WebMD BlogsMental Health

How to Have a Good Midlife Crisis

older man camping
Seth Gillihgan, PhD - Blogs
By Seth J. Gillihan, PhDClinical psychologistNovember 19, 2018

When you hear the expression “midlife crisis,” you probably imagine a middle-aged guy in a red sports car. This common stereotype paints a midlife crisis as humorous, or even pathetic, but in reality, it’s a serious and difficult challenge (for men and women). There can a big upside, though, if you’re able to go through the crisis mindfully.

Once you’ve reached a point where you probably have more years behind than in front of you, the reality of your finite time on earth can hit home. You might start to feel the effects of the years as your body doesn’t work as well as it used to.

What’s more, you’ve reached most of the major milestones you were looking forward to: graduating from college, getting married, buying a house, establishing a career, having kids—or in many cases, you realize some of these things aren’t in the cards for you. What once felt like infinite potential has narrowed into the life you’ve lived, and the remaining options before you. You might start to feel like the best years are behind you.

A midlife crisis often begins gradually (with no telltale red convertible), so it can be hard to recognize at first. You might notice a general uneasiness and a lack of spark from things that once brought you enjoyment. You might think you just need a vacation, but then discover that the problem is too big to be solved by a change of scenery.

Like all challenges, midlife crisis presents an opportunity—the chance to reorient to what you value. The crisis you’re experiencing may reflect a mismatch between the life you wanted and the life you’ve created, and now is your opportunity to realign with who you truly are. Maybe it means resolving to live more for others rather than narrowly focused on our own self-interest, or to stop missing out on life through worry and regret.

Here are four ways to make your midlife crisis one of the best things that ever happened to you:

  • Pay attention to what you’re feeling. It’s common to push away the uncomfortable feelings from a midlife crisis, which is probably what the sports car is meant to do. Instead, notice what you’re feeling, and share your experiences with someone you trust.
  • Take stock. Think about what you’d imagined for your life, and how it’s turned out so far. This is a time for honesty with yourself about the direction you’ve chosen in life, and to some extent that life has chosen for you. How satisfied are you right now? Is your life aligned with what’s most important to you? It often helps to think through the changes you might make with someone close to you who knows you well.
  • Live in the present. If you’re mourning the things you’re no longer able to do, see if you can savor the memories of the experiences you’ve had. And then open your awareness to your life as it is now, and all that you still can enjoy.
  • Get help. The thoughts and feelings that are often part of a midlife crisis can feel overwhelming, especially if we’ve been pushing them out of our minds for a while. So it’s easy to understand the pull of that sports car, or the extramarital affair, or other ways we might try to bury our discomfort. But rather than making a massive change in your life, or even burning it down entirely, consider getting professional help to sort through your realizations and chart the best course forward.

Human development continues throughout our lifespan—and thank goodness. When you find yourself in a midlife crisis, explore the opportunity to keep growing.

WebMD Blog
© 2018 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.
Blog Topics:
About the Author
Seth J. Gillihan, PhD

Seth J. Gillihan, PhD, is a licensed psychologist and clinical assistant professor of psychology in the Psychiatry Department at the University of Pennsylvania. He is co-author with Janet Singer of Overcoming OCD: A Journey to Recovery and author of Retrain Your Brain: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy in 7 Weeks and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Made Simple. Dr. Gillihan maintains a private practice in Haverford, PA, where he specializes in treating OCD, depression, anxiety, and insomnia.

More from the Mental Health Blog

  • depressed young woman

    Mental Illness Is Exhausting

    One of the most challenging things about mental illness is that it’s so draining. It’s like working two jobs, but unfortunately most ...

  • man and woman with crossed arms

    Are You Apologizing Wrong?

    A genuine apology can work wonders – it can repair and even strengthen the bonds of a relationship. Unfortunately. the seemingly ...

View all posts on Mental Health

Latest Blog Posts on WebMD

View all blog posts

Important: The opinions expressed in WebMD Blogs are solely those of the User, who may or may not have medical or scientific training. These opinions do not represent the opinions of WebMD. Blogs are not reviewed by a WebMD physician or any member of the WebMD editorial staff for accuracy, balance, objectivity, or any other reason except for compliance with our Terms and Conditions. Some of these opinions may contain information about treatments or uses of drug products that have not been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. WebMD does not endorse any specific product, service or treatment.

Do not consider WebMD Blogs as medical advice. Never delay or disregard seeking professional medical advice from your doctor or other qualified healthcare provider because of something you have read on WebMD. You should always speak with your doctor before you start, stop, or change any prescribed part of your care plan or treatment. WebMD understands that reading individual, real-life experiences can be a helpful resource, but it is never a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment from a qualified health care provider. If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor or dial 911 immediately.

Read More