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Midlife

Midlife or middle age is that transitional period of life between young adulthood and old age. Middle-aged people often undergo significant changes in their relationships, jobs, and health and their appearance.

What Is Midlife?

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Midlife is generally acknowledged as one's early 40s to early 60s; with increases in longevity and health, the range continues to be redefined upwards, with some now arguing that mid-life begins at 45, not the "classic" age 40. It is received with mixed feelings: Western societies hold on to youth more tightly, while people in Eastern cultures revere the wisdom that comes with old age.

Fortunately, the notion that "this is all there is" can give way to "life isn't at all bad" as more middle-aged people embrace what can be a fulfilling period in their lives.

What is considered midlife?

Midlife refers to the middle years of life or middle age, which ranges from approximately age 40 to age 65.  

What makes the midlife stage so difficult?

Starting around the 40s, both men and women discover that their primary roles in relationships are changing: Their parents are aging and now need to be taken care of, while their kids are grown and don’t require the same kind of assistance. Midlife is a period of happy stress at work and at home, and most midlifers don’t want to be told how to feel about it.

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Does Everyone Have a Midlife Crisis?

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The notion of the “midlife crisis” often centers on major life disruptions seen as typical to this stage of life, such as job loss, divorce, the death of parents, or the departure of children from the home. An acute sense of one’s own aging and the required efforts required to compensate for it also typically factor into perceptions of middle-age angst. But is a midlife crisis really a normal part of the lifespan, something just about everyone should expect to experience? Research suggests otherwise.

Some people undoubtedly do go through crises or rough patches after their 30s, and researchers have built a case that, on average, life satisfaction decreases somewhat during midlife—before rising again in the senior years. However, there is great variation between individuals, and many people achieve new highs at work or in other domains during these years.

What causes a midlife crisis?

Midlife is a time when people reassess their life, come to terms with their limitations, and confront regrets about the past. Someone who is middle-aged may have to deal with illness, financial issues, career shifts, marital problems, divorce, death, and the early stages of mental or physical decline. This makes it difficult to build a midlife worth living, and it’s not uncommon to experience an emotional or midlife crisis as a result.

What are the signs of a midlife crisis?

A midlife crisis often involves mood irregularities (notably increased anger or irritability, anxiety, or sadness), weight loss or gain, sleep disruption, and withdrawal from the regular routine and relationships. People experiencing the middle-age slump generally have an urgent desire to make some drastic change.  

Getting Older With the Right Mindset

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Midlife often brings concerns about health, stagnancy in a long marriage, physical aging, elderly parents, being neck-deep in a child’s college tuition payments, mortgage fees, or anemic retirement funds. These worries are fertile ground for a confounding mindset that shouts: It's normal to feel dreadful at this stage.

Midlifers may buy into this negative thinking and embrace self-fulfilling prophecies. This is how a favorite hobby or pursuit comes to an end—I’m just too old now. In truth, this is the right stage in life to explore new experiences and opportunities. The knees may not work well on the ski slopes, but they might do fine learning a novel pastime, such as tai chi.

While this period may be a good interval to reassess one’s life, a life-altering midlife crisis is, in fact, far from inevitable.

How can you prevent the midlife happiness slump?

It comes as no surprise that aging affects life satisfaction. Most middle-aged men and women will experience a dip sometime during their 40s or 50s before their satisfaction starts rising again (generally in their 60s). While it may be impossible to completely avoid the midlife happiness slump, understanding why it happens can help mitigate its negative effects. So can avoiding harmful comparisons to others who seem wealthier, more powerful, and happier in their relationships than you are.

How can you reduce your risk of depression in middle age?

Many factors contribute to mental health problems like depression in midlife—physical illness, relationship issues, the death of a close friend or family member, etc. Job strain can be a particular sore spot; a sense of increasing demands at work and decreasing control over your life can give rise to depressive symptoms. Rebranding what being in midlife means and cultivating optimism can help reduce the risk of depression as you age.  

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