We turn 40 and we begin to feel strange; we reevaluate many aspects of our lives, making decisions that beforehand didn’t even cross our minds and we act differently. This is known as the “40s crisis” or “midlife crisis” and it happens to both men and women, but we deal with it in different ways. At this stage of life, people can develop identity crises, have personal and work disputes, and marriage and family crises. In any case, it can become a fundamental frontier to determine the following years, because those crossing this frontier usually make some key decisions regarding their personal, family and professional life. Sometimes people believe that this stage is their last chance to live and they act accordingly.
A midlife crisis is a moment of reflection, an evaluation of what you do with your life, of what you have lived and what you have left to live; it is feeling discontent with your current situation, and it is the need to feel young again (although you are still young).
Not everyone goes through a midlife crisis, but it is sufficiently common for it to have been studied by psychologists and sociologists, and it is now a topic of discussion in society. As life expectancy is increasing, we can say that in our 40s we are at the halfway point in our life, when we feel neither young nor old, but we begin to face different conflicts that didn’t exist at a younger age. This can bring with it a certain level of anxiety and anguish, if we evaluate our lives and we realize all the things we still need to achieve which, for various reasons, we have not been able to. In today’s society, youth is idolized and everything that is possible is done to maintain it permanently, so aging with dignity has become an art that not everyone masters.
However, every crisis represents an opportunity to change and improve, and if we reach 40 with renewed energy, we can really benefit and we can change what we need to change to have a full and happy life, regardless of our age.
First, we need to know how to detect if someone in our lives – or ourselves – is going through the feared midlife crisis:
Radical changes in appearance: There is nothing wrong with changing our appearance to look and feel better about ourselves, in fact, it works wonders for improving our self-esteem. However, when these changes are radical and middle-aged people, who before didn’t even go shopping or weren’t interested in doing exercise, suddenly become fanatical about fashion and begin to go to the gym seven times a week or obsessively, we can presume that they are going through a midlife crisis. It can also happen in men who begin to lose their hair and get implants or use wigs, or women who radically change their hair style or color.
Adolescent behavior: In some cases, men and women take up old interests again, like listening to music at full volume or going to fashionable nightspots. They also want to try new sports, like extreme sports, even when they have never been a fan of these practices. Buying the latest electronic goods is also common, especially in men, as is the use of extremely short miniskirts or low necklines in women.
Depression: In some cases, the midlife crisis is accompanied by depression. For women, this can be explained because they are approaching menopause, and the change in hormone levels in turn causes changes in their mood and other organic symptoms like hot flushes and dry hair and skin. There is also the psychological aspect, as once the menopause arrives, they won’t be able to have more children and their sex drive decreases, which is why they could feel “less feminine”. Generally, men are less likely to externalize depression, but in men it manifests through signs like a lack of interest in their family or partner, and they start to make important decisions like quitting their job, buying fast cars and other expensive items, or moving without consulting their wife. They do all of this because they feel unhappy or unsatisfied and, generally, men do not express their emotions vocally but through their actions.
Increase in alcohol consumption: This is an important sign, previously for men but today also for women. As alcohol in moderation is a stimulant that, in the short term, causes disinhibition and a pleasant feeling of happiness, when someone is going through a midlife crisis they might increase their alcohol consumption. However, the problem is that when alcohol is consumed in excess, it depresses the nervous system, which increases symptoms of depression and anxiety, in addition to causing other damage to their physical and mental health and, in the worst cases, addiction.
Infidelity: People who are going through a midlife crisis generally feel nostalgic about their youth and want to regain these years, which from a distance seem glorious, at all costs. Many begin to seriously contemplate the idea of infidelity, especially with people younger than them, to regain their sex drive and their lost youth. Sometimes it remains an idea, but other times people even leave their partner and go to live with their lover, even though they regret the decision afterwards.
If you recognize all of these signs, be it in yourself or in your partner, you can help yourself or help them to overcome the midlife crisis, emerging stronger, as a person, as a partner and as a family.
So, how can you overcome a midlife crisis and make it a catalyst for having a fuller and happier life for the remaining years?
1. Be aware: Ask yourself the following questions and answer them with complete honesty; Do I take responsibility for the life I have or do I tend to blame others for the things that happen me: my partner, children, work colleagues, etc.? Do I have fears that I didn’t have before: fear of the future, fear of getting old, fear of illnesses, and fear of failure? Do I feel that there are things I have always wanted and that I haven’t had time to do? Do I hear myself complaining about everything, without being grateful for anything? Am I extremely critical of myself and am I too perfectionist? Is my current life the life I had dreamed of in my youth, or has it taken a completely different course? By carrying out this honest assessment of your life and taking responsibility for it, you can determine which aspects have prevented you from advancing in the achievement of your goals and which have supported you and driven you to keep going. Remember that what is happening you happens to millions of people all over the world, and it isn’t unusual or wrong to evaluate your life so that you can make the changes that are necessary. What you can’t do is make decisions when you are depressed or anxious, or make decisions that have not been properly thought out and that you might regret in the near future or in the long run.
2. Ask for help: There is no need to go through this process on your own, which is also absolutely normal. It is a transitory time in your life, as adolescence was. You can turn to your partner and your family who, if they really love you, will support you to keep going and become stronger. Talk to the people you trust, so they can give you good advice and you can feel their support through the crisis. Likewise, it is important to get professional help from a psychologist or a counsellor who specializes in this area. As we said earlier, this topic has been widely studied and circulated and there are special techniques that can help you to overcome a midlife crisis. For women, they might need special medication to balance their hormones if they are going through perimenopause. In any event, the worst thing you can do is isolate yourself and to hide your feelings and emotions. Asking for help is fundamental to overcome a midlife crisis and so that those closest to you can understand you.
3. Establish new goals: After carrying out your deep self-analysis, you should know what drives and motivates you. The best thing you can do is establish new challenges and goals for yourself. Ask yourself where you want to be in the next 5 or 10 years and what you want to feel proud of in the long term. Looking at it in the right way, you will understand that life doesn’t end at 40, on the contrary, it can be a new start so you are as happy or happier than before. If you ask many older people what has been the happiest and fullest time in their lives, you would be surprised to know that many respond that it was after 40. So, you have many wonderful years ahead of you in which you can achieve everything you have not yet achieved, because you also have the maturity and experience that you were certainly lacking in your younger years. Now you can make decisions with more self-assurance and confidence in yourself. It is never too late to start again or to make the changes that you believe are necessary in your life, but the important thing about these changes is that the intention and motivation is right for you, and for those around you.
4. Be grateful for everything you have: You have to monitor your thoughts because the mind is very powerful and has a significant influence on who you are now and who you will become in the future. Instead of focusing on what you don’t have or on the negative aspects of your life, be grateful for all that you have achieved so far, for all the positive things that you have lived and that you currently have. If you have a partner, be grateful for their love, their company and their support; if you have children, be grateful for their existence; if your parents are still alive, be grateful for having the opportunity to spend more time with them; if you like your job, be grateful that you got it and can keep it; be grateful for the small things in life, for the opportunity to have a family dinner, to walk in nature with your dog, for the flight of butterflies and, ultimately, for the fact that you woke up this morning and you are alive. Value your time and make the most of it. In this way, regardless of what you don’t have, you will feel like a blessed and fortunate person in life.
A midlife crisis is a natural process, which most people go through. In some cases, it can be devastating for families, destroy relationships or cause the person going through it to sink into depression. But, the opposite can be achieved if viewed correctly, and you can strengthen yourself as a person, partner, parent, child, friend, worker and productive member of society. It depends on you, and only you, how you face this process and how you use it to become a better person and, ultimately, to be happier after 40, redirecting your life with more vigor than before.