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The midlife crisis

Is it a myth or a mental health issue?

By Sally Wadyka Feb 21, 2013 8:02PM

It’s long been the punch line of jokes, usually involving red sports cars and much-younger mistresses. And now even the First Lady has admitted to experiencing her own mid-life crisis. Michelle Obama, who recently turned 49, told the “Rachael Ray Show,” “they won’t let me bungee jump, so instead I cut my bangs.” New bangs are actually a great way to celebrate mid-life — the First Lady looks sassy, and the fringe can camouflage any forehead wrinkles she may acquire during her husband’s second term.

So, I wondered, is the mid-life crisis a genuine cause for alarm, or merely a made-up excuse for impulsive behavior? That depends on whom you ask. Some experts theorize that a slump at life’s midway point is a normal part of the aging process. It’s a time when you suddenly realize your mortality and when you stop to take stock of what you’ve accomplished and what’s still left undone. For some people, this sort of reflection may lead to depression.  

A study published last year found that the idea of a mental downturn at midlife is not simply a human phenomenon. The researchers found that great apes (the sample included both chimpanzees and orangutans) exhibit a similar U-shaped curve when it comes to their emotional well-being — with the peak of happiness being in their youth, falling to its lowest point at midlife and then rising again in old age.  This suggests that the concept of the mid-life crisis may have a biological origin, and not just be about societal pressure to look younger and drive a fast, expensive car.

But now that many of us are destined to live longer, healthier lives, it may be time to reframe this so-called crisis. Rather than obsessing over the fact that half your life is over, take heart in the knowledge that you still potentially have another 40 or even 50 years to really get after it. That’s why psychologist Carlo Strenger of Israel’s Tel Aviv University suggests banishing the term “mid-life crisis,” in favor of the more positive, “mid-life transition.”

In Strenger’s glass-half-full view, life’s second act can be “the most fulfilling.”

And if trading in your minivan for a sports car helps you feel better about it all, then, by all means, go for it. Personally, I think I’ll opt for Michelle’s tamer (and certainly less expensive) solution and go get my bangs cut.

Feb 21, 2013 10:26PM
Medicine, which is committed to having every single thing that happens to human beings be a crisis, continues to call the mid-life maturing a crisis, while in actual fact men and women go through an emotional maturing process. For men, it's in their early 40s normally because they don't have the care of their children to concern them. For women, nearer 50, when they have the freedom to put the attention on themselves, sometimes for the first time in their life.

For 25 years, I have coached high-level women to re-invent their lives as they near 50. It is a time of enormous power for women. It is every bit as powerful as the change that children go through in puberty, except this is not a physical puberty, it is a mental, spiritual, and emotional puberty. It is one of the best things that happens in life.

For men, this emotional puberty is often overlooked or handled by switching jobs, rather than looking into the true nature of their maturity. Sadly, many men go through life having missed this window of gigantic opportunity and wind up being the "child" of the woman they are married to.

In the final analysis, our current models, which are problem-oriented, rather than developmentally oriented, for the most part miss this amazing milestone which brings with it the opportunity to really mature and be the man or woman that YOU design yourself to be.

Feb 21, 2013 10:24PM
my midlife crisis is not having any biological children and a wife past childbearing, and I'm certainly not going to do anything about it, married 37 years and I know how to stay married.
Feb 21, 2013 10:55PM

Take a look at my avatar (my car in a parade).  At 43 years old, I traded in my 13-year old Expedition for a bright ORANGE and Black Mustang GT -- this was the beginning of my "mid life crisis".  Friends, coworkers, and my own wife started teasing me.  I started questioning some things -- mainly two career goals I had set for myself 26 years ago and had not yet accomplished...


Then, something amazing happened.  Five months after buying the "midlife crisis car", a headhunter called me out of the blue, and I drove 2 hours to take a chance on an interview in a completely different city.  After the 2 hour interview, the HR person and the company president walked me out to my car -- THEY LOVED THE CAR!


It turns out, they were looking for an OUTGOING, outspoken person -- and I got the job.  The job allowed me accomplish LIFETIME GOAL #1 that I had set for myself 26 years ago.  Would they have been impressed with my dark red, 13-year old Expedition?  (Probably not.)


So, while some may call it a "midlife crisis" or a "midlife transformation", I call it OPPORTUNITY.


I feel totally energized.  Bring it on -- I still have half my career to go, and only one more "lifetime goal" to reach.  :)

Feb 21, 2013 11:29PM
Why do I waste my time reading ignorant articles like this? 
Feb 21, 2013 11:39PM
Ok. Most didn't like what I said. I stand behind it, but I realize that the  majority of people won't appreciate the things I post.  However, Keeping it real, I am 55 years old and went through the classic mid life crisis and havent recovered yet. I walked away from a twenty five yr marriage with the clothes on my back.  The one thing I can tell anyone about this is all I did was work. I was a store manager for a major retailer. Owned my own construction company, invented my own product that is now on the market and I couldn't keep up with the voracious consumtion that comes with the american dream. I climbed over ups boxes in my foryer everyday of my life. Looked at stacks of credit card bills, paid 1,200$ a month on my mortgage, owned 5 cars, a motorcycle, boat, etc. etc.  The point is I was suppose to be living the american dream and All I felt was pressure 24/7.  I honestly think that my midlife crisis was my id, my soul crying out to save my life.  I'm actually happy now... for the most part. I have friends, lovers and laughter in my life. I live in a beautiful home, make about a tenth what I use to, but I'm happy.  Sorry if this offends anyone.
Feb 21, 2013 11:53PM

Getting old sucks, and sugar coating it doesn't help.


Feb 21, 2013 11:26PM
My boyfriend went through a "mid-life crisis" this past year.  Instead of the sports car he got piercings.  While I would of liked the sports car, namely a Camaro or Vette, his choice was much cheaper.  Not sure if I will go through a mid-life crisis, but I'm planning on saving lots of money so I can go buy that car.
Feb 21, 2013 11:15PM
adult Mitochondria disease?  burn out of the cell's resp/energy centers that have very little dna repair mechanisms maybe? treatments? anti oxidants, same as for xrays and CT exposures, the damages accumulates. think not? think again. and avoid mri metal contrasts gadolinium metal stays in your body. Michelle does not have wrinkles, she has pizzazz... and sparkle ,     the gop has failed to assimilate..... that's genetic.
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