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Men's Midlife Crisis


You’re a man moving through your 40s, getting closer to that half century mark, and you’re wondering and worrying: When will I have my midlife crisis? After all, movies, television, and all things pop culture have made it clear that it’s coming.

The truth is that the midlife crisis may be a bit of a myth. It certainly is not a recognized diagnosis, and research does not demonstrate that there’s a particular crisis that occurs as a matter of aging, which all men go through.

Nevertheless, researchers do recognize that it is the most popular concept of middle adulthood, leading people to believe that men, more so than women, will go through a period of self-evaluation in midlife that leads them to make radical changes. The stereotype is quite familiar: A middle-aged man buys sports cars, divorces his wife, and starts dating someone younger.

Crises do occur in middle age

That’s not to say that crises don’t occur in middle age. Of course they do. The likelihood of a chronic disease diagnosis or the death of a parent starts to rise at that point in life, for example. Those sorts of crises can heighten your concerns about your own mortality.

As you move through middle age, you also may find yourself questioning where you are in life and what you have accomplished. Feeling dissatisfied may cause you psychological discomfort.

Other things that potentially contribute to negative feelings linked to midlife include:

  • Body changes, such as sagging skin and weight gain, that make you feel less attractive.
  • Fear of aging and death.
  • Changes in family dynamics, including divorce, children growing up and moving out, and becoming a grandparent.
  • Financial issues such as how to manage retirement.

A psychologist named Elliott Jacques first coined the term ‘midlife crisis’ in 1965. Since then, it’s become such a popular notion that one study estimates that 90% of American adults could define the term when asked in a telephone survey. However, only about one in four of those people, who were between the ages of 28 and 78, reported having had a midlife crisis.

Another curious finding: Despite the popular notion that midlife crises are a man’s domain, an equal number of women reported having had one. In fact, research estimates that only 10% of men would undergo a midlife crisis in which they experienced some sort of serious emotional turmoil. Finally, those who said that they had had a midlife crisis attributed it to a major life event – a death in the family, divorce, the loss of a job, or other external crisis – rather than to aging.

In short, a midlife crisis is not an inevitable part of aging. Do not assume you will have one simply because you are getting older.

What Is midlife?

The range that researchers typically refer to runs from age 40 to age 60, though some pinpoint different start and end points. One study, for example, considers the range to be ages 39 to 50.

But the exact numbers are not as important as what becomes more common at that time of life, as mentioned above: deaths, divorce, illness, and other life-altering events. And such things can provoke a crisis.

Recognizing the signs of a crisis

Because midlife crisis is not an official diagnosis, there’s no one set of symptoms that experts agree will accompany such an experience.

The American Psychological Association lists several common signs of an emotional crisis:

  • Neglect of personal hygiene.
  • Big changes in sleeping patterns, such as sleeping more than usual or not sleeping well.
  • Putting on weight or losing weight.
  • A notable drop in performance at work.
  • Dramatic shifts in mood, such as sadness, anxiety, irritability, or anger.
  • Withdrawal from routine activities and relationships.

These symptoms resemble those of depression, which can be caused by major life changes and traumatic events associated with midlife crises such as those discussed above, according to the CDC. It’s one of the most common mental disorders in the United States, and in midlife and later, it often accompanies major illnesses, such as diabetes, cancer, and heart disease, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.

Depression is a serious illness. Because it raises the risk of suicide, it can be a life-threatening disease. The CDC estimates that about one in twenty men between the ages of 40 and 59 have depression.

Depression and anxiety also can make you more vulnerable to a midlife crisis, some experts say. Don’t ignore the symptoms. Talk to your doctor. Effective treatments can help.

What to do if you have a midlife crisis

Whether or not midlife crises are a myth, if you are experiencing unpleasant and distressing symptoms, that’s very real. Here’s what you can do to get yourself through it.

If your crisis stems from feelings that you have not accomplished or become what you imagined for yourself as a younger man, don’t dwell on these negative thoughts.

Instead, consider this chapter of your life an opportunity to challenge yourself to take on new and personally meaningful goals.

Talk to others in your age group and see if they are going through similar experiences. This may help you feel less alone. You also may learn coping strategies to try. In general, maintaining your social life and staying engaged with friends and family will help boost your sense of happiness and well-being.

Stay physically active. Exercise improves your mood and your energy level. Both can help you to more effectively power through the current crisis.

Seek professional help. A therapist can help guide you through this phase of your life and address the concerns that you face, as well as evaluate you for depression, anxiety, and other significant mental disorders.

You should avoid making important and permanent changes while in crisis mode. If you find yourself suddenly considering things like divorce, quitting your job, or having plastic surgery to look younger, don’t rush the decision. Take the time to think it through and discuss it with others.

Conclusion

Whether it’s a myth or not, a midlife crisis for men can point to depression and anxiety. Stay active, have a healthy social life and if you’re feeling down mentally, seek professional help.

Key takeaways

A midlife crisis for men is somewhat of a myth.

However, feelings of depression and anxiety over events in your life are real.

Depression can increase thoughts of suicide, and should be taken seriously.

Don’t ignore the symptoms. Talk to your healthcare professional if you’re feeling depressed.

Stay physically active, have a healthy social life and don’t make snap decisions if you’re in crisis mode.

Resources:

American Psychological Association. (2013). How to help in an emotional crisis.

American Psychological Association. (2003). Researchers replace midlife myths with facts.

CDC. (2018). Prevalence of Depression Among Adults Aged 20 and Over: United States, 2013–2016.

CDC. (2022). Mental Health Conditions: Depression and Anxiety.

Freund, A.M., Ritter, J.0. (2009). Midlife crisis: a debate. Gerontology.

Mayo Clinic. (2016). Could You Be Going Through a Midlife Crisis?

Mayo Clinic. (2019). The benefits of being socially connected.

National Institute of Mental Health. (2022). Depression.

Northwell Health. (2020). Having a Midlife Crisis?

US Department of Health and Human Services. (2014). Does depression increase the risk for suicide?

Wethington, E. (2000). Expecting Stress. Motivation and Emotion.

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