What Is a Midlife Crisis?​

By Jenni Jacobsen, LSW

Midlife is a time of transition. When a person reaches midlife, their children may be leaving home to go to college or begin their own adult lives, creating a change in the family’s dynamics. The parents of a midlife adult are aging as well, and they may begin to develop health issues and need more care and support. The midlife adult may also begin to experience the effects of aging, or they may notice they no longer feel as strong and energized as they did in earlier adulthood.

A midlife crisis is a response to these changes, and for some people, it can be difficult to cope. These changes can lead to shifts in wellbeing and a decline in mental health. Some people may even begin to lose their sense of purpose, which can cause a dip in happiness. One recent study found that happiness generally increases until people reach their 30s and slightly dips by their early 40s. This indicates that changes during midlife can, in fact, lead to a midlife crisis. Fortunately, there are ways to cope with the transition and emerge even happier than before.

Midlife Crisis for Men vs. Women

Both men and women can experience a midlife crisis and have difficulty coping. However, it may look slightly different for each gender due to differences in expectations and roles for men versus women.

Midlife Crisis in Men

According to experts, men may feel “trapped” when they enter middle age. In other words, they may feel like they’re stuck with their current lifestyle and will never advance beyond it. For this reason, the midlife crisis in men is often associated with stereotypes like buying a new sports car or entering a new romantic relationship with a younger woman. A recent study with middle-aged men found that those with more family-related stress were more likely to show symptoms of midlife crisis.

Men in a midlife crisis may attempt to reclaim their youth and restore a sense of purpose in life by completely changing their lifestyles. For example, they may begin a diet and exercise regimen to achieve a younger appearance, or they may take a risk by starting a new career. Men may also look for ways to cope with stressors within the family. In some cases, they may choose healthy outlets, such as physical activity. Other times, they may turn to substance abuse or risky behaviors like gambling or extramarital sex.

Midlife Crisis in Women

Women, on the other hand, may display midlife crisis symptoms due to shifts in their hormone levels during middle age. Hormonal changes can make women more in tune with their own emotions, causing them to re-evaluate their feelings. They may experience significant stress during this time of life due to these biological changes as well as family problems and health issues.

One significant change that can impact women during middle age is the fact that their children may need them less because they are maturing. In young adulthood, it is common for women to spend much of their time tending to children and meeting the needs of others. As middle age approaches, however, they may lose their sense of purpose as children grow more independent. This can lead to mixed feelings and even a sense of feeling unimportant or invisible.

Tips for Pulling Yourself Out of a Midlife Crisis

It’s possible to navigate a midlife crisis in healthy and effective ways. If you’re noticing symptoms of a midlife crisis, some helpful strategies you can integrate into your day-to-day life include:

  • Assessing your interests and priorities: It’s normal to evolve as we grow older, so it may be time to do a self-assessment and determine how your interests and priorities have shifted. Maybe you’d like to invest in your community and become involved in a non-profit board, or perhaps you’d like to take a class or spend time engaged in a new hobby. Midlife can be used as a time to rediscover yourself and find a renewed sense of purpose.
  • Taking care of your health: Some changes, such as shifting hormone levels and alterations in sleep patterns, are inevitable as we age. However, middle age does not have to mean losing all of your vitality. You can take care of your health by prioritizing sleep and nutrition and seeing a doctor to address any changes that concern you. Health problems like bone loss, diabetes and high cholesterol become more common in middle age, but they can be managed or even prevented by addressing issues with a doctor and making healthy lifestyle changes.
  • Taking time for exercise: Going out and getting some exercise can prevent some of the unhappiness that may occur during a midlife crisis. A 2015 study found that physical activity was associated with higher levels of life satisfaction during middle and older adulthood.

Seeking Professional Help

A midlife crisis may be an expected response to some of the changes that occur during middle adulthood. For some people, however, the symptoms may point to deeper concerns. For example, a person may find that the hormonal and health-related changes that occur during midlife lead to mental health issues like depression or anxiety. Feelings of sadness and worry are normal during a period of midlife crisis, but if it becomes prolonged and interferes with daily life, it is probably time to seek the help of a therapist or a mental health clinician.

Symptoms can also indicate the presence of mental health conditions beyond depression and anxiety. For instance, seemingly impulsive behaviors, such as buying an expensive new vehicle, may be a symptom of bipolar mania rather than a behavior caused by a midlife crisis. Regardless of what you may be struggling with, a therapist can help you work through your feelings and learn how to manage symptoms of a mental health disorder so they do not interfere with your daily functioning.

If you or someone you love is looking for a convenient way to receive professional help, the Nobu app is a valuable resource. This free-to-use service allows users to complete lessons from mental health professionals, set and track personal goals and learn about wellness techniques like mindfulness. If you need a little more help managing mental health concerns, Nobu can also connect you to licensed therapists for an additional charge. Services are safe and confidential via a secure platform.

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Edited by – Jonathan Strum Jonathan Strum graduated from the University of Nebraska Omaha with a Bachelor’s in Communication in 2017 and has been writing professionally ever since. He has written, edited and published content for health care professionals, educators, real estate agents, lawyers and high-level university faculty… Read more.
jenni jacobsen
Written by – Jenni Jacobsen, LSW Jenni Jacobsen is a licensed social worker through the Ohio Counselor, Social Worker and Marriage and Family Therapist Board. She has seven years of experience working in the social work field, working with clients with addiction-related and mental health… Read more.
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Medically Reviewed by – Dr. Angela Phillips

Angela is a licensed therapist and clinical researcher, and has worked in public, private, government, and not-for-profit organizations, across clinical and research-oriented roles. Angela’s clinical and research experience has included suicide prevention, cognitive behavioral… Read more.