You know the tropes: a man in his 40s starts to lose his hair and buys a sports car or a woman approaching menopause ditches her current career to start down a completely different path. Despite the jokes, the issue of mid-life crises are real. In fact, it’s a psychological phenomenon that happens to almost everyone in the middle of their lives. A nation-wide survey from the UK found that both career and general life satisfaction decreases significantly in midlife. Interestingly, this is happening to people from all walks of life. Single, married, with or without children, all socioeconomic backgrounds, etc. In short, a mid-life crisis doesn’t discriminate. Generally, life satisfaction begins to dip during your mid-30s, and bottoms out between mid-40s and mid-50s. Thankfully though, after the dip, most people’s happiness starts to climb. In fact, most report higher levels of satisfaction than in their earlier adult lives.
Many psychologists agree that this phenomenon is based on the dissonance between our expectations and reality. When we’re young, we’re overly optimistic and expect that we’ll have the perfect life; amazing career, happy marriage, health, and financial stability. Neuroscientists believe that this over-optimism is based on a brain bias that makes it hard for us to correct overoptimistic feelings when we’re young. This bias is seen as efficient, however, as it encourages us to succeed and progress throughout life. When we reach our mid-30s, satisfaction starts to dip; optimism begins to fade, and you start to get a better sense of your realities. Perhaps you haven’t reached your career goals, your marriage is failing, or your health begins to fade. This culminates in a mid-life crisis when you begin to understand your limitations and adjust your expectations. Finally, after a midlife crisis, your expected satisfaction begins to align with current satisfaction levels. You start to understand and accept your path in life, how far you’ve come, and the beauty of where you’ve ended up. It’s definitely not an easy journey, but it’s normal, common, and completely ok.
Anyone that has experienced these feelings of defeat, confusion, anger, or sadness know how powerful the effects of a mid-life crisis can be. It may cause you to feel depressed or withdrawn or may lead you to make brash career or personal decisions that you may regret later. Whatever your feelings are, it’s always helpful to be aware of them so you can have a plan to move beyond them. If you’re beginning to feel out of control and suspect that you’re suffering from a mid-life crisis, talking to a therapist is a great way to work through those feelings. They can help you adjust your expectations and understand how to cope with the feelings of inadequacy or overwhelm. The good part about a mid-life crisis is that once you work through it, there’s light at the end of the tunnel and great days ahead.
Anna M. Hickey, Licensed Professional Counselor practices Counseling in Macomb Michigan. Anna’s practice, Life Transitions specializes in Counseling and Divorce Mediation.