Navigating Your Midlife Crisis

WHAT IS A MIDLIFE CRISIS?
A midlife crisis is a time of confusion and perhaps chaos that some people experience between the ages of 40 and 50. It doesn’t happen to everyone, and it is just as likely to happen to women as to men. This confusing and upsetting experience can last for a few months or a few years and is generally thought to result from a person’s anxieties over growing older.

COMMON FEELINGS
According to Rocking the Ages authors Smith and Clurman (researchers at Yankelovich Partners) and authors such as Gail Sheehy, people passing through middle age typically experience the following kinds of feelings.
Shock.
As people enter their forties, many are surprised to discover that there are limits to life’s possibilities.
Regret. As people reach midlife, they must face up to the loss of some of their dreams and regret the mistakes they have made. It is not easy for anyone to face the person one will never be.
Loss.
Our society values beauty and youth. At midlife, everyone has to face its loss.
Meaning.
According to Sheehy, the “universal preoccupation” of the middle years is “the search for meaning in whatever we do.” As they face the fact that time is limited, the Baby Boomers typically become even more intent on this need to analyze and search for significance.
Change.
The midlife years can be a time of radical change for many people. This is the result of endless questioning and evaluation of how one has lived one’s life thus far. Many midlife crises become midlife meltdowns, says Sheehy, because some people react to feelings of emptiness or disillusionment by destroying everything they have built.

WHAT CAUSES MIDLIFE CRISIS?
Most people who have passed through a midlife crisis say that it was triggered by the realization that they were growing older. They felt as if time was passing them by and they feared not being able to do all the things they once expected to do. Other triggers may include a crisis, such as losing a job, not being promoted, or the death of a close friend or family member, or children growing up and moving away. For most people, life at age 45 or 50 doesn’t match the dreams they had at age 20 or 30. When people reach age 45 or 50 and are even slightly disappointed by their achievements and experiences, their feelings are likely to be compounded by the factors of self-absorption, sense of entitlement, and need for control. But there is also a positive side to this. The tendency to reflect and explore can help one look for new possibilities instead of staying stuck in feelings of disappointment.

WHAT CAN BE DONE ABOUT MIDLIFE CRISIS?
The following steps can help you navigate the difficult months or years of a midlife crisis:
Assess your life.
Get a notebook and write about the following questions. See where this takes you. Some people find that such selfreflection is all they need to see through the confusion and move forward with the second half of their lives.
• My most important accomplishments are . . .
• I am disappointed about . . .
• I would describe the person I turned out to be as . . .
• I want to change the following things about my self and my life . . .
• Things I want to do before I die . . .
• If I knew I couldn’t fail, I would . . .
• Things I have mastered . . .
• Things I want to keep . . .
• I want to keep these relationships . . .
• I want to let go of these relationships . . .
• I want to keep these possessions . . .
• I want to let go of these possessions . . .
• I want to have these experiences . . .
• I want to clean up these messes . . .
• I want to celebrate . . .
• I don’t ever again want to . . .
• My body is . . .
• My children are . . .
• My parents are . . .
• My spouse is . . .
• I want to remember . . .
• I want to forget . . .
• I must apologize to . . .
• I must seek an apology from . . .
• I am most proud of . . .
• I wish I could forget about . . .
• I wish I could do over . . .
• I wish I had never . . .
• I wish I had . . .
Add your own items to the list.

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EMOTIONAL CHANGES COMMON AT MIDLIFE
Many people report experiencing some or all of the following emotional changes during midlife:
• Having a greater appreciation of and friendship with life partner
• Focusing more on family and friendships
• Appreciating grown children
• Rediscovering community
• Feeling that one’s career is less important
• Having mixed feelings about children moving out on their own
• Taking care of aging parents
• Experiencing illness and death of parents, siblings, and peers
• Realizing that time and opportunities are limited
• Reviewing accomplishments, failures, and lost opportunities
• Revising expectations, goals, and hopes
• Avoiding feeling disappointment and panic by indulging in escapist behavior
• Seeking balance between work, family, and self

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Start a discussion group.
You can use these questions as the basis of a discussion group with five or six others who are also struggling with midlife issues. There are plenty of ways to start such a group. You can ask your minister, priest, or rabbi to help you, or invite a few friends over and ask them to join you in exploring these ideas over a few weeks.
See a professional counselor.
Explore your feelings about midlife with a licensed mental health professional. Some specialize in working with people facing these issues and may even have a group that you can join. If you are feeling depressed and anxious about these issues, and it is affecting your happiness and ability to function, it is important to seek the assistance of a qualified mental health professional.

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