Ask Dr. Mike: Having a Mild-Life Crisis? Here’s What You Should Do

Ask Dr. Mike: Having a Mild-Life Crisis? Here’s What You Should Do

“Probably the happiest period in life most frequently is in middle age, when the eager passions of youth are cooled, and the infirmities of age not yet begun; as we see that the shadows, which are morning and evening so large, almost entirely disappear at midday.”   – Eleanor Roosevelt

The Canadian psychoanalyst, Elliott Jacques coined the term “mid-life crisis” in 1965. Developmentally, Jacques believed that mid-life is a transitional phase rife with uncertainty and emotional conflict pertaining to one’s sense of mortality. Later research in this area has found that to varying degrees people during mid-life can experience disappointment, regret, dissatisfaction and unhappiness in both their work life and personal life. Research has shown that the phenomenon occurs most often for individuals in their 40s and early 50s (and even earlier for women), and approximately 10% to 20% of individuals experience a midlife crisis.

There has been some very interesting recent research on the mid-life crisis phenomenon showing that happiness and contentment across the lifespan is experienced in a U-shape curve. In these studies, younger individuals have been found to be satisfied with their lives, while middle age individuals showed a significant drop in happiness, and then individuals in their later years experience a renewed sense of life purpose and happiness.

There is also an emerging body of research in economics that is looking at job satisfaction across the lifespan. Those results have shown a U-shape curve — higher levels in early work and later work experiences, with dropping levels during the ages associated with the mid-life crisis. Interestingly, these results are not gender exclusive and do not discriminate across culture or socio-economic status.

Common mid-life crisis symptoms include: depression, unhappiness in your marriage, sleep struggles, preoccupation with your appearance, weight gain or loss, being tired or bored, losing interest in the things you used to find pleasure in, thoughts of dying, increased consumption of alcohol or drugs, disconnecting with old friends and making excessive or extreme decisions — buying a sports car, having an affair or changing careers.

So, if you are middle age and find yourself struggling in any of these ways, here are a few helpful tips to consider.

Get active.  Research has shown that being active and exercising boosts energy, promotes better sleep, helps to fight off illnesses, increases your libido and lifts your mood.

Drink less alcohol.  Alcohol is a depressant, so if you are feeling badly about yourself or your life, drinking will likely make things worse.  Enjoying a beer or a glass of wine with friends can complement a moment, but drinking in excess is a bad idea if you are experiencing a mid-life crisis.

Spend time with your children.  Your children are an extension of you, so spending time with them should serve to help you center yourself. Seeing your child’s joy will have a positive impact on you and will help to remind you of how important your family is and how important you are to your family.

Make a vision board.  Get a cork board and thumbtack some short term and long term visual goals for yourself on it.  Magazine and Google images are great places to start.  Perhaps you could tack up a picture of a happy couple or family, or a beach house, or someone your age in good shape, or a retirement check to yourself, etc.  Whatever your short or long-term goals are, keeping them insight in this way will remind you of what matters most.

Get outside.  Research has shown that spending time outside can boost mental health, improve blood pressure and decrease cancer risk.

Do something different.  Doing the same thing over and over the same way can become boring or even laborious, especially if you’re struggling emotionally.  So, take a new way home from work, try something different for lunch or start a hobby.  By stepping outside of your comfort zone, you can begin to find renewed excitement and purpose.     

Meditate or pray.  Research has shown a number of benefits to prayer and meditation.  People who pray or meditate report experiencing a greater sense of inner peace and purpose, reduced depression and anxiety, lower blood pressure and improved relationships.  Also, believing in God, or something greater than yourself, can serve to humble you to better appreciate the awesomeness of life.

Get social.  As human beings we are social beings, and research has shown that building and experiencing social connections is a sure fire way to improve mood and emotional wellbeing and to decrease feelings of depression.  Socializing is also good for physical health – actively social people have stronger immune systems, and studies have even shown a positive relationship between socializing and lowered risk of dementia for older adults.            

Focus on the good.  There is real power to positive thinking with numerous research studies showing that people who think positively experience better psychological and physical wellbeing.  People who think positively also tend to be more successful in life, have better relationships and an increased life span.

Spend time with your spouse or significant other.  If you are struggling in mid-life, make it a priority to spend more time with your significant other.  One-on-one time, does not need to be a big night out on the town, although date nights are important for any marriage, but letting your partner know how you are feeling and what you are needing is a must.

Get Help.  You do not need to have a serious mental health condition to participate in therapy.  Meeting with a psychologist, even on a short-term basis, can help you to process and think through your mi-life struggles, develop more adaptive and productive coping skills and reframe and redefine your life course.