What is a Midlife Crisis? Am I in a Mid-life Crisis?
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What is a Midlife Crisis? Am I in a Mid-life Crisis?




Learn more about how midlife crises affect millions of people.


With better insight, you can be equipped to better address your own major midlife crisis.






What is a mid-life crisis?


The definition for term midlife crisis can vary from person to person. An article in Psychological Reports defines a mid-life crisis as a state of physical and psychological distress that are the result of developmental tasks/stage overwhelming a person’s resources.



Developmental tasks/stage can be thought of as an age appropriate event, like learning to speak is a developmental stage for toddlers. For middle age it could be thought of as significant life moments/transition, such as a significant birthday (the big 4-0), a child leaving for college, or the death of a parent.



While this term is popular in the media, researchers in Gerontology state that the more specific definitions researchers have used do not support the idea of a midlife crisis, and that a more broad definition may be more helpful to explore. Interestingly, the term “midlife crisis” was coined by Canadian psychoanalyst Elliot Jaques.




Does everyone go through a midlife crisis?


Good news, a mid-life crisis is not a something that everyone will experience.


In fact, an article in Motivation and Emotion states that only 10% of American men may experience a midlife crisis. Meaning that a mid-life crisis is not a universal experience.


Another consideration is culture and how what we are taught to expect. Someone from a culture that does not believe in midlife crisis’ would be less likely to experience one.





Is a midlife crisis a mental illness?



No, a mid-life crisis is not considered to be a mental illness. This means that it does not appear in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).


The closest diagnosis for this type of distress would be an Adjustment Disorder. Mayo Clinic outlines the key components of Adjustment Disorder, the key ones are listed below:

  • #1 Having emotional or behavioral symptoms within three months of a specific stressor occurring in your life.
  • #2 Experiencing more stress than would normally be expected in response to a stressful life event and/or having stress that causes significant problems in your relationships, at work or at school



It is also important to note that not all social scientists believe that midlife crisis is a distinct phenomena, and it is unclear if it is a distinct mental health issue.





What are the signs of a mid-life crisis?


Another way to think about a mid-life crisis outside of mental illness is to think of it as an emotional crisis. The American Psychological Association reports that symptoms of an emotional crisis can include:

  • Neglect of personal hygiene
  • Dramatic changes in sleep habits
  • Weight loss or gain
  • Pronounced changes in mood, such as increased anger, irritability, sadness, or anxiety.
  • Withdrawal from usual routine or relationships


If you or someone you know is experiencing these symptoms or the symptoms associated with Adjustment Disorder (see above), it may be helpful to think about reaching out for help from friends/family or a therapist.




What happens during a midlife crisis?


A midlife crisis is usually thought of as someone experiencing emotional distress during middle age.


A review in Gerontology on midlife crisis’ reports on how researchers consider midlife to be a time people are vulnerable to experiencing an emotional crisis because it can be a time that prompts reflection. Have I achieved what I wanted? Does my life look how I thought it would?


It may be that some of the behaviors we associate with a mid-life crisis- switching careers, buying a sports car- are the result of as assessment of something not being where someone wanted at their stage of life.





What years does a mid-life crisis happen in?


An article in Motivation and Emotion says that a mid-life crisis can happy any time in your mid-30’s to your mid-50’s. But don’t forget, not everyone will experience a mid-life crisis and there is always some stress associated with transitions, even if they are normal.


Age 40 is a common time where people begin a midlife crisis, due to the major life significance of moving from one’s thirties into forties.




Do midlife crisis’ differ for men and women?


Midlife crises are more often associated with men. An article in Gerontology highlighted that some researchers believe men are less self-reflective, making them more prone to a midlife crisis.



It is thought that because men are not reflecting on the state of their relationships and goals, moments of transition/change may be more challenging. An article in Psychological Reports states that one theory for why women are less likely to experience a midlife crisis is that midlife may be a more “liberating” time for them.



If they have children, the kids are older and so society is more accepting of them working and achieving. However, it is important to remember that anyone can experience an emotional crisis during middle age. 




Does midlife crisis lead to divorce?


Based on how Gerontology defined a midlife crisis, it is possible that someone could have a moment of reflection and notice that they were not happy in their relationship/marriage. In this instance, a midlife crisis might prompt a divorce.



However, an article in Motivation and Emotion found that participants felt the midlife crisis was a result of divorce. Their findings stated that a person who was divorced or separated in the past 5 years was 6.5 times more likely to report a midlife crisis than someone who was not recently divorced or separated.



Based on these findings it seems like a midlife crisis is more likely to result from experiencing divorce.



If at any point in time in your life you notice that you are less happy with your relationship/marriage, or had hoped your relationship/marriage would look differently than it currently does, it is a good time to think about seeking out help.



If you are not interested in couples counseling, you can explore a retreat or workshops, or even online tools/apps.


Midlife Crisis


How do you fix a midlife crisis?


As we have discussed, a midlife crisis is having a significant emotional distress during midlife due to developmental tasks or transitions.



A midlife crisis is very fixable. For some people the support of family, friends, or religious leaders may be sufficient to help them through that tough spot. For others, seeking out professional help from a therapist may be the route to go.



An article in the Journal of Clinical Psychology shows that professional treatment helps address the symptoms of the diagnosis of Adjustment Disorder.




How do you survive your partners midlife crisis?


If you partner is going through a midlife crisis or any crisis, one thing you can do is ask them what they need. This is a simple way of showing support and connecting with them. It may also be helpful to remind yourself that they are going through something, which may help you to take their moods or words less personally.


This time might also be a great time to focus on yourself and your own growth. While we cannot force others to change, we can focus on our own growth.


Going to therapy on your own, reading, or whatever else helps facilitate your own personal growth may help yourself.




Does therapy help a midlife crisis?


Yes! Therapy is effective at treating Adjustment Disorder, which is the mental health diagnosis that is the most like a midlife crisis. If you or someone you know is experiencing significant distress around a recent life stage change or other transition seeking out therapy may be a helpful option.



If you or a family member are going through a midlife crisis and want support, please consider talking to an individual therapist. If you believe your midlife crisis is causing depression, remorse, or other feelings of grief, make an appointment anytime.





Is a Midlife Crisis a myth?



Some argue that it is a myth. In order for something to be a distinct event, like a Midlife Crisis, it should have characteristics that differentiate it from other types of events. Many mental health researchers question the validity of a Midlife crisis as a unique and distinct experience, different that other stressful phases in life.



Instead, many mental health experts say that a midlife crisis is a pop-psychology term that has confused more people that it has helped.



In order for something to be a Midlife Crisis, it should be experienced solely in mid-life. However, many report experiencing the symptoms of a midlife crisis at nearly every age. This calls into question the salience of one’s mid-life on the cause (or contributing factor) of their crisis.



Also, some question the accuracy of giving this event, if it does exist, the title of a “crisis”. One researcher instead suggests that people face “turning points” during this phase (and other phases) of life. Viewing it as a turning point in life, instead of a crisis, may be both more accurate and helpful.



Lastly, some research indicates that it is common across the lifespan that people’s overall happiness and satisfaction is lowest in middle-ages; that satisfaction levels follow a “U Shape” across life. Thus, a “Midlife Crisis” may not be a distinct, acute event but a natural and predictable outcome of a life pattern.  



Ultimately, it is hard to prove it does or does not exist as a distinct experience.





Disclaimer: ALL IN Therapy Clinic aims to improve people’s lives through providing effective mental health counseling by passionate professionals. We publish quality material for your own education. Our publications are researched, cited, reviewed, and edited by licensed mental health professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of a qualified healthcare provider.




Written and reviewed by

Dr Kyle Zrenchik, PhD, ACS, LMFT

Dr. Kyle Zrenchik is the Co-Founder of ALL IN, the Creator of the Couples Erotic Flow model for treating sexual issues in individuals and couples, Designer of the Deep Dive programs at ALL IN, and is one of the most well-respected couples counselors in the Twin Cities.

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