Teens aren’t the only ones who go through awkward transition phases— adults deal with it, too. The dreaded midlife crisis is proof that tricky transitions aren’t just for kids Intensity of midlife crisis on responses to the Death Concern Scale. Waskel, S.A. Gerontology Department, University of Nebraska, Omaha. The Journal of Psychology, 1992 Mar;126(2):147-54. .

Awkward Adults — Why It Matters

Illustration by Elaine Liu

Somewhere around those middle ages (think 35-60 years old, not Knights of the Round Table), people tend to realize that life, it ain’t forever! The realization could be from a dull work life (think: The Office), unrealized goals (like when Michael Jordan switch-a-rooed to baseball), or, on a heavier note, when faced with personal mortality Transience during midlife as an adult psychic organizer: the midlife transition and crisis continuum. Colarusso, C.A., Montero, G.J. San Diego Psychoanalytic Institute, California, USA. The Psychoanalytic Study of a Child, 2007;62:329-58. .

While midlife crises can manifest in many forms— from buying a sports car convertible to having an extreme makeover— it’s typically a time when adults begin to question their accomplishments and start reevaluating who they are and what they’re doing in life Midlife crisis: crisis in the middle of life. Laemmel, K. Psychiatrische Klinik Luzern. Revue Suisse de medicine Praxis, 1991 Dec 17;80(51):1446-51. . Typically, these crises are characterized by feelings of despair, aimlessness, fatigue, and anxiety Midlife crisis: crisis in the middle of life. Laemmel, K. Psychiatrische Klinik Luzern. Revue Suisse de medicine Praxis, 1991 Dec 17;80(51):1446-51. .

There may even be gender-specific reasons for midlife crises, too Successful career women at midlife: crises and transitions. Lieblich, A. International Journal of Aging and Human Development, 1986;23(4):301-12. . Some research suggests men experience midlife crises as a way of dealing with unaccomplished goals (though pulling a Charlie Sheen might be a tad bit extreme) Midlife Crisis: A Debate. Freund, A.M., Ritter, J.O. University of Zurich, Department of Psychology, Zurich, Switzerland. Gerontology, 2009;55(5):582-91. Epub 2009 Jul 2. . On the other hand, studies suggest women might handle such situations with more grace and insight Midlife Crisis: A Debate. Freund, A.M., Ritter, J.O. University of Zurich, Department of Psychology, Zurich, Switzerland. Gerontology, 2009;55(5):582-91. Epub 2009 Jul 2. . Still, women aren’t without their own midlife moments— just take a look at the gals of Sex and the City and Desperate Housewives.

Midlife Makeover — The Answer/Debate

Despite the negative connotation, the midlife crisis is typically considered a normal stage in life Midlife crisis: crisis in the middle of life. Laemmel, K. Psychiatrische Klinik Luzern. Revue Suisse de medicine Praxis, 1991 Dec 17;80(51):1446-51. . While some people might try to fit old, lofty goals into their current lifestyles, studies suggest it could be better to use the period as a time to reassess life and establish new goals Midlife Crisis: A Debate. Freund, A.M., Ritter, J.O. University of Zurich, Department of Psychology, Zurich, Switzerland. Gerontology, 2009;55(5):582-91. Epub 2009 Jul 2. . So keep it realistic: Instead of reviving that pre-teen dream of winning a marathon next month, maybe it's tackle it in smaller steps by running a 5K.

But each person handles midlife crises differently, and not everyone sees it as a point of growth. For some, anxiety and depression come with the territory Midlife crisis: helping patients cope with stress, anxiety, and depression. Samuels, S.C. Department of Psychiatry, Mount Sinai Medical Center, New York, USA. Geriatrics, 1997 Jul;52(7):55-6, 59-63; quiz 64. . Like other psychological issues, there isn’t one best way to handle a midlife crisis when it comes about, and while some can work it out in group therapy, others are better suited to power through it with self-help Group treatment of adults in midlife. Kleinberg, J.L. F. H. LaGuardia Community College, City University of New York, USA. International Journal of Group Psychotherapy, 1995 Apr;45(2):207-22. .

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