Time is passing. It passes for each and every one of us, regardless of what we think about it. For children, teenagers and young people, having a birthday is something exciting, another step towards becoming an independent adult man or woman, capable of making their lives as they wish.

However, as we get older and older and often in our thirties, many people go from feeling this illusion to worrying about the large number of candles to blowing out the cake: we are no longer young . In fact, this concern can go so far as to generate a small crisis on a psychosocial level, something that is especially common in the forties.

And although it has always occurred in women, traditionally a moment of crisis has been identified with sudden behavioural repercussions in men. In fact, we are talking about the well-known mid-life crisis, in this case in men . It is about this vital process that we are going to talk about throughout this article.

Midlife crisis: what is it?

A period or process of crisis at a psychological and emotional level that occurs in those people who reach forty years of age before the perception and awareness that the years are passing, at a moment when the subject reaches the conclusion that he is no longer young and that he is approximately at the midpoint of his life expectancy. In fact, in reality, the specific age is not relevant in itself, so it is more appropriate to call it a mid-life crisis.

These thoughts can lead to a life balance , in which the type of life that the person leads today is valued and contrasted with his or her youthful expectations. Likewise, an assessment of the dreams and projects that have been fulfilled and those that have not is often involved. It is also usual that there is the idea that what they have not fulfilled is not very viable to do in the future, which generates a great pain, disappointment and frustration.

Another aspect that is often reflected upon is the life and routine that is followed , which may end up being unsatisfactory or in which some type of stimulus may be lacking. There may also be the idea that from now on they will go into decline, as well as the perception of losing vigour, physical power and sexual attraction.

These sensations can generate a great deal of stress in those who suffer from it, something that can trigger a series of behavioral and emotional manifestations characterized by impulsiveness and the need to introduce changes. We could consider the crisis of the forties as a phase of mourning in the face of the perception of a progressive loss of youth: denial, anger, depression, negotiation appear… and with time also acceptance. Fortunately, this stage of crisis tends to be resolved over time as we accept that time passes and that this does not imply that our life is over.

It is important to note, however, that although it is relatively common, not everyone will suffer from the mid-life crisis: it depends, among many other factors, on the importance we give to the passage of time, the vital balance we make, whether we are satisfied with our current way of life or whether we have fulfilled or see our vital objectives as achievable or not.

Possible problems resulting from this crisis

At a cognitive level the subject may form a negative image of his current situation compared to the expectations held in youth . Fears may appear over time, which may include denial of one’s age or possible ailments. Slight hypochondria may also appear.

Much more common is the existence of anxiety, deep distress and even depressive symptoms: sad moods, slowing down, ruminations, apathy, lack of perception of pleasure in things that used to please him, sleep and appetite problems.

It is frequent that a phase of rebelliousness against what is established and routine occurs, sometimes with little reasoned and highly impulsive behaviour . It is also common for there to be remorse for unfulfilled dreams, for day-to-day life to be perceived as a boring, empty burden full of suffering, and for the idea to appear that our dreams will never be fulfilled. Sometimes these try to sublimate with risky actions or the search for adrenaline. The aim is to recover the feeling of feeling young and vital, full of hopes and dreams.

Its main manifestations in man

In the male, the crisis of the forties is usually presented as an urgent need to introduce changes in a life that may be considered lack of emotion . Changes that they may try to introduce suddenly and even desperately in the face of the anguish generated by the perception of starting to consider that they are in middle adulthood from which they are going to grow up.

At a relational level, as the level of demand and responsibility towards partners and children increases , the subject may feel a high pressure and live his efforts as a sacrifice . Disputes, conflicts and attempts to change established routines may come into play. The person in crisis may also want to spend time alone or change his or her environment, and may appear sullen or distant from his or her usual surroundings. Some men seek adventure and commit infidelities at this stage, and even in extreme cases may want to break away from the family unit.

At work, irresponsible behaviour, quarrels, abandonment or attempts to change jobs may occur. Alcohol or drug use may also be used to try to escape from everyday life.

Another type of behaviour is that which seeks to recall the past , in such a way that the person can try to return to places and situations that remind him/her of his/her youth and that he/she considers simpler than his/her current situation. With regard to the physical aspect, it is common for the subject to start worrying about their image even if they did not do so before, and to become actively involved in improving it: practicing sports with previously sedentary people, using creams and cosmetic products or changing their clothes to suit younger trends.

How to reduce its effect

A mid-life crisis is a time of great stress and distress for those who suffer it, but it is possible to consider a series of tips and strategies that can be useful in coping with it.

First of all, it is necessary to take into account that the fact of having reached a certain age does not imply the end of life : we still have a long way to go. Likewise, the fact that some dreams have not yet been fulfilled does not imply that they are impossible. And even if some of them are no longer viable, it is possible that the fact of not fulfilling them has given rise to different vital circumstances that may have been highly satisfactory for us.

Another very important point to keep in mind is that we must reinforce and appreciate the goals we have achieved, as well as recognize our own merits. It is common that routine and day-to-day life make us not value what we have, as we are used to counting on it: family, friends, work and hobbies are clear examples.

Also it is advisable to focus on an exciting goal or project , something that makes us vibrate and facilitates the positive projection towards the future and not towards the past. Another possible way of acting would be to talk to people who are in the same situation: men also in their forties or fifties who are going through or have already gone through this vital process: the idea is that they can express their doubts and emotions with other people in a similar situation.

Family support is also relevant , especially with regard to the partner. It is advisable to have a positive and empathic approach, trying to put yourself in their shoes and understand their possible suffering. However, it should also be taken into account that this does not imply carte blanche for the subject in crisis.

In case they are alive, it is also possible to rely on the parents, since the father figure can be an example to cope with the passing of time whether he has suffered this kind of crisis or not. Finally, if necessary, professional help can be called upon to ease the passage of this crisis.

Bibliographic references:

  • Kruger, A. (1994). “The Mid-life Transition: Crisis or Chimera?”, Psychological Reports, 75, 1299-1305.