Mortality and the idea that time is running out can leave a middle-aged person feeling discontent and restless. Often this 40- to 60-year-old may have a need to reassess life and its meaning.


"Midlife transition" is a natural stage that happens to many of us at some point (usually at about age 40, give or take 20 years).

Midlife transition can include:

  • Discontentment or boredom with life or with the lifestyle (including people and things) that have provided fulfillment for a long time
  • Feeling restless and wanting to do something completely different
  • Questioning decisions made years earlier and the meaning of life
  • Confusion about who you are or where your life is going
  • Daydreaming
  • Irritability, unexpected anger
  • Persistent sadness
  • Acting on alcohol, drug, food, or other compulsions
  • Greatly decreased or increased sexual desire
  • Sexual affairs, especially with someone much younger 
  • Greatly decreased or increased ambition.

Middle age is a time in which adults take on new job responsibilities and therefore often feel a need to reassess where they are and make changes while they feel they still have time. In his 1965 article "Death and the Midlife Crisis" for the International Journal of Psychoanalysis, psychologist Elliot Jaques coined the term "midlife crisis," referring to a time when adults realize their own mortality and how much time they may have left in their lives.

The midlife transition (or crisis) can also be understood using a Myers-Briggs personality model stemming from the works of Carl Jung. The stages are as follows:

  • Accommodation—presenting ourselves as different people ("personae") based on our situation
  • Separation—removing the personae we wear in different situations and assessing who we are underneath; rejecting your personae, even if only temporarily
  • Reintegration—feeling more certain of your true identity and adopting more appropriate personae
  • Individuation—recognizing and integrating the conflicts that exist within us, and achieving a balance between them


Small, nagging doubts may appear, encouraging a series of dramatic, seemingly irrational events and ultimately great change. A person experiencing midlife symptoms will ask: Is this all there is? Am I a failure? Symptoms and behaviors during midlife crisis can range from mild to severe, including:

  • Boredom and exhaustion, or frantic energy
  • Self-questioning
  • Daydreaming
  • Irritability, unexpected anger
  • Acting on alcohol, drug, food or other compulsions
  • Greatly decreased or increased sexual desire
  • Sexual affairs, especially with someone much younger
  • Greatly decreased or increased ambition


These feelings at midlife can occur naturally or result from some significant loss or change—such as divorce or the death of a parent. Coming to terms with such loss or change can be difficult enough, but when it is complicated by midlife transition, the process can feel bewildering and overwhelming.


Coping with midlife crisis takes time and energy, but this is a necessary part of finding greater satisfaction in life. The symptoms are not physically based: You can maintain an active sex life, keep fit and enjoy yourself as you mature. Below are some tips for middle-aged adults focusing on healthy lifestyles.

Explore, accept and share your feelings; allow yourself to reflect about your life regularly; devote extra time to your partner and rekindle your relationship; set new goals and develop new hobbies; travel; volunteer; devote special time to your children; take care of your mental health (join a group or seek out a therapist if necessary).

Exercise can help you take charge of your health and maintain the level of fitness necessary for an active, independent lifestyle. Many people think that physical decline is an inevitable consequence of aging and that we are bound to slow down and do less. With proper care, this need not be true. Much of the physical frailty attributed to aging is actually the result of inactivity, disease or poor nutrition. But the good news is that many difficulties can be eased or even reversed by improving lifestyle behaviors. One of the major benefits of regular physical activity is protection against coronary heart disease. Physical activity also provides some protection against other chronic diseases such as adult-onset diabetes, arthritis, hypertension, certain cancers, osteoporosis and depression. Research has also proven that exercise can reduce tension and stress. Overall, exercise is one of the best things you can do for your health.

No matter what your age, a balanced, nutritious diet is essential to good health. Older adults, in particular, need to eat a balanced diet using all the food groups. Eating a variety of foods helps ensure adequate levels of vitamins and minerals. U.S. Dietary Guidelines also recommend that adults reduce their intake of fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium and sugar.

Some adults tend to put on weight as they age. This is generally due to overeating and inactivity. The best way to lose body fat is to eat fewer calories, especially from saturated fats, and to participate in aerobic exercises.

Just an extra 100 calories a day can cause a 10-pound gain over the course of a year, but those extra calories can be burned up by a 20- to 30-minute brisk daily walk.

Balance and agility are important capabilities often taken for granted. Regular exercise can help to maintain or restore them. A well-maintained sense of balance can help make up for the dizziness sometimes caused by vision changes. In addition, well-toned muscles contribute to avoiding the weakness and unsteadiness which can contribute to falls. Thus, it is important to maintain or restore physical agility through exercise which can help avoid the risk of injury from falls and accidents.

Sleep and rest are great rejuvenators. With age, your sleep patterns may change. Be sure to include breaks in your daily exercise program, especially if you sleep fewer than eight hours each night. Exercise can help relieve problems with insomnia too. Mild exercise a few hours during the day can help you get a restful night's sleep.

Allow your mid-life to be a time of creative change. Although it may be painful at first, it can be your greatest opportunity for having the life you want or gaining a sense of peace.  


  • Death and the Mid-life Crisis
  • Psychological Types (Collected Works of C.G. Jung, Volume 6)
  • MBTI Manual (A Guide to the Development and Use of the Myers Briggs Type Indicator)
  • Handbook of Midlife Development
  • National Institute of Mental Health
  • U.S. Department of Health & Human Services - The President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports.
  • Stress, coping, and health at midlife: a developmental perspective
Last reviewed 11/18/2015