abuse.
As midlife crisis often happens after the age of 40, most people who go through it would already be settled down and married or are just getting ready to. With discontentment being a huge part of going through midlife crisis, infidelity is very likely to happen in this period.
While you have spent most of your life building the home you have with your partner, midlife crisis would trigger your need for attention and adventure. This would often leave you feeling unattractive and discontented with your current relationship, given that you have been comfortable with each other for years. Most people who go through midlife crisis find themselves exploring new circles and meeting new people. With the desire to feel young again, one would feel the need to break free and find the attention and affection from another person.
5. Lack of Accountability
Another common sign of midlife crisis is the lack of accountability. With the crisis being a sudden event in life, the confusion would trigger one to put the blame on their spouse, friends, and other family members. As a struggling adult, a midlife crisis would make one feel very confused and unsure of their decisions in life. Feeling unfulfilled and miserable, suddenly the impulsive decision making begins, and someone going through this crisis would find it difficult to accept the consequences of their sudden actions and look for someone else to blame.
The setbacks and consequences that come with going through midlife crisis puts you in a position where you feel like what’s in front of you, is the only thing that you have left to pursue. This causes most people to feel stuck, as they assume, they have limited options to move forward in life. The lack of accountability during a midlife crisis can also cause a person to be more indecisive, irritable, and hopeless.
This list is not all inclusive of all the signs and symptoms of a midlife crisis, but it can help to identify whether you or someone you know is experiencing it. And while many people still find it difficult to believe that there’s such a thing as a midlife crisis, it is not wrong to prepare yourself to face it. Keep in mind, too, that this is not always associated with age and can be triggered by different events at any point in your life. If you feel like you or someone close to you is going through a midlife crisis, know how to deal with it. A person in the middle of this crisis will not always be able to tell when they are experiencing it but will always need the presence of family and friends to be able to get through it.
Make sure you watch out for the different signs, take the steps needed to deal with it, and seek professional help if it gets out of control.