There's more to a mid-life crisis than desperately trying to recapture your misspent youth. Discover the causes, symptoms and strategies for coping with this often misundertood men's health issue.
Do you feel at times that your life is caught on playback, stuck on a loop like something from the movie Groundhog Day? The Bill Murray comedy was an apt analogy for men hitting mid-life crisis in what is often and somewhat cynically referred to as the male menopause.
Cue sitcoms about middle-aged men with middle-age spreads desperate to recapture their misspent youth and have lots of opportunistic sex.
But according to some experts, mid-life crisis can affect men aged between 30-50 who are far from easy to stereotype. We look at some causes and tips about how to deal with this important men's health issue.
What is mid-life crisis?
It's horses for courses with this one. While one guy may feel depressed that he can no longer get into his 501s, another guy may have negative feelings about life because of redundancy, bereavement or the fact that he's losing his hair.
Dr Derek Lee, a clinical psychologist, believes that the condition is a universally acknowledged phenomenon: "Given that life expectancy for men is greater now, it has important implications in terms of men's roles within society, which have changed dramatically in the latter part of the 20th century.
"The term 'crisis' conveys a situation in which desperate measures are needed in order to cope with something that is seen as threatening in some way. It could be a physical threat such as being trapped somewhere, or psychological a threat to our self-esteem, pride, or sense of self."
Far from 'the oldest swinger in town' cliches such as a guy dressed in a way that makes him look an ageing DJ or taking up skateboarding well past his physical prime, Dr Lee instead emphasises the psychological impact of the condition that men can experience.
"There is a degree of urgency, little time for careful rational thinking weighing up the pros and cons of a course of action. So decisions are likely to be fraught with danger and be risky. People lose the capacity for rational thought under situations of extreme stress. Maybe in some cases the mere fact that decisions taken are risky is their appeal a way to break out of a comfortable, well-established lifestyle."
All of which may go to explain recent rash actions of some men and a reminder that, at times, professional help may be required to rein us in and put us back on track again.
Sam, 38, found himself without a job after having been made redundant in 2010. He recognises the symptoms outlined by Dr Lee.
"I'd known security all my working life and receiving a good regular cheque. As soon as that disappeared I lost my safety net and confidence. With debts and trying to support a girlfriend and mortgage it became too much. I drank more and generally became a pain in the ass. I reached a true crisis in my life, felt crap about myself and where I was going but didn't know how to deal with it all."
Dr Lee believes that the media and social networks can contribute to a greater sense of failure: "They've combined to give us more ways than ever to feel inadequate about our lives. It is no surprise that these events can lead to mental health problems such as depression and anxiety. However, even positive events can provoke us into re-evaluating our lives eg becoming a father, gaining promotion, winning the lottery."
A common aspect during this difficult period is a tendency to rake over feelings about the present and possible future. According to Dr Derek Milne, author of Coping With a Mid-Life Crisis, some 20% of men will experience this syndrome by the time they are 50.
Dr Lee himself believes that even at subconscious level many men will ponder over the following:
What am I doing with my life?
Is my life the one I dreamt of having?
Am I where I aimed to be?
These are standard thoughts associated with mid-life crisis
"Underlying the questions may be an uneasy sense of time running out, a growing sense of our own mortality," says Dr Lee. "And it's likely that by the time most men are middle-aged, they will have experienced bereavements of family members, friends and colleagues which compounds feelings."
Our man Sam echoes these sentiments: "I guess what didn't help is that I felt everyone else was having a great time, leading full lives, living their dreams," he recalls. "Even seeing celebrities staring at me from magazines made me feel a loser, although I knew it was all rubbish and that most people aren't rich and famous."
Dr Lee believes that it's at this moment that men should start to re-evaluate their lives, embrace their skills and move forwards. It's not just Madonna who can keep re-inventing herself!
Self-awareness is key according to Dr Lee. The next step is being realistic about our lives, goals, expectations, especially in comparison to others. He explains: "There will always be someone bigger, stronger, faster, cleverer and richer than you. Far better to measure ourselves against ourselves this means taking note of the journey that led you to this point."
A little self-recognition for your achievements, how you've overcome many difficulties in life and realising how unique you are, can go a long way to restore confidence and inspire fresh goals and aspirations.
"Give credit to yourself for what you have achieved," suggests Dr Lee. "If you have not come as far as you hoped, try to locate the reasons were they within your control or determined by events beyond your control (eg the global economy)? If they were in your control, how can you learn from this? How could you do things differently in the future?"
Sam overcame his self-doubt and decided it was time for a new challenge. He changed his vocation and is now happy and derives greater work satisfaction in a new role that draws on his skills from his previous job.
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