For every midlife-crisis poster child (Charlie Sheen, Demi Moore), you can find an aging-gracefully pro (Paul Newman, Meryl Streep).
How can you be more like Meryl?
Avoiding a disastrous midlife crisis can be tricky when you hit your 40s and 50s and face "the stunning reality of 'Uh, oh! Half of my life is over, and maybe if I'm lucky, I've got half left,'" says Beverly Hills psychotherapist Fran Walfish, author of The Self-Aware Parent. "''What am I going to do?!'"
Consider the feelings of others.Someone going through a midlife crisis tends to think, "I can do anything I want," says Walfish. "It's me and my life." Not a good idea. "It's a little bit, I'm afraid to say, of a narcissistic experience," she says.
Be aware that a significant event can trigger a midlife mess. "Often this is tripped off, the reality, by some sort of crisis – the death of a parent, the loss of a job," says Walfish. "Something big happens."
Set goals."What do you want to be doing 10, 15, 20 years from now?" says Mason Turner, chief of psychiatry for Kaiser Permanente in San Francisco. But be realistic, too. "There has to be a reality check," says Turner. "If you're 60 years old and you've never gone rock climbing before, and you want to summit Everest…"
Think about your mental and physical health."You always want to emphasize that people do things that are healthy for them – physically, psychologically," says Turner. "Sometimes I'll say, 'If you're a 50-year-old man, taking a 20-year-old wife may not be the best way of approaching this transition.'"
Know that what you're feeling is normal. Psychiatrists call midlife a "phase-of-life transition" (like heading to college and turning 30), says Turner. "Any time we're making major changes, we don't necessarily like it. One of the ways I approach this with patients is, 'Let's look at this like a New Year's resolution. What are the things you're looking forward to doing in the future?"
Find meaning in your life. A common patient lament:"There must be more to life than this!" says Nashua, N.H., psychologist Carl Hindy, co-author of If This Is Love, Why Do I Feel So Insecure? "It's potentially a very positive opportunity to refocus on more important goals that will lead to greater satisfaction, contentedness and completeness in life."
Take positive action.Think about a reorganization at work, says Hindy. "You can be rather passive about it, with thoughts like "I hope I still have a job." Or you can see it as a chance to seize the day.
Confide in someone you trust before you act rashly.Speak with a pastor, priest, rabbi, counselor, therapist, or friend who can "listen and guide," says Walfish. "They [midlife-crisis cheaters] don't think. They do it. Then the wife finds out, and then in only a small percentage of the cases can the marriages be saved." (That's when the cheater "totally owns up to his or her mistake and genuinely feels remorse and regret for having hurt the other person, immerses themselves in therapy and really makes their life turnaround to never do it again," she says.)
Slow down.Hindy likes to use the GPS as a metaphor. "What happens when the signal is lost? This sort of feeling of panic sets in. Where am I?" he says. "What do men do when they're lost, driving? They tend to drive faster. Let's try this, let's try that. I'm getting more mixed up and disoriented." Women, by contrast, are "more likely to ask for guidance, analyze the situation," says Hindy. "They handle it [midlife] differently, just like the react differently when they're lost."
Change your definition of a life worth living.Men tend to focus too much on financial and career advancement, says Hindy. The wives say, "You're not at the dinner table, you're not with me at the kids' activities," he says. "Your GPS is set on this destination, but you're not partaking in the joy of the drive."
Think about the empty nest.Women are often more affected by it. "It's more of the crisis, it's more of the loss of the GPS signal," says Hindy. "So many of her nurturing needs have been met through her relationship with the children, raising the children."
Don't just think about job titles.It's tough for a man to realize "he's gotten where he's going to get in his career," says Hindy. Define yourself, too, as a parent, spouse, friend, athlete, cousin, too. "You're going to be less lost," he says "If you've allowed your identity to become so narrowly focused on the traditional male role of going out hunting for the family, then you're going to be more vulnerable."
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