Midlife Crisis? Dos and don’ts

If you are between 40 and 50 you have a 26% chance to suffer it.

In 1976 Daniel Levinson coined the concept “Midlife Crisis” on his book “Seasons of a Man’s Life “(1). This term has led to controversy since then in part because of the limitations of Levinson’s own research: His work was based on observations from interviews and not on controlled scientific settings. Furthermore, it’s difficult to say what percentage of people are affected, because the concept is difficult to delimit. E. Wethington, for example, points out that it affects a 26% of the population. In her research, the mean age to suffer this crise was 46 (2).

Nevertheless many psychology professionals, including me, have observed an increase on psychological issues between 40 and 50. Scientific research must still be done in this area, but it’s clear that something is happening here: Psychological crisis tend to accumulate at this age.

If you are a man between 40 and 50 it’s very possible that you are having a hard time figuring out your life, your work, your relationships and yourself. It’s not that women don’t suffer this stage in their lifes. They do, but they usually are more open about their feelings, thoughts and emotions and have a broader support network to share them. This has a beneficial therapeutical effect that men don’t benefit from (3). In fact, one of the main problems for men is that they don’t talk about it and don’t realize that their problem is much more common than they think. So relax a little bit. You’re not alone.

Life’s crisis are related with biological and biographical transitions. Biologically men’s between 40 and 50 experience a decline on testosteron, energy and physical capability. Their appearance change and the signs of aging become undeniable. Mortality is for the first time a reality and not a concept. Biographically, at this age a lot of men have reached a plateau professionally and the kids are much more independent or have just left home. They have to redesign their life with their partner, establishing new common goals.

In this situation these kind of thoughts can come up and put you on a downward spiral:

“I haven’t fulfill my dreams”, “I feel trapped” , “I’m bored”, “I haven’t much time left”, “What’s my purpose in life?”

You should be aware of the first signs of psychological issues before you derail into burnout, anxiety or depression:

  • If you don’t feel pleasure anymore doing things that you enjoyed before, for example listening to music or reading a novel, you should find out what’s happening.
  • If you feel much more tired, more reluctant of social interaction, or have no motivation at work that can be a red flag.

The crisis doesn’t have to end on a psychological problem though: This can be a perfect moment for self reflection.

“What have I achieved?, What do I have?, What do I really need?, What should be my next step?”

This kind of questions induce emotional reactions, so you should have a sparring partner that brings a more impartial point of view. After this reflection, if changes have to be done, prepare a plan, but don’t make radical changes on your life or job until everything is carefully pondered. A big percentage of people regret it later. To get through the crisis without being battered by your own actions or breaking things, you need to control your emotions:

  • In your private life, try not to hurt your loved ones. Don’t use the term “midlife crisis” as a justification to behave like a spoiled child. Nobody will buy your explanation or forget your actions.
  • In your work, go step by step, always looking at your financial situation. Financial stress will deteriorate your psychological state, so try to avoid unnecessary risks, like leaving your job without a plan B.
  • There’s a physical component on crises between 40 and 50, and exhaustion can lead to serious problems. You need to rest, schedule off-time and sleep 8 hours. Practicing a sport regularly will elevate your energy levels and your mood.
  • Be careful with your expenses. Some people try to solve their psychological turmoil buying expensive items. It doesn’t work. After the purchase your feelings will be the same, but your finances not anymore.

We have seen why the midlife crisis can appear in your life between 40 and 50 and what to do to navigate it. Perhaps you are already suffering it. In this case, I have a message of hope for you: The answers and solutions will come. The crisis will pass, and you will be stronger: A lot of people report an increase in well-beign and happiness after it.

(1) Levinson, D. J., with Darrow, C. N, Klein, E. B. & Levinson, M. (1978). Seasons of a Man’s Life. New York: Random House. ISBN 0–394–40694-X

(2)Wethington, Elaine. (2000). Expecting Stress: Americans and the “Midlife Crisis”. Motivation and Emotion. 24. 85–103. 10.1023/A:1005611230993.

(3) https://www.geo.de/magazine/geo-wissen/19913-rtkl-midlife-crisis-warum-es-nach-der-lebensmitte-wieder-aufwaerts-geht

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