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To most people, the midlife crisis seems a little comic. They picture a balding 40-something, squeezing into his leather jacket and flirting with a teenage waitress. Indeed, stand-ups have based entire shows around the humiliations of middle-age. But this is misleading. In reality, the midlife crisis is no joke. In some cases, it can even be fatal.
Midlife Crisis Needs a Rebrand Video
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That being said, some of us look at it very differently. I enjoyed the video below. I personally experience joy in this time of life, yet don’t enjoy the physical results of the aging process.
The Nature of the Crisis
When young, you may be unhappy, but you do at least feel that life is all before you, that you are somehow moving forward and upward. And you can convince yourself that the top of that hill is a wonderful place, somewhere everything will make sense.
At a certain point, however, usually between 43 and 53, you realize that you’ve reached the summit. This is the peak, and yet nothing does make sense!
To make things worse, you’re now heading down the other side.
Worse still, the descent seems quicker than the ascent! As everyone over 30 knows, as you age time speeds up. And it is this sense of hurtling down the wrong side of a hill that leads to the crisis.
The individual panics. They want answers. They want to make sense of things. And, most of all, they want to be young again.
Symptoms of a Midlife Crisis
The individual may suffer a bout of depression, for example, or find it harder and harder to sleep. Often, they will grow sullen and moody. Then they take it out on those around them: they fall out with colleagues, yell at the children, moan about the family dog, etc.
When they visit a therapist, they complain of feeling trapped. They are tired of their job, they say, and yet they cannot escape; they have to pay the mortgage, and soon the kids will want to go to college, and so on. No one appreciates them, however. Their teenage son just grunts when they try to speak to him.
Then they ask themselves if they’ve made a mistake. Maybe I shouldn’t have got married, they think. Deep down, they may start to regret having children. They reminisce about their college days, their dreams of opening a restaurant, recording an album, backpacking around India, etc.
They never did, of course, and now it’s too late. Finally, they conclude that they’ve wasted their life.
The consequences of all this can be dire. They may brood for a few months, sullen and withdrawn, and then suddenly do something crazy and self-destructive. The most obvious is an affair, wrecking their marriage in the process. Or they begin drinking and using drugs.
What does it matter, they reason, the best years are gone, it’s all downhill now. Some will quit a well-paid job and plow their money into a crazy new business scheme. They want a buzz, a kick, a thrill; they want to feel alive again, to be inspired, animated, excited.
Coping with the Midlife Crisis
Thankfully, there are things you can do. Indeed, a midlife crisis, handled with care, can be a positive thing. Try and channel your discontent. You could start by getting into shape. OK, so you don’t have the agility and energy of a 20-something.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t exercise at all. Plenty of people in their 50s and 60s run marathons; so common is this it hardly attracts notice. If you find exercise boring, combine it with a new hobby. How about a martial art of some kind? Or how about yoga or ballroom dancing?
One of the big upsides to aging is the new thirst for learning. Unfortunately, people make excuses. There is an absurd myth that anyone over 40 is too old to take in new information. But this is nonsense. The brain does not rot with every passing year.
On the contrary, MRI scanners have shown new pathways forming even in the brains of 90-year-olds. How about a new language? Or maybe you could try and read all Shakespeare’s plays? Or take up sculpture, or carpentry or watercolor painting!
Carl Jung was particularly interested in this midlife drama. In his view, the crisis arises out of the unconscious. A hidden part of the psyche is demanding growth and change. To Jung, midlife was not the beginning of the end but a new phase, an opportunity in fact.
Maybe a therapist would help. Indeed, you could even try a Jungian.
Explore religion and spirituality as well. Midlife is a time to make your peace with the Universe. It is time to establish a new sense of self, to move away from the striving, adolescent ego and see your life and ambition in a broader context.
If you are uninterested in meditation or yoga, try reading the classics, visiting art galleries, or reading philosophy. Astronomy alone will give you a healthy new perspective.
The so-called crisis need not be damaging or even negative. First, you must acknowledge what is happening. The British psychiatrist R. D. Laing once wrote that schizophrenia, “need not be all breakdown. It may also be break-through.” The same could be said of the midlife crisis.