Your middle years can be a high pressure and confusing time, but don’t bottle up your feelings (or get a tattoo that you’ll regret later).
We all know the cliches of the midlife crisis – the sports car, the wardrobe overhaul, the desire to chuck yourself around at Arctic Monkeys gigs and, um, the affairs.
But there are reasons behind the stereotype.
There’s a wake-up moment in middle age when you realise most of your life is probably behind you.
In fact, a report from the Office for National Statistics found middle-aged people are the least happy, have the lowest levels of life satisfaction and suffer the most anxiety.
And men are more vulnerable than women, who reported feeling more satisfied overall.
“There’s always been a clear correlation between how the economy is doing and the mental health of middle-aged men,” says Dr Rafael Euba, consultant psychiatrist at The London Psychiatry Centre (psychiatrycentre.co.uk).
“There’s pressure to achieve, which isn’t always easy, especially in times of economic hardship, and that can provoke a deep sense of failure.”
While women tend to deal with psychological distress by talking to each other, Dr Euba says men are reluctant: “Most men still think acknowledging they’re suffering is a sign of weakness, and so put up with stress which is more likely to come out in other ways, such as drinking.”
Have you reached a crisis point? Our Q&A could help you to find out, and learn how to navigate those rocky years…
Do you fail to embrace new things and feel the best is behind you?
Middle age can actually be a great time to try new things, says Dr Euba: “When you’re young there are many possibilities in the future, but by middle age it’s common to think, ‘this is my life’, and dwell on things you haven’t achieved.
“But you could argue you’re in the peak of life. Yes, if you watch films and read novels you’d think that peak time is the 20s, but people in their 20s make huge mistakes.
“By now, you’re experienced, you know what you like and what you don’t, you will probably have more money and freedom, so potential to enjoy life is huge. You may also look at life in a balanced way.”
Do you feel overwhelmed by stress, but keep it bottled up?
Planning your goals and reaching out to friends for support are key, says Dr Euba.
He says: “Stress often comes down to economic pressure and dealing with the system – providing for your family’s future and dealing with authorities over schools and care provided for elderly parents.
“You need to be able to delegate if you can, to compromise where necessary, to negotiate and to plan.
“If you’re feeling overwhelmed, it’s crucial to make use of your social network and don’t regard stress as a sign of weakness, but as a sign you have to plan things and get support from the other people in your life.”
Do you feel trapped or dissatisfied at work?
This is a tough one to sort out, admits Dr Euba: “Most of us can’t just walk out of a job if we have dependents. But it can help to remind ourselves of the norm – that it’s a minority of privileged people who genuinely love their job and earn good money from it. They are the exception to the rule – not you.
“Don’t compare yourself to others. These days, largely thanks to social media, if your life isn’t amazing it’s tempting to believe you’re failing. But it’s normal to have difficult days.
“Set yourself smaller, achievable goals and celebrate those wins and, if possible, try to carve out areas of your work that you’re in control of.
“It’s also important to understand there’s much more to being a man than how big your salary is and how far you go in the hierarchy.”
Are you anxious about your physical health?
Our bodies begin to decline in middle age and it can be a painful glimpse of what’s to come.
Dr Euba says: “The knowledge there’s less ahead combined with the onset of physical ailments can cause anxiety. Getting fitter is good for the mind and there’s growing medical evidence that exercise can help people beat depression. The key is, don’t overdo it.
“Pay more attention to lifestyle – don’t smoke and don’t drink too much – and just be aware of your body. Taking responsibility for your health will help you feel in control.”
Do you feel your sex life and relationship are dull? Do you want to cheat?
If you’ve been in a relationship a long time, along with a sense of stability can come a sense that life is, well, just a bit boring.
Dr Euba says: “Men’s sexual potency does start to decline in middle age, and although it’s more subtle than it is for women, it can affect self-image for some men.
“If that’s combined with a lack of sexual interest from their partner, many guys take that as a personal failure. These things make couples more vulnerable to affairs.
“It helps to know these issues are normal and seeking help in therapy doesn’t mean you’re less of a man.”
If you need to speak to someone, Samaritans are available 24/7 by calling 116 123 or by emailing email@example.com