Answered by Janet Lee on Friday, October 9, 2009
"A midlife crisis is not really a crisis so much as a reassessment or a shift," says Malkah Notman, M.D., clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard University and director of faculty development at Cambridge Health Alliance. "There are a variety of experiences that tend to get lumped together as a midlife crisis, but it was more of an 'in' thing to worry about back in the seventies and eighties." The term midlife crisis tends to characterize the mostly emotional (typically for men) and physical (especially for women) changes that we go through as we age. "When you're young, you think that life just goes on forever. At some point along the way that changes. You start to realize you have limited time left," says Dr. Notman. That can spur both men and women to reassess their careers, appearance, spirituality, sexuality, and relationships. For women, this turning point can be spurred by their reproductive cycles, especially the onset of menopause. "There used to be this idea that there was a menopausal depression everyone had to go through," says Notman, "and now we know that is really not true—and a lot of women are quite relieved."
The important thing to understand is that midlife crisis is by no means a given. "It doesn't happen at any one time or to everybody," says Dr. Notman. "You can't totally avoid some disappointment or reassessment in your life; just try to be balanced or realistic about it. And don't blame the other person—be it your spouse, parents, friends, or boss. It's all in how you look at it."
Being fit can also help you handle a crisis if it does arise, says Dr. Notman, by helping you fight off depression and preventing many health problems related to inactivity.