There are just 2 options you have when you’re faced with Mid-Life stress: allow it to become a Crisis and get Depressed [OR] evaluate your life and see it as an Opportunity for Growth!
The term Mid-Life crisis was coined in 1965 by Elliott Jaques and gained a lot of popularity from the 1980’s. This was seen as a time from one’s 40’s-60’s when there comes a realization that Half your Life may already be over, and you start wondering how much Time is left!
Research shows us that there are many reasons that a person experiences Mid-Life stress; from the Death of a Parent, to children leaving home for College, to an honest evaluation of your Career, or a ‘zero’ birthday that signals a new decade; and also the very fact that your body is aging! However people act differently during this period. In fact, researchers now do not like using the term ‘Crisis’ simply because while for some it may bring about Depression; for others it’s a period of change and Growth! Eventually it all depends on how people react to what a lot of researchers are now terming as a natural transition stage in Adult growth.
While in America, about 10% of the population experience Mid-Life crisis; some cultures like the Indian and Japanese seem to be insulated from this crisis – giving the possibility that it is a cultural phenomenon owing to the ‘culture of Youth’ more predominant in the West. The age for the onset of mid-life stress has reduced to about 37 – one’s 50’s.
Also, Men and Women respond differently to this phenomenon – for Men it typically lasts 3-10 years while for Women 2-5 years. Men often analyze their Dreams v/s their actual Career and this can bring stress; while Women often find themselves becoming ‘Empty’ once their day-to-day Identity of being a ‘Mother’ diminishes once the children have left home. For Men the stereotypical Mid-Life crisis change is to go out and buy a Sports Car!
It could also include getting a hair transplant, dyeing one’s hair, eating a lot more vitamins, taking up a new hobby, etc. A lot of these changes are also seen in women going through their transition.
An Opportunity for Growth:
A lot of people going through a Mid-Life transition respond with far greater grace and treat it as an opportunity for growth. They either return to college to learn new things, or taking up new hobbies, or donate to charity and much more. In the context of spiritual life; the Mid-Life crisis is akin to what we in India call as a ‘Dharam-Sankat’ (a moral dilemma). This is of course not age-dependent; but a lot of people do ask themselves questions about the Meaning of Life around their Mid-Life. It’s often when people have achieved what they set out to do when they were 20 – and having achieved Wealth, started a Family or found Fame, they find that at their inner-most level they are still deeply Unsatisfied! So, they try to assess their life; search for Meaning and Purpose in Life and seek to make changes for the better. Of course, many people feel terribly Depressed. But then, this shaking of one’s foundation, acts as a catalyst for many people who then start exploring deeper. Many of these people take to Yoga & Meditation, seek out avenues to perform Social service, look to re-connect to their Religious beliefs and start seeking out Answers to Life’s eternal question, “Who am I?”
Silver Linings: In India or perhaps the whole world, the most famous Dharam-Sankat (or might I call it a Mid-Life crisis), is chronicled in the life of a certain Siddhartha. He had lived as a Prince shielded from the trials, tribulations and miseries of life. Then one day, he went outside his palace and for the first time having seen Suffering, Disease, Old-Age and Death; Siddhartha knew that life had much more mystery than the princely life offered; and he was convinced that he had to understand the meaning of life – and so left everything behind to embark on an epic voyage of self-discovery. That’s why today we revere him, nearly 2500 years later, as the Buddha!