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15 February 2013 16:45 | By Daniel Bettridge, contributor, MSN Him

How to cope with a midlife crisis

We’ve all heard of it, maybe even joked about it too. But how much do you really know about the midlife crisis?

A worried man (© Getty Images)

This month Paul Rudd reprises his role as the reluctant family man in This Is 40, Judd Apatow’s spin-off from his wildly popular comedy Knocked Up. As the name suggests Rudd’s character endures something of a mini midlife crisis; but whilst there are plenty of gags on offer on the big screen, for many men the reality of approaching the landmark birthday is no laughing matter.

Ever since psychoanalyst Elliott Jacques first coined the term in the mid 1960s, the idea of the midlife crisis has entered public consciousness. Whether it’s being discussed as a serious condition or mercilessly mocked in TV and films, most men will have some understanding of what’s supposedly involved - even if that’s just the comic notion of dying your hair and buying a little red sports car. But few of us actually understand what a midlife crisis entails; let alone how to spot the warning signs.

What is a midlife crisis?

 “The male midlife can happen when men feel they've reached life's halfway stage,” Dr Katie Tryon, head of clinical Vitality at PruHealth says. “Anxieties over what they've accomplished so far, either in their work or personal life, or where their lives look like they are going in the future can cause a period of low mood.” But whilst the midlife crisis is commonly accepted by many of us, the medical profession are still divided on what exactly causes the condition. Dr Tryon says: “It's a controversial syndrome that some say is linked to the brain and psychological factors, or to hormonal changes, or even to lack of sleep; while others don’t think it exists at all. For those affected it can be quite debilitating but there is little research into the exact causes.”

It’s typically thought that the midlife crisis affects up to 10% of blokes aged between 40 and 60, however there’s research to suggest that it may be happening earlier in modern men. A survey from relationship advice charity Relate shows that the mid-30s marks the start of many people’s unhappiest decade. Of the 2,000 people the charity quizzed, more 35 to 44-year olds said that they felt lonely or depressed than any other age group.

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Birthday cake showing 40 (© Getty Images)

Modern pressures to blame

Experts say the growing work pressures modern men face are partly to blame. “The midlife crisis is happening younger in men because of the ‘have it all’ culture,” according to business coach and mentor Penny Davenport (www.pennydavenport.co.uk) who says she’s seen a growing number of young men suffering from a crisis. “People expect to have what they want when they want it and therefore are left feeling unfulfilled when they reach the pinnacles of their achievement lives. That applies to salary, power, relationships and possessions.”

Tammy Smulders, a future trends expert from SCB Partners (www.scbpartners.com) agrees. "Men are feeling more pressure to succeed at an earlier age,” she says. “With so many examples of men in their early to mid 30s, and sometimes even in late 20s, becoming massively successful entrepreneurs, hedge fund managers, and the like, some men feel that if they have not ‘made it’ by the age of 40 it’s somehow not going to happen. They can get confused, depressed and simply despondent. Uncertain career paths and a re-setting of expectations due to the half-decade of recession we have so far experienced have often further exacerbated the issue.”

It’s not just pressure at work that’s hastening the onset of a midlife crisis; many men hit the halfway mark and start to re-evaluate their relationships too. “Some men feel that they have missed out on the fun during their settled relationship and family life, which they perceive other men have been having,” says Richard Collins, a divorce lawyer at Charles Russell LLP. “They want to focus on themselves before it is too late. Often they want to escape the burden of responsibility.”

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A man smiling in a car (© Getty)

How to spot the warning signs

“Classic midlife crisis symptoms can include: Irritability, depression - low moods, feelings of sadness, lethargy, loss of libido, exhaustion, inability to sleep well, hair loss and weight gain,” Dr Katie Tryon explains. Men might also experience “… a desire to radically change your life such as quit a job or end a relationship and urges to spend money or live it up.”

Richard Collins adds “Fast cars and embracing age inappropriate hobbies and behaviour used to be the tell tale signs. But many of my female clients have commented that a man suddenly taking care in his appearance and unusually putting himself first are usually the first signs that something is up.”

It’s important that men are watchful for any warning signs, but it’s also worth remembering that it’s only natural to be introspective around a landmark birthday. After all, modern life is filled with pressures and so anxieties over what you’ve accomplished or achieved can be expected and might not necessarily mark the onset of the manopause.

However some of us can become overwhelmed with these feelings, which might in turn lead to depression; so men must remain vigilant and if they’re worried should seek help.

“Psychological and psychiatric support can have a positive impact on the symptoms, and men should contact their GP to access such support,” advises Dr Katie Tryon who says men should take action to deal with stress constructively and suggests that “cognitive behavioural therapy or counselling has been proven to be very effective.”

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Some fruit and books on healthy eating (© GSO Images, Getty)

There are also many simple changes men can make to help cope with the stresses they’re experiencing. Eating healthier and exercising seem to be go-to pieces of advice for almost any medical condition, but they can make a real difference to your mood and energy levels, as can staying positive and seeking out relaxation techniques such as meditation. A support network is also important. “Reach out and ensure you have social support networks in place,” advises Dr Tryon, “talking to supportive friends or colleagues can help put events into perspective and may even help you laugh which is a great stress reliever.”

The most important thing is not to suffer in silence and to remember that whilst reaching mid life can be daunting; it can also be an opportunity. After all life’s far from over and if the old adage is true actually only begins at 40.

Are you worried about midlife crisis? Have you experienced it for yourself or are you finding that life is getting better with age? Let us know your experiences in the comments section below.

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