midlife crisis

Midlife crisis: Everything you need to know

People who have a Midlife crisis are dealing with their mortality. Because, in their lives, some of their responsibilities have ditched out in favor of pleasure. That’s why the word “midlife crisis” also causes people to worry about mistresses and sports cars.

What’s the Midlife Crisis?

The Merriam-Webster dictionary describes the Midlife crisis as a time of emotional stress in the Middle Ages, marked by a deep desire for change.

People respond in many ways to a Midlife crisis. But it usually involves a change in how they think and behave and their attitude to life. It can happen at any moment, and it can last for a few years.

The word “midlife crisis” represents the negative aspects of change. The phenomenon is also known as the following:

  • Midlife transition
  • Personality quest
  • A change in life
  • Syndrome with the empty nest
  • Identity review, or identity assessment

The word you want to describe is less important than your strategy for coping with it. So it’s worth stopping to think about whether a move has to be a “crisis” or whether it’s just part of coming to terms with a change in your life.

Psychologists describe midlife as between 30 and 70 years, with a heart of 40 to 60 years. About 105 million people aged between 35 and 59 in the U.S. in 2018 had experienced a Midlife crisis.

Research published by the National Bureau of Economic Research in January 2020 confirmed the connection between midlife and unhappiness. The NBER research shows that “middle age misery” is at 47.2 years of age.

Signs and symptoms of a Midlife crisis

When you realize that you’re getting older, it’s entirely normal to experience mild discomfort or regret. Unfortunately, a Midlife crisis can lead to harmful side effects that can affect your mental, physical, and financial well-being. By understanding the symptoms of a midlife crisis, you can feel more motivated to cope with them as they occur, including:

  • Felt stuck or hopeless about your choices for the future
  • Showing dramatic mood swings, such as irritability or anger
  • Engaging in erratic or impulsive decision-making, such as buying big-ticket products like a new car
  • Feeling the need for a new routine, habit, or challenge.
  • Oversleep or have an inability to sleep
  • Obsessing how you look and change your image
  • Disconnect from old friends and replace them with new friends
  • Change in career directions
  • Leaving the spouse or committing infidelity
  • Feeling listless or dull.
  • Experience bouts of depression, guilt, or anxiety
  • Entertaining obsessive ideas about death or dying 
  • Increased consumption of alcohol or drugs


Getting older brings a lot of changes. Relationships may end or move. Careers may become more difficult. Or they can struggle to live up to an individual’s dreams. When a person’s parents and friends get older or even die, they may begin to face their own mortality.

Erik Erikson divided human evolution into eight distinct steps, each with its own core conflict. In midlife, Erikson suggests, there is a conflict between generativity and inertia. Fears of stagnation could cause a Midlife crisis, while a step toward generativity—giving something to the next generation—could help overcome the crisis.

Every Midlife crisis is different. Some common sources of a Midlife crisis include:

  • Social messages about aging, such as the belief that middle-aged people and the elderly are less attractive
  • Improvements in the body, such as weight gain, pain, or less energy
  • Fear of the process of aging itself
  • Fear of death
  • Divorce or other changes to a person’s relationship
  • Changes in the relationship of a person with their children. This can include raising children, seeing children move out, or even being grandparents. Due to empty nest syndrome, some people may have mid-life depression.
  • Job changes, such as the work, became more or less demanding than it once was
  • Financial challenges, especially about retirement
  • Grappling with trauma at the outset of life
  • Feeling that life did not turn out to be the way one had envisioned or wished it would


For some individuals, the Midlife crisis lasts just a few hours. It takes several years for others to overcome. Jim Conway, a pastor, and counselor, has written several books on mid-life crises and transformations. He argues that the Midlife crisis is close to the grief period that Elizabeth Kübler-Ross had originally developed. He points to six phases of the Midlife crisis:

  1. Denial. This is usually the beginning of a Midlife crisis and happens when people want to fight or deny that they’re growing older.
  2. Anger. At this stage, people feel depressed about midlife challenges or their failure to manage those challenges.
  3. Replay. An individual may attempt to replay what was most attractive about their youth. They do this by performing cosmetic surgery, seeking an affair, or shirking off their responsibilities.
  4. Depression. When replay fails, a person can become depressed and anxious.
  5. Withdrawal. An individual distances himself from his loved ones as a way of coping with his depression.
  6. Acceptance.  An individual finally accepts that they are getting older and seek meaning in the next stage of life.

How To Deal With Midlife Crisis Symptoms

Coping through a midlife crisis is difficult. Because a person’s feelings scream at them that something is wrong and instantly corrected, it is the sense of urgency, the feeling of running out of time. This causes people to make poor, even disastrous decisions. It’s really important to slow down.

  1. Make no hasty decisions. It’s not a good idea to make a move for the sake of having done something. The larger the decision, the more thought needs to be given to it.
  2. Speak to someone. Men and women often feel alone and isolated in the Midlife crisis. Have someone to open up to, and if you don’t have someone you trust, see a mental therapist.
  3. Touch base with reality. Remember, the feelings are not necessarily grounded in reality. Emotions themselves are valid, but they may be based on an incorrect interpretation of things. Have some objective input to your situation.
  4. Be kind. Be good to yourself and to others. If you have thought about dissolving or altering a major relationship, continue with kindness. If you left your job and go back to school, consider the right way to break the news to the family and loved ones, too. No matter what you decide, note that you are always part of a tapestry of connections.

The Bottom Line

Many people may not believe in the idea of a Midlife crisis. This makes it all the more difficult to go through one. Many experience a Midlife crisis, or something similar to a crisis, when they hit middle age. Then they seek the support of friends and family members nearest to them. A midlife crisis can be the beginning of a personal, emotional, and financial deterioration in life. Watch out for signs and take steps to deal with the situation accordingly.

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