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A midlife crisis is unarguably one of the most contested topics in psychology, mainly because research on this purportedly widespread issue is scant. Many theorists believe it to be a myth or argue that it only exists in certain cultures. At the same time, others insist a midlife crisis is a real problem that offers individuals a second chance at goal-setting for meaningful growth. 

Irrespective of these opposing theories, people experiencing a supposed midlife crisis suffer from a vast range of uncomfortable symptoms that severely affect their life. Fortunately, most find immense relief in therapy that allows them to resolve past trauma, protect relationships, and develop a plan for the future.

Is midlife crisis real? What are its symptoms, and how can you support yourself and a loved one going through this challenging time? This article will shed light on all these aspects in detail.

Getting older naturally brings many life changes. Relationships may shift or end, careers may become more demanding, and life, in general, may fail to live up to someone’s dreams. Close friends and family members may die, and a person may eventually begin facing their own mortality.

Even though a midlife crisis may have different reasons for different people, some of the most common sources triggering it include:

  • Career changes, such as work becoming more or less demanding than it used to be
  • Changes in a person’s relationship status, such as a divorce
  • Societal messages about ageing, for example, middle-aged people are less attractive
  • Fear of the ageing process
  • Changes in the body related to ageing, such as pain, weight gain, and less energy
  • fear of death
  • financial challenges, mainly associated with retirement
  • Changes in relationship with children, such as watching children move out or becoming a grandparent
  • A feeling that life did not turn out the way someone hoped it would
  • Grappling with trauma from early childhood.

There is no set of symptoms that applies to every person going through a midlife crisis. It generally includes frustration, stress, and anxiety due to ageing or mortality. To stave off these feelings, many people start using drugs or alcohol, start an affair, buy a new car, or engage in experiences that help them recapture the exhilaration of youth.

Some of the most common emotions and behaviours that someone going through a midlife crisis may experience include:

Relationship Dissatisfaction

A person in a midlife crisis may wish to change the terms of their relationships, shift their sexual interests, or lose interest in sex.

Obsession with Appearance

A person may start dressing in a way that helps them look younger. They may start exercising more often, try different diet plans, or use procedures or cosmetics to reverse or hide the signs of ageing.

Career Dissatisfaction

Someone in a midlife crisis may feel like quitting their job or escaping their responsibilities. They may feel jealous or resentful of their younger coworkers, especially the ones who appear to be advancing career-wise.

Emotional Distress

A midlife crisis may make someone feel empty, down, or short-tempered. They may consider mortality often, behave recklessly, question religious beliefs, or indulge in substance abuse to escape their emotional turmoil.

The symptoms mentioned above do not always indicate a midlife crisis. For some people, the physiological changes occurring inside the body in midlife, such as hormonal disorders, may change their behaviours. For others, these symptoms might be due to an undiagnosed depressive or anxiety disorder. Hence, it is crucial to seek help from a mental health provider to get a proper diagnosis and necessary help.

Working closely with a psychotherapist can allow individuals to get over their midlife crisis and enter the next phase of their lives with much more self-compassion and self-awareness. A psychotherapist can also help them work through suppressed issues and verbalise any goals they might not have yet realised. Additionally, with a therapist, it becomes easier for such people to explore their fears and desires without behaving in a way that negatively affects their life.

The goal of therapy for a midlife crisis is to enable a person to make plans for the next steps in life. People who suffer from the usual midlife crisis symptoms, such as depression, anxiety, or feelings of emptiness, may also find therapy an effective way to manage them. To reap all these benefits, it’s essential to be honest with oneself and the therapist, as therapy is more likely to be effective when there is a trusting bond between the therapist and the patient.

Some of the most common types of therapy that can help mitigate a midlife crisis include:

Trauma-focused therapy

A lot of people have to deal with some kind of a new trauma in their midlife, while others struggle to come to terms with their early childhood trauma. Both types of people can particularly benefit from trauma-focused therapy to get over their emotions and move on. Some of the most commonly used trauma-focused therapies include the emotional freedom technique, eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing, and cognitive behavioural therapy.

Couples Counselling

Couples’ counselling allows partners to learn how to deal with midlife crises. It is also a great way to allow them to re-envision their relationship, move past the challenges, and revive the long-lost spirit.

Family Therapy

Midlife crises can sometimes affect an entire family. Parents may start treating their children differently, and this difference in parenting may sometimes force them to develop behavioural issues, further compounding the challenges of a midlife crisis. Such families can work together in family therapy sessions, talk about their feelings, and find healthier ways to communicate with each other.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy

For many, a midlife crisis results from incorrect or negative thoughts about ageing, success, or physical attraction. Cognitive behavioural therapy can help all such people rethink the relationship between their feelings and thoughts and the consequent behaviours. During a typical session of CBT, a therapist pairs up with the patient to recognise unhealthy negative thoughts and replace them with healthier ones that support their life goals.

In addition to seeking professional therapy, practising good self-care is critical for managing a midlife crisis. Eating a healthy diet, performing regular exercise, spending time with loved ones, and seeking support from family members can all make this difficult period more meaningful. Some people also benefit from self-help support groups, while others adopt the following strategies:

  • Avoiding rushing into irreversible decisions, such as filing for a divorce or having plastic surgery, without taking time to think about them
  • Taking on a physical challenge to divert attention
  • Trying something new by adopting a new hobby, travelling to a new location, returning to school, or indulging in any activity that offers them a new purpose and meaning.’

When a loved one goes through a midlife crisis, their friends and family members may feel overwhelmed or disoriented. Spouses may start worrying about marital conflict or divorce, which further adds to their qualms. In such a stressful time, you can help and support your loved ones by:

  • Listening to them without any judgment or comments. Understand that their feelings do not need any fixation, and arguing about them will not make them disappear.
  • Identifying your own concerns about growing older. When one family member suffers from a midlife crisis, it may activate similar feelings in others.
  • Giving them space to resolve their feelings in their own way and according to their timeline.
  • Attending couples or family counselling with them
  • Helping them find a new hobby or another pursuit and doing the same for yourself to reduce your anxious feelings related to their midlife crisis

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