20 Telltale Signs You’re Having a Midlife Crisis
Not all of us go out and buy a new convertible.
There’s that old cliché around buying a new sports car during a midlife crisis. Unfortunately (or maybe it’s for the best), not all of us have the cash to blow on a shiny new convertible—but many of us tend to grapple with the same issues. One study published in the International Journal of Behavioral Development even found that between the ages of 40 and 49, 46 percent of men and 59 percent of women reported a “crisis episode.” The most common catalysts for crises included divorce, breakups, debt, and other financial difficulties—which makes those some of the biggest signs you're having a midlife crisis—but not the only ones.
The good thing about midlife crises is that you're both old enough to look back on your adult years with a wiser outlook and young enough to make some changes. As tough as it is to grapple with big questions about who you’ve been and who you want to be, a midlife crisis is a time for growth and reflection. If you reframe it as such, it could be one of your most important experiences yet. And if you're wondering if you're in the throes of one or not, here are the telltale signs you're having a midlife crisis.
You’re reevaluating your priorities
It’s easy to spend life on “autopilot,” working to make money without really thinking about what we’re doing and why, says accredited life coach Nick Hatter. During a midlife crisis, you might suddenly start to wonder if your life actually looks how you want it to. “A lot of my clients don’t know what their core priorities are in life,” he says. “They’ve never stopped to take a step back and ask: What’s most important to me in life, and is my life consistent with those priorities?” Maybe your family is your priority, but your job requires long hours; during a midlife crisis, you suddenly start wondering if you’ve made the right choices.
Your career feels meaningless
Your workday is likely to cause you the biggest angst when wondering if you’ve been spending your days in a meaningful way. “Most of us will spend a third of our waking life, if not more, working,” points out Hatter. And a this-just-pays-the-bills position can suddenly feel like years of wasted time when you’re going through a midlife crisis.
You feel stuck in your job
It’s one thing to realize you’re unhappy with your career, but it’s another thing to actually make a change—and that can become harder the older you get. “Many people may feel like they’re stuck in their job because they may feel less hirable,” says Simone Lambert, PhD, president of the American Counseling Association. If you’ve worked your way up in the same company for years, other job openings might not have the salary you’re looking for, or you might feel like you’re behind on the skills you need for the career switch. Lambert recommends talking through your goals with a professional counselor; a pro can guide you to a career that’s a good fit, or help you find volunteer work that gives you meaning outside your 9-to-5.
Your body has been changing
“There’s a sense of loss that comes with being middle-aged and not having the sense of youth anymore,” says Lambert. Not only will you be seeing more gray hairs and wrinkles, but you might find that your body can’t handle the same tasks that it used to. It’s daunting to realize you can’t participate in group sports anymore, or climb flights of stairs without pausing for breath—which are all signs of your own mortality. Contemplating that could be one of the signs you're having a midlife crisis.
You’re handling a new health diagnosis
Health problems can go beyond an aching back or a loss of energy. Your 40s to 60s are a common time to develop new conditions, like high blood pressure or arthritis. Dealing with those health problems is hard enough, but you might also find that the related medications are messing with your mental health, says Lambert. Pay attention to your body as you deal with disease and new prescriptions, and tell your doctor if you’ve noticed any worrisome physical or psychological symptoms.
Someone close to you has passed away
Grieving a parent or loved one can be a wakeup call when you realize that death is an inevitable part of life. “It’s waking up to the fact that you are mortal; your life will end,” says Hatter. And when the end seems closer, you’re bound to question whether you’re spending your limited time in a meaningful way. The death of a parent can also mean you’re expected to be the older, wiser one in your family, adds Lambert. With no one above you to offer guidance, you might start to feel lost.
You’ve been asking yourself what happens after death
Not only does death make you think more about life, but it can also make you question what happens after life, says Hatter. “A lot of people want to brush that topic aside,” he says. No one can say for sure what happens when we die, but Hatter recommends delving into the topic with a loved one or counselor. You might never get a definitive answer, but you can develop beliefs that keep you from fearing what lies ahead.
You’re taking care of your parents and your kids
Watching a parent pass away is painful, but taking care of parents while they’re alive can be tough, too, says Lambert. Being in charge of both your kids and your parents can force you to look back at your life while also looking toward the frailty of your future.
Your kids moved out of the house
As much of a headache as your kids were as teens, being left with an empty nest can make you feel, well, empty. “Figuring out what [life] looks like without kids in the house can cause tension,” says Lambert. You might feel at a loss for what to do with all your newfound free time, and there’s bound to be a shift in your relationship if you and your partner are suddenly one-on-one more.
You’ve accomplished something you’ve been working toward for ages
Sometimes, a midlife crisis isn’t triggered by a negative event, but by something that you’d think would make you feel good. Finishing a huge project at work, for instance, can leave you feeling at a loss over your next step. “It’s something that reminds us of ‘where are you going with your life?’” says Hatter.
Your relationships have been strained
If you’ve been feeling angst over your own decisions, there’s a good chance those frustrations have spilled out into your personal life. That distress and hopelessness can make you snippy with or distant from the ones you love most. Once you’ve worked through your midlife crisis, you’ll likely see an improvement in your relationships, too, says Hatter. “If you experience more joy, you’re more fun to be around,” he says. “It can affect relationships and make you more patient, more kind, more compassionate.”
You’ve been feeling depressed
The slump of a midlife crisis can turn into full-blown depression, and you might lose interest in your favorite activities or feel restless or guilty. And that can have serious consequences—suicide rates are highest among adults aged 45 to 54, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. “What’s really important is not ignoring the signs,” says Lambert. “People are so busy in their lives and think, ‘I can do better tomorrow’ or think ‘If I got a new car or a new relationship, all my problems will go away.’” But those big changes can just worsen your mental health. Get help from a medical professional if you’ve been showing signs of depression, and reach out to a crisis hotline if you’re having suicidal thoughts.
You’ve been sleeping more
Depression isn’t just about mood—it can also involve physical changes, including sleeping habits. If a midlife crisis is linked with depression, you might find yourself sleeping more, to an unhealthy degree, says Hatter.
You feel angry
While some people feel depression or sadness during a midlife crisis, others lash out in anger, says Hatter. You might start to resent the pointlessness of life as you look back in regret over your own decisions.
You’re drawn to self-destructive behavior
When life feels meaningless, you might stop caring about whether you’re making good decisions. You might spend all day watching Netflix, or start eating more junk food—or worse, turn to addiction. “Anything goes because nothing matters,” says Hatter.
Money is stressing you out
Most adults deal with some degree of money stress, but especially as you inch closer to retirement, you’re probably thinking more and more about your financial future, says Lambert. Hopefully, you’ve already been filling up your retirement fund, but during your middle-age years, you’re probably witnessing the importance of saving first-hand from your parents or relatives. “They could be seeing their aging parents go through difficult decisions about assisted living, or hard choices about long-term medical care,” says Lambert. “Or they could be financially trying to support their parents.” Along with those deep questions about enjoying your work, you’re faced with the reality of hoping the money you’ve made will be enough.
You’re obsessing over deep questions
The problem with big questions like “What is the meaning of life?” is that it’s impossible to be sure if you’re answering them correctly. Obsessing over those heavy questions is like throwing a bouncy ball against the wall, says Hatter; they’ll just come right back to you. The key is to have someone else help you tackle them, whether that’s a family member or a life coach, he says.
Until now, you’ve made decisions based on others’ expectations
Part of the reason that you might have made decisions in the past that you now regret could be that you’ve been doing what others expect of you, rather than following your own path, says Hatter. It can be tough realizing that you haven’t been making your own decisions, but it’s also freeing to start making choices around your own goals and passions. “I think it’s an important step forward in the process of waking up, self-actualization, and realizing your true identity instead of the identity that you accepted from others growing up,” says Hatter.
Past traumas are on your mind
“It’s important to recognize that the shift in behavior is less about age and more about what’s happened to a person in their lifetime,” says Lambert. If you never properly addressed bad experiences in your past, they might come back into your mind when you’re dealing with a midlife crisis. Now is the time to seek help, instead of just brushing those thoughts and feelings under the rug.
You feel isolated
During a midlife crisis, you might feel like you’re the only one grappling with these identity questions and regrets, which makes them tough to admit to your family and friends. “There’s a stigma around these conversations,” says Lambert. But rest assured, you’re not alone—opening up about what’s on your mind can help you find answers and fulfillment.