Midlife crisis: psychological turbulence in midlife

Between the ages of 35 and 55, life is actually in the clear: The career has been found, family planning has often been completed and the personality has matured. Nevertheless, many people experience a phase of reorientation and change in the middle of their lives. This colloquial “midlife crisis” includes psychological turbulence and even depressive moods. But what exactly are the critical issues that can trigger a midlife crisis? And what can you do if you’re in the midst of a midlife crisis?

Not young – not old

Midlife is a period of time that poses a challenge to self-perception. Many people define themselves as either young or old, but at this age they are somewhere in between. People in this age range are implicitly assumed to be functioning. The wild excesses and decision-making difficulties of adolescence are gone, but the infirmities of old age are still far away

This is a phase of productivity and stability, at least that is the widespread expectation. Nevertheless, it is precisely in this phase that the “midlife crisis” occurs: life is questioned in all respects and not infrequently there is a great desire for change.

The question of the meaning of life
In middle age, you have a lot behind you, but also a lot ahead of you. It is often the time to take stock. However, this interim balance is not material or financial nature, but it is still more about the meaning of life, their own values and their own visions. This may have increased in recent decades: Psychological well-being and value orientation have become more important in life.

For many, for example, a job is no longer just about money, but about the desire to pursue a meaningful and sustainable activity. People are increasingly looking for fulfillment and the meaning of life and are questioning themselves and their behavior more and more. This is fundamentally positive, but greater self-reflection can also degenerate into grueling brooding and great dissatisfaction.

Themes of a midlife crisis

In addition to the abstract questioning of the meaning of life, there are concrete life tasks in the middle stage of life that are challenging. In psychology, we speak of critical life events that can put a strain on our psyche and increase our susceptibility to mental illness. The following life events and tasks play a role in middle age:

The children are out of the house
For people with children, much revolves for a time only around the offspring. The company and support of children are fulfilling tasks that gives life a lot of meaning. But children grow up, become independent and eventually leave the parental home. A big change for parents! Suddenly there is time and space for reflection on one’s own way of life.

Partnership and sexuality
Even childless couples inevitably experience that long-standing relationships change. The wild infatuation of youth gives way to orderly cohabitation and great familiarity. Not a few mourn the early years of partnership. The great challenge is to keep partnership and sexuality alive in old age.

Fulfilled dreams
House, children, money – in middle age, many things are achieved and completed. This can lead to a form of disillusionment. When long-cherished goals are fulfilled, sometimes a vacuum remains, which must be filled by new values and dreams.

Career Paths
All kinds of promotions have been achieved, projects have been successfully completed and by now the most exciting business is routine. Not all people can enjoy this. They miss the challenge and maybe even the pressure.

Losses and transience
With increasing age, one is confronted more and more often with death and the loss of dear people. One’s parents become more needy and weaker, which is a big change. Even one’s own youthfulness and beauty is experienced as transient for the first time, which can be frightening.

Menopause as a turnaround
In women come in middle age, the menopause. There are major hormonal changes that upset the balance of the body. It is typical of this time that the psyche is also in turmoil. A new physical and psychological balance must be found.

Symptoms of a pathological midlife crisis

Phases of self-reflection, rediscovery and thoughtfulness are not in themselves a sign that one needs psychological support during one’s midlife crisis. However, as soon as there is a feeling of suffering in oneself or in relatives for several weeks, professional help should be sought. If the phase is not taken seriously, a depression or a burnout can develop. If you experience the following (longer-lasting) symptoms, you should be alert:

  • Uncontrollable rumination
  • Feelings of worthlessness and guilt
  • Permanent problems falling asleep or staying asleep
  • Physical discomfort with no apparent cause
  • Recurrent anxiety

For these symptoms, a professional assessment of the situation should be made by specialists or psychotherapists. Outpatient therapy or an inpatient stay in a psychosomatic clinic can catch a midlife crisis and prevent psychological sequelae.

In the midst of a midlife crisis: what to do?

In addition to professional support for a midlife crisis, there are also basic things that help to cope with a life crisis. It is important to take time to explore and perceive changing needs and values. What is important in life now? What do I need for my satisfaction?

New hobbies, goals and activities can lead to a new awareness of one’s own ideas about life. It is also advisable to share your feelings and worries with the important people in your life and ask them for advice. It is necessary to listen to inner voices and the body and to find oneself anew in the middle of life – in this way a maturity and a deep awareness of oneself that was not there before can emerge.


(1) Wethington, E. (2000). Expecting stress: Americans and the “midlife crisis.” Motivation and Emotion, 24(2), 85-103.

Verena Klein
Autor Verena Klein
"Die LIMES Schlosskliniken haben sich auf die Behandlung von psychischen und psychosomatischen Erkrankungen spezialisiert. Mit Hilfe des Blogs möchten wir als Klinikgruppe die verschiedenen psychischen Erkrankungen näher beleuchten und verschiedene Therapien sowie aktuelle Themen vorstellen."

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