For many of us, middle-age is the first time in our lives that we pause for a moment to reflect. In the beginning of our lives, it’s as if we have been shot out of a cannon. The moment never seems to slow down as many of us gain an education, make friends, choose a career, commit to a significant other, have children, raise them as best we can, and plan for our retirement.
Eventually the pace of life begins to slow down and we find we have more time to take stock of our lives; of what we’ve become and where we seem to be headed. And what do many of us find at this juncture?
Many people begin to look around at their life and notice what’s working and what isn’t. This is when most people suddenly have the realization that life is finite – and the clock is ticking.
Some may be dealing with the emotions of an empty nest, a divorce or ending of a long relationship. Others might be facing illness or the loss of someone close to us. For women it might be the onset of menopause and for men it might be looking in the mirror and not recognizing the man staring back.
We’ve likely been so busy trying to build financial stability and security, keeping up with the Joneses, and pleasing everyone around us, that we haven’t always made decisions based on her own self interests.
In other words, we find ourselves lost and unable to recognize our lives as anything that we once imagined.
Common signs of a midlife crisis can include:
- Mood swings: Those experiencing a midlife crisis can seem highly temperamental, becoming angry or irritable without justification.
- Depression and anxiety: A midlife crisis can undeniably cause one to feel sad, restless, agitated, or just plain miserable.
- Sleeplessness or oversleeping: Depression, anxiety and a constantly racing mind can significantly interfere with our sleep.
- An obsession with appearances: Those going through a midlife crisis often feel the need to remain attractive to others and may go to great (and sometimes irrational) lengths to try to do so.
- Increased consumption of drugs or alcohol: Middle-aged adults may turn to drugs or alcohol to mask their negative emotions and self-medicate.
- Feeling stuck in a rut: Those going through a midlife crisis often feel like they’re stuck – in a bad job, a bad marriage, a bad situation – with no way out.
- Thoughts of death or dying: A midlife crisis can cause people to think obsessively about their own mortality.
- Relentless life evaluation: A midlife-crisis can result in patterns of thinking about their life that are obsessive and ruminating.
- Impulsiveness: People struggling with a midlife crisis often demonstrate impulsive behavior making sudden large and expensive purchases or sudden changes in their life like abruptly ending relationships.
How To Cope With a Midlife Crisis
It’s important to understand that in this context, the word “crisis” is a bit dramatic. Let’s be clear: a midlife crisis isn’t a trauma. Instead it is wake-up call that alerts us to the fact that we need to start taking better care of our minds, hearts and bodies.
Everyone experiences challenges in midlife, similar to any other phase of life. But not all these challenges signify a ‘crisis’. Something difficult that is managed and moved on from will naturally involve some sadness and anger. A midlife crisis, however, brings upon negative thoughts and new emotions that feel overwhelming and threatening. It almost always involves ongoing depression and/or anxiety.
With this in mind here are 6 ways you can cope with your own midlife wake up call.
1. Embrace Your Creative Side
Everyone has a creative side. But many of us completely ignore our creative impulses either because of a lack of time or a belief that we are “not talented enough.” Tapping into your creativity is one of the best ways to connect with your authentic self.
Start viewing your life as one big art project and do something to feed your creativity. Write in a journal. Not sure what to write? Start a memoir. Write one of your grandparent’s biographies. Free associate and be amazed at the thoughts bouncing around in your head. Learn how to paint. Take surf lessons.
Not only can embracing your creative side bring about joy, but learning something new keeps your brain young and active and wards off dementia and Alzheimer’s.
Meditation has been proven to reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression, improve focus and concentration, increase self-awareness and promote better physical health.
And no, you don’t have to go put on yoga pants, light some incense, and start chanting in your living room while sitting in lotus position. Mindful meditation is simply the act of becoming aware of your thoughts with an attitude of acceptance and curiosity. Once you begin to practice, you can do it anytime and anywhere – whether it be for 2 minutes or 1 hour.
For some quick and simple tips to get started check out our article on How Meditation Can Help Manage Stress & Anxiety
3. Makes Some Changes
Midlife is an opportunity to make some changes you’ve been wanting to make. A change could be as simple as finally painting a room in your house, to getting your teeth whitened or signing up for a gym membership, or to finally dumping some of your unhealthy friendships or making that career change you’ve been daydreaming about.
This is the time to start making choices based on your own needs, not the needs of others. This can be hard for many as some of us start to experience feelings of guilt believing we are being selfish.
Look at it this way: if anyone in your life has a problem with you beginning to take more interest in your own best interest – then maybe they don’t have yours in mind.
4. Practice Gratitude
Every morning while you are waiting for the coffee to brew, take 2 minutes and think of five things for which you are grateful. Write them down. These can be common, everyday occurrences like seeing a beautiful sunset or learning something new or hearing your favorite song on the radio. Stick with it when it goes from a 2 second activity on day 5 to a 2 minute activity because you have to start to think a little bit. This is when the patterns of thinking are beginning to change.
Tell someone you love them and how much you appreciate them. Include a random act of kindness in your life each day. Volunteer for organizations that help others in ways that speaks to you. Compliment your family and friends when they look good. Say thank you for the little things your loved one’s do for you that you normally take for granted.
Changing your mindset to one of appreciation and gratitude can be one of the most profound changes you can make in your life. Remember though, it’s not as easy just “trying” to be more grateful. Many people say, “I’m going to start being more grateful” and then make zero behavioral changes. You have to actually engage in the actions above and do it consistently until they become a natural part of your life.
5. Steer Clear of Social Media
It’s hard to think of anything worse for a fragile human psyche than social media. It’s no secret that using social media can lead to depression, anxiety, envy, feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness, and all kinds of other problems.
Furthermore, and most importantly, it’s a monumental waste of time. Imagine what you could accomplish in your own life during the hours you spend scrolling through the highlight reels from the lives of others. Read a book. Do 5 minutes of deep breathing and feel your tension melt away. Review your life goals. Call a friend or family member you’ve been meaning to connect with.
When was the last time you set the phone or tablet down after spending 20 minute “scrolling” and felt optimistic, hopeful, inspired, and motivated? If you can’t recall, then this one is a no-brainer.
6. Hang Out With Like-Minded People
Social interaction is key to a happy and healthy life. But many of us spend the majority of our adult lives around people we may not like very much or feel closely aligned with: namely coworkers and the parents of our children’s friends. Now is the time to surround yourself with people who support and inspire you, and share common passions and interests.
Reconnect with old friends. Get involved with community activities that spark your interest where you’ll meet like-minded people. Not sure where to start? Check out Meetup.com to get some ideas.
A midlife crisis doesn’t have to be a crisis at all but a chance for you to take control and make different choices in your life.
Are you in the midst a midlife crisis or a life transition in Greater New Haven, CT? At Arcadian Counseling they specialize in helping people sort out unpleasant emotions, regain balance in their life, and take control of anxious thoughts so they can move From Surviving to Thriving.
James Killian, LPC is the Principal Therapist & Owner of Arcadian Counseling in Woodbridge, CT.