How To Deal With A Midlife Crisis In Social Isolation

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How To Deal With A Midlife Crisis In Social Isolation

Going through a midlife crisis during the COVID-19 pandemic may seem especially unfortunate.

Not that there is ever a great time to have a crisis of any kind, but in this case, the timing makes it that much worse for anyone reaching what's considered to be middle aged as most of us are still required to practice social distancing.

Maybe you are suddenly regarded as a ‘nonessential’ worker, and the emotional downside hurts even more than the financial impact. Being called nonessential can feel like a huge blow to the ego, as though you and your contributions simply do not matter.

Even if you haven't been rocked by that reclassification, the experience of social isolation while many states and counties remain under safer-at-home orders can deepen the dreaded sense many men and women have of being considered a "has-been" once they reach middle age.

What is a midlife crisis?

As explained in Psychology Today: "Midlife is the central period of a person's life, spanning from approximately age 40 to age 65. It can be a stressful time, as many people come to feel discontented and restless as they struggle with aging, mortality, and holding onto a sense of purpose ... Psychologist Elliot Jaques coined the term 'midlife crisis' in a 1965 article, referring to a time when adults reckon with their mortality and their sense of a dwindling number of remaining years of productive life. While most people do not experience a severe crisis during middle age, some individuals do develop conditions such as depression and anxiety. Women experiencing menopause may be particularly vulnerable to distress."

RELATED: What Age Is Considered Middle Aged Vs Old Vs Elderly?

What is a midlife crisis like?

To offer you an example, I'll tell you a bit about "Grace" (not her real name), a woman in her mid 40s who recently reached out to me via email.

Like so many people throughout the world, she's quarantined and has been furloughed because of the COVID-19 pandemic, making her feel as though she's been officially deemed inconsequential.

She's never felt this bad about herself — "Not even in middle school," she joked. No one wants to feel like a nothing at any time.

More and more, she's reminded of her unfulfilled dreams, like planning for a career the medical field so she could make a difference in people’s lives. Now that she's in her mid-40s, she realizes that ship has sailed for good.

Regardless, Grace is used to success. She is married, has two children, and has enjoyed a lucrative career in finance ....

At least, she used to enjoy that lucrative career. Now she's out of work.

She does have a happy marriage, but says it is becoming "ho hum." Her husband rarely initiates sex, which she believes is due his waning attraction to her following the natural changes to her body size and shape, leaving her feeling fat and ugly. (Mind you, Hubby has aged, too, as has his body.)

When she suggests they try something new in the bedroom, Hubby laughs. She takes his response personally. What she wants him to do is to rip off her clothes with zeal and fervor, to delight in her body and let her delight n his.

"In my dreams ..." she laments.

Her self-sufficient children are wonderful, but they no longer depend on her.

Given all of this, Grace has become painfully, profoundly aware of her own mortality in a way she never was before.

She is scared and feels desperate to hold onto a sense of youth and vitality. Her confidence is at an all-time low; so much so that she didn't want to pursue telehealth therapy by video because she thinks she looks too "old and worn."

Our first session was held by phone, and our sessions thereafter have been via video chat, so I can tell you for a fact that nothing about her appearance actually says either "old and worn" or "has-been"!

If any of the above sounds familiar, here are 5 tips on how to deal with a midlife crisis during the COVID-19 pandemic that have helped Grace, and might help you, too.

1. Understand that social isolation due to a global pandemic is likely causing, or at least adding to, the angst of your midlife crisis.

Midlife crisis issues are now super pronounced because of the overlap with what happens during a global pandemic. In both situations, you begin to think more deeply about your own mortality and the mortality of loved ones.

You are more likely to reflect on the meaning of life, your contributions to society, and the viability (or lack thereof) of manifesting longstanding dreams.

RELATED: Why Some People Seem To Be Aging Faster Than Others

2. Recognize that social isolation can make you feel trapped, compounding the feelings of a midlife crisis.

Due to COVID-19, there are constant imperatives to practice social distancing in order to flatten the curve. This means staying indoors in your own home whenever possible, and at least six feet from people if you absolutely must go out. The purpose of the mandate is to prevent you from becoming infected and/or infecting others. While that makes sense, it also makes sense that it could make anyone, let alone someone in the grips of a midlife crisis, feel trapped.

Feeling trapped in your life is also commonly cited one of the contributing triggers of a midlife crisis, so much so it can tempt you into negative coping mechanisms such as alcohol abuse, infidelity, and irresponsible spending.

When you have a midlife crisis during a global pandemic induced social isolation mandate, you have a double whammy on your hands.

3. Managing a mid life crisis during social isolation isn't necessarily different from managing one at any other time.

  • You've probably said something to yourself along the lines of, “Oh, if only I could find the time, I would ___________."

The fill-in-the-blank may be to paint, do an in home project, create a photo book of your last two vacations, make family photo albums for the kids, redesign a room, go on YouTube and learn to belly dance, or learn about Tantra.

You now have the time, even if not by choice. Finding new challenges to take on will help you expand your sense of who you are and of your worth and value as a person.

You now have the built in time to pursue these challenges, as well as the incentive to explore your multifaceted nature, some of which has been buried for far too long.

Think about what is buried in terms of what exquisitely primes you to capitalize on social isolation and quarantining — win win!

Watch silly shows on Netflix. Listen to comedians or funny podcasts. Laugh with friends online. Have a 1980's-style dance party with friends over Zoom (maybe even with your friends from back in the day).

Doing these kinds of things will help you to feel less alone and less isolated. Reconnect or connect in new ways with people — and with yourself. You will feel more connected to communities you are or were a part of, and in doing so you will discover that there is shared humanity in how you feel.

You are not alone.

  • This is a particularly great time to talk with a therapist.

Co-pays are being waived by most insurance companies. Some telehealth services are offering free or reduced cost appointments.

Therapists are trained to help you with the kind of personal issues that are currently intensified due to COVID-19 related social isolation. You won't be the first person to raise mid life crisis concerns, or the special challenges of social isolation.

  • Reach out to a peer who gets it.

Go outside your comfort zone and share how you are feeling. Chances are most people around your age will be able to relate, both because they are also socially isolated right now, and because existential issues like the meaning of life and mortality are likely on their minds too.

RELATED: What Is An Existential Crisis? How To Deal With Moments Of Deep Despair & Anxiety

4. Get outside.

You could go for a walk. Or just invigorate yourself with some fresh air.

While you're at it, listen to music that reminds you of who you are and what you stand for.

5. Remind yourself that a midlife crisis is not just a cliché, it's a real thing.

In fact, psychologist Carl Jung identified as a normal part of development.

"Carl Jung saw mid-life as one of those critical transition periods in our adulthood," writes Jungian Analyst John Betts. "Crudely put, the first half of life is the stage in which we receive our education, choose our careers, begin a family, acquire the trappings of success such as a home, a car, and establish our persona(s). Jungians may also refer to this stage as Ego-Self Separation, i.e. we focus on developing a strong ego, and in so doing, slowly lose touch with the rest of the psyche. It is for this reason that when we reach mid-life, things may be going wrong.

"The second half of life is less about acquiring things and knowledge, and more about finding meaning. We are faced with questions such as ‘What is the point of my life?’ or ‘What makes me feel I am useful in this world?’ As we ponder these questions we often realise that life has not turned out the way we expected it to."

Being human isn't easy at any age.

You are a complex being and deserve to live a life of fulfillment, regardless of your age or the presence of a pandemic-causing virus.

At the risk of sounding Mr Rogers-style sugary sweet, know that just by being who you are, you matter.

I invite you to expand your sense of what is possible, and to allow yourself the curiosity to explore your multifaceted nature.

RELATED: What Is Telehealth Therapy? How It Works And Where To Find It

Dr Elayne Daniels has a private practice in the Boston area. She loves to inspire people to access their authentic selves and live their best life, at every age.