For many, middle-age is the time in our lives that we pause for a moment to reflect. In the beginning of our lives, it’s as if we have been shot out of a cannon. The moment never seems to slow down as many of us gain an education, make friends, choose a career, commit to a significant other, have children, raise them as best we can, and plan for retirement.
Eventually life slows down and we have more time to take reflect on our lives; of who we’ve become and where we seem to be headed. Many people begin to look around at their life and notice what is and isn’t working. Then we suddenly have the realization that life is finite – and the clock is ticking.
For many, this realization can bring on feelings of anxiety and a midlife crisis.
Some may be dealing with teenagers they don’t recognize, a divorce, or the ending of a long relationship. Others might be facing illness or the loss of someone close. Some realize their career isn’t what they really want. For women it might be the onset of menopause. For men it might be realizing we aren’t the man we want to be.
We’ve likely been so busy trying to build financial stability and security, keeping up with the Joneses, and pleasing everyone around us, that we haven’t always made decisions based on our own self interests.
Maybe we find ourselves lost and unable to recognize our lives as anything that we once imagined.
Common signs of a midlife crisis
Mood swings: Those experiencing a midlife crisis can seem highly temperamental, becoming angry or irritable without justification.
Depression and anxiety: A midlife crisis can cause one to feel sad, restless, agitated, or just plain miserable.
Sleeplessness or oversleeping: Depression, anxiety and a constant racing mind can significantly interfere with our sleep.
An obsession with appearances: Those going through a midlife crisis often feel the need to remain attractive to others and may go to great lengths to try to do so.
Increased consumption of drugs or alcohol: Middle-aged adults often turn to drugs or alcohol to mask their negative emotions and self-medicate.
Feeling stuck in a rut: Those going through a midlife crisis often feel like they’re stuck – in a bad job, a bad marriage, a bad situation – with no way out.
Thoughts of death or dying: A midlife crisis can cause people to think obsessively about their own mortality.
Relentless life evaluation: A midlife-crisis can result in patterns of thinking about their life that are obsessive and ruminating.
Impulsiveness: People struggling with a midlife crisis often engage in impulsive behavior making sudden large and expensive purchases or sudden changes in their life like abruptly ending relationships.
How To Cope With a Midlife Crisis
A midlife crisis is often simply a wake-up call to the fact that we need to start taking better care of ourselves.
Everyone experiences challenges in midlife, similar to any other phase of life. But not all these challenges are an actual crisis. Something difficult that is managed and moved on from, will naturally involve some sadness and anger.
A midlife crisis, however, brings upon negative thoughts and new emotions that feel overwhelming and threatening. It almost always involves ongoing depression and/or anxiety.
1. Embrace Your Creative Side
Everyone has a creative side. But many of us ignore our creative impulses because of a lack of time or a belief that we aren’t talented enough. Tapping into your creativity is one of the best ways to reconnect with yourself.
Start viewing your life as one big art project and do something to feed your creativity.
Write in a journal. Not sure what to write? Start a memoir. Write one of your grandparent’s biographies. Free associate and be amazed at the thoughts bouncing around in your head. Learn how to paint. Take surf lessons.
Embracing your creative side can illicit true feelings of joy as well keep your brain young and active and ward off dementia and Alzheimer’s.
2. Mindful Meditation
Meditation has been proven to reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression, improve focus and concentration, increase self-awareness and promote better physical health.
You don’t have to clear your mind or chant a phrase while sitting in the lotus position. Mindful meditation is simply the act of becoming aware of your thoughts through self-examination and reflection. Once you begin to practice, you can do it anytime and anywhere – whether it be for 2 minutes or 1 hour.
For some quick tips to get started check out How Meditation Can Help Manage Stress & Anxiety.
3. Make Some Changes
Midlife is an opportunity to make some changes. It could be as simple as painting a room in your house, to finally getting in shape, to dumping some unhealthy friendships, or making that career change you’ve been daydreaming about.
This is the time to start making choices based on your own needs, not the needs of others. This can be hard for many as some start to experience feelings of guilt believing we’re being selfish. If you find you’re someone who struggles with this, then it may be time to reevaluate your boundaries. For more help, check out How To Set Healthy Boundaries.
If anyone in your life has a problem with you beginning to take more interest in your own best interest – then maybe they don’t have yours in mind.
4. Practice Gratitude
Every morning while you wait for the coffee to brew, spend 2 minutes writing three things you’re grateful for. These can be common, everyday things like a beautiful sunset, or your partner, or that awesome moment with your 3 year old yesterday.
Stick with it when it goes from being quick and easy to having to think. This is when your thought patterns begin to change. Giving up when it starts to get hard leads to no changes.
Tell someone you love how much you appreciate them. Include a random act of kindness in each day. Volunteer for organizations that that speak to your values. Compliment your partner when they look good. Say thank you for the little things they do for you.
Changing your mindset to one of gratitude can be one of the most profound changes you can make in your life. It’s not about just “trying” to be more grateful though. You have to actually engage in the actions above and do it consistently until they become a natural part of your life.
5. Steer Clear of Social Media
It’s no secret that overusing social media can lead to depression, anxiety, envy, feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness. Furthermore, it’s usually a complete waste of time.
Imagine what you could accomplish instead of spending hours scrolling the highlight reels of other people’s lives.
Read a book. Do 5 minutes of deep, mindful breathing. Review your life goals. Call a friend or family member you’ve been meaning to connect with.
When was the last time you set the phone down after scrolling and felt optimistic, hopeful, inspired, or motivated?
6. Hang Out With Like-Minded People
Social interaction is key to a happy and healthy life.
But many of us spend the majority of our adult lives around people we may not like very much or feel closely aligned with: namely coworkers and the parents of our children’s friends. Now is the time to surround yourself with people who support and inspire you, and share common passions and interests.
Reconnect with old friends. Get involved with community activities that spark your interest where you’ll meet like-minded people. Not sure where to start? Check out Meetup.com to get some ideas.
A midlife crisis doesn’t have to be a crisis at all but a chance for you to take control and make different choices in your life. If you’ve tried these things and still find yourself at a crossroads, find an awesome therapist you like and trust to help you carve out a path to the next chapter of your life.
James Killian, LPC is the Principal Therapist & Owner of Arcadian Counseling in New Haven, CT where they specialize in helping over-thinkers, high achievers, and perfectionists reduce stress, increase fulfillment and enhance performance so they can move From Surviving To Thriving.