Midlife

Midlife can be a stressful time, and many people feel discontented and restless as they struggle with aging, their mortality, and their sense of purpose in life.

Definition

Midlife is the central period of a person's life, spanning from approximately age 40 to age 65. 

During this period, adults may take on new job responsibilities and therefore often feel a need to reassess their professional standing 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 reckon with their own mortality and their remaining years of productive life. While most people do not experience a severe crisis during their middle years of life, some individuals do develop mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety, and women who are experiencing menopause may be particularly vulnerable to distress.

Symptoms

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

  • Exhaustion, boredom, or discontentment with life or with a lifestyle (including people and things) that previously provided fulfillment
  • Frantic energy; feeling restless and wanting to do something completely different
  • Self-questioning; 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
  • Increase in alcohol and drug use, food intake, and other compulsions
  • Significant decrease or increase in sexual desire
  • Sexual affairs, especially with someone much younger
  • Greatly decreased or increased ambition

Causes

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 a midlife transition, the process can feel bewildering and overwhelming.

Treatments

Coping with the challenges that present in midlife takes time and energy, but it is a necessary part of finding greater satisfaction in life. Below are some tips for leading a healthy lifestyle in middle age.

Explore, accept and share your feelings; allow yourself to reflect on 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 (and join a group or seek out a therapist if necessary).

Exercise can help people take charge of their 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 is not necessarily true. Much of the physical frailty attributed to aging is actually the result of inactivity, disease or poor nutrition. 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. You can maintain an active sex life, keep fit and enjoy yourself as you mature.

No matter 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 changes in hormones, 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 per day can cause a 10-pound gain over the course of a year, but those extra calories can be burned 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 can help to avoid 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, 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 as well. Mild exercise for a few hours during the day can help you get a restful night's sleep.

Allow your midlife 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.  

References

  • Death and the Mid-life Crisis
  • 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
  • Whitbourne, S. K., & Willis, S. L. (2014). The baby boomers grow up: Contemporary perspectives on midlife. Psychology Press

Last reviewed 04/17/2017