How to Get Out of a Midlife Crisis

From the WebMD Archives

Many men go through a phase when they take a hard look at the life they're living. They think they could be happier, and if they need to make a big change, they feel the urge to do it soon.

These thoughts can trigger a midlife crisis. By realizing you're in this phase, then making wise choices, you can steer yourself out of a midlife crisis and into a happier life.

How to Spot a Midlife Crisis

A true midlife crisis usually involves changing your entire life in a hurry, says Calvin Colarusso, MD, a clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of California San Diego. An example is a man he counseled who wrote a note to his wife, withdrew his money from the bank, and moved to another city without warning.

This type of midlife crisis is rare, Colarusso says. More often, men go through a midlife process in which they make smaller changes over time.

"You might tell your wife, 'I’ve got to get out of this job,' and you do. Or you say to your wife, 'I’m done. The marriage isn’t working for me.' You don’t change everything and you don’t do it frantically," he says. "And for many people, after this agonizing reappraisal, they decide to stay with what they’ve got."

Signs that you're going through this midlife phase, or that you may soon, include:

You've hit your 40th birthday. Colarusso, who has a special interest in issues that affect adults as they age, most often sees men struggling with these midlife questions in their 40s and early 50s.

You're uneasy about major elements in your life. Colarusso says this may include not being satisfied with your career, your marriage, or your health, and feeling the urge to take action to make them better.

You feel that your time for taking a new direction is running short. Many men feel a pressing need to make changes, Colarusso says, when:

  • They notice that their appearance is changing or their stamina isn't as high as it used to be.
  • They become a grandfather.
  • A friend or parent dies.

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However, it's not inevitable to go through a midlife crisis when those things happen.

You're making unusual choices. Men may go through a "teenage-like rebellion" at this point in their lives, says Boston psychologist Lynn Margolies, PhD. "A sure sign you may be in a midlife crisis is if you are feeling trapped and very tempted to act out in ways that will blow up your life," she says. These may include:

  • Drinking more.
  • Having an affair.
  • Leaving your family.
  • Feeling that your life no longer fits you.
  • You're more concerned about your appearance.
  • You feel more desire for excitement and thrills.

Navigating Your Midlife Issues

A midlife crisis can lead to "growth or destruction" for men, Margolies says. You can look for the causes of the unhappiness you feel, then make thoughtful decisions to address them. That's growth.

On the other hand, making impulsive decisions, like trading in your familiar life for a relationship with a younger partner that quickly ends or buying a car you can't afford, leads to destruction.

During this season of your life, be sure to:

  • Remember that your feelings aren't commands. Just because you feel like you have to escape your home, job, or marriage doesn't mean you have to actually do it, Margolies says. These feelings may indeed point to problems that need solving. But they may also fade or change over time.
  • Be thankful for the good things. Take time to be grateful for the parts of your life that make you happy, Margolies says. Ask yourself how you'd feel if you took an action that caused you to lose them.
  • Talk it over. Before you make major decisions, discuss them with someone whose advice you'll trust, Colarusso says. A friend, pastor, or mental health professional can give you another opinion on whether you're making wise choices.
  • Ask whether your wishes are realistic. Men make plenty of successful changes in their 40s and beyond: Going back to college, traveling the world, or starting their own business. Just make sure your new goals are practical and within your grasp.
  • Avoid jolting your loved ones. "Realize that you may not need to blow up your life to be happy," Margolies says. "But if it needs to be dismantled, then doing so thoughtfully will be less destructive to the people around you."
WebMD Feature Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on November 30, 2012

Sources

SOURCES:

Calvin Colarusso, MD, training and supervising analyst , San Diego Psychoanalytic Institute.

Lynn Margolies, PhD, psychologist, Newton, Mass.

© 2012 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.

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