What is a midlife crisis?

Buying expensive sports cars, change of character, looking for ‘attention’ outside one’s marriage; what do these have in common?

They may be signs of a midlife crisis.

The notion of a ‘midlife crisis’ often resonates with weird behaviour.

At this stage, researchers have observed that people, especially men, who are the main victims of this phase, tend to obsess with living their lives differently. They doubt their identity and constantly question the meaning of life.

A midlife crisis is generally a transition of identity and self-confidence that can occur in middle-aged individuals, typically 45–64 years old.

Modern research has shown that this is not a phase that most middle-aged people actually experience; this is why some have questioned the existence of this phenomenon.

However, Elliot Jaques, a psychologist who has been credited for coining the term ‘midlife crisis’, clarifies that midlife, analogous to the top of the ‘hill’ in the common saying ‘over the hill’, is a time when adults retrospectively analyse their lives, project future autonomy, functionality, and life expectancy, and realise their mortality as an intimate reality.

Counsellor Damien Mouzoun supplements this saying that one out of four, both males and females, do experience a ‎midlife crisis typically around the ages of 45 and 64.

Mouzoun also notes that though both men and women can experience a midlife crisis, they experience this crisis differently. Men focus directly on their achievements, and their desire to prove their success to others around them, while women tend to obsess with their physical appearance, sexual attraction, and what they can do once their parenting duties have ended.

What triggers a midlife crisis?

This stage is a psychological life transition of identity and self-confidence brought about by events that highlight a person’s growing age, events such as job loss, divorce, death of a loved one, relocation and possibly shortcomings of accomplishments, Mouzoun says.

Counsellor Shadia Nansasi explains that this phase in a person’s life can be daunting because of the perplexing feelings of discontentment and anxiety.

She says that at this point, many struggle with issues that come with advanced age and the fact that they have lived the most part of their lives.

“It is this fear that triggers many into this state.  Some wonder if they have done a great job and lived their lives to the fullest, they doubt who they are and seek to discern their true personalities,” she says.

What are the signs to look out for?

Jaques explains that individuals begin to challenge and slowly disassemble the persona and order their lives based on fundamental preferences.

This process is filled with questions about underlying preferences and how closely they align with what has been presented to the world for the sake of adaptation. The greater the distance is between these innate motives and the external persona, the greater the tendency for this period to be defined as a ‘crisis’ and for dramatic changes in overt behaviour and preferences to occur.

Mouzoun also highlights that midlife crisis involves the fear of mortality or the desire to be young again.

Researchers found that people who are experiencing a midlife crisis also have enhanced curiosity, excessive risk taking, personality and character ‎change, isolation and may become bitter in their relations with others, he notes.

“Few are able to embrace the positive side of life like renewed vigour, interest in life, creativity and expression of what one likes best to do, with those that are most precious and interesting,” he says.

In most cases, people experience unfortunate effect of drug addiction, alcoholism, depression, anxiety, remorse, suicide or the desire to achieve youthfulness or make drastic changes to their current lifestyle, the counsellor adds.

How to cope

David Quality’s article on ‘What Is a Midlife Crisis – Signs, Symptoms & How to Deal with It’ notes that if one is to better deal with this phase, they need to first acknowledge the crisis and the changes happening, for this helps one to find a way to move past the crisis.

He also writes that it is important to think before making any radical changes.

“Before quitting a job, buying an expensive car, or leaving a spouse, talk to family members and friends. Sometimes, having an outside opinion can provide a useful perspective,” he cautions.

Getting professional help can also be of great assistance. This can include different kinds of therapy, medicine, and holistic treatments.

He endeavours to explain that midlife crises are not inherently a bad thing, hence, recommending the use of new thoughts and ideas in a positive way. With careful consideration and preparation, attitudes can improve with change, lessening the effects of the crisis.

Quality is also of the view that creating new goals can be noteworthy as well.

If the current plan for ageing and retirement has lost its lustre, changing the plan may help. Reconsider where to live during retirement, or whether to continue working for the same employer.

Taking steps towards positive changes can bring new energy into a marriage and into a career. Make a list of everything to accomplish in the next year, in the next five years, and in the next twenty years. Talk to a spouse or loved ones about the new personal goals, and how they can be achieved.

Exercise and healthy foods are also a recommendation. Incorporating exercise, yoga, or meditation into a daily routine can help people suffering through a midlife crisis to gain perspective. Eat organic superfoods and take supplements for a much-needed energy boost.

“A midlife crisis may be the beginning of a personal, emotional, and financial decline in an adult’s life. Many people do not believe in the concept of a midlife crisis, which makes living through one all the more difficult. Many experience a midlife crisis, or something akin to a crisis, when they reach middle age, and they need the support of friends and family members closest to them.”

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HOW BEST SHOULD ONE DEAL WITH MIDLIFE CRISIS?

I think it’s better to confide in someone you trust. Talking to someone helps one to open up about anything they might be going through, it also prevents one from slipping into any kind of depression.

James Bashaija, Cashier

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There is need to shape the way we see life in the young stages of our lives. We need to set values and principles that guide the way we live, this way, even when we reach old age, we will not be lost on our way to retirement.

Vestine Uwamahoro, Procurement officer

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Setting new goals in life can be very instrumental at this stage. These new objectives give an individual something new to look forward to and breaking the monotony of life that one has been living.

Emmanuel Kigenyi, Lawyer

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Engaging yourself in meaningful work can be very important at this stage in one’s life. One can choose to volunteer for non-profit organisations or help out in community centres.

Sarah Mbabazi, Stylist

editorial@newtimesrwanda.com

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