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How to Have a Good Midlife Crisis

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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.

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About the Author
Seth J. Gillihan, PhD

Seth J. Gillihan, PhD, is a licensed psychologist with a private practice in Haverford, PA. He is author of The CBT DeckRetrain Your Brain, and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Made Simple, and co-author with Dr. Aria Campbell-Danesh of A Mindful Year: 365 Ways to Find Connection and the Sacred in Everyday Life. Dr. Gillihan hosts the weekly Think Act Be podcast, which features a wide range of conversation on living more fully.

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