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  • Sailaja Menon


Q&A- By- Sailaja Menon , Counseling Psychologist

Please define mid life crisis-is it all in the mind or real? How much do hormones have to do with it?

It is difficult to say. Experts believe it is caused due to a combination of psychological and or hormonal issues. There is much h debate among experts and researchers that not only is the existence of the mid-life crisis questionable, those who believe it exists also disagree about the causes. Is it psychological, even sociological, in origin? Or hormonal? Or a bit of both

Approximately when does this happen?

As studies reveal, it is believed by psychologists and doctors that men experience these symptoms in their late thirties to the fifties. Research indicates-

  • Some experts argue that men are at risk of suffering the symptoms of mid-life crisis from the age of 30, although the period from the late 30s to age 50 is generally nearer the mark for most.

  • The number of men who experience emotional difficulties during mid-life is unknown. A few psychologists argue that almost all men go through a mid-life crisis to some degree – they all have to deal with what is a time of transition and adjust to a new perspective on life.

  • It is believed, that classically, any man for whom work is his main source of personal identity, or who starts to feel or show his age, is a strong candidate.

  • There is also evidence that men most affected by the mid-life crisis are those who have not given much thought to their future life and the stages heading towards retirement. In such cases the tendency is to avoid the uncertainties that they will need to deal with in the future.

  • At the same time, there are also cases where in many men pass through this stage of life without experiencing any drastic challenges or difficulties.

What are some symptoms?

Those doctors and psychologists who believe the mid-life crisis is a genuine condition have identified a wide range of symptoms. Frequently reported problems include:

  • Irritability

  • Loss of libido (sex drive)

  • Erectile dysfunction (impotence)

  • Fatigue

  • Depression characterized by low moods, feelings of sadness and lethargy. At least one study has suggested that those undergoing mid-life difficulties may be distinguished from other men affected by depression by their sense of urgency. Such men are driven to keep on being active, sometimes even more active than they were before the crisis.

Some men may also be affected by:

  • Stiffness in the muscles and joints

  • Night sweats

  • Dry skin

  • Hair loss

  • Weight gain

  • A loss of ability to recover quickly from injuries

Several of these symptoms, occurring together, might understandably provoke a sense of crisis in a man.

Researchers compare midlife crisis to that of menopause in women. Although menopause implies strictly to cessation of menstruation, they believe if there is a male equivalent to this crisis, the experts have yet to agree on the name: The terms "andropause", "viropause" or "endopause" have all been put forward, however none have been confirmed. It is believed that the male menopause has been defined by its proponents as the hormonal, physiological and chemical changes which occur in men between around 40 and 55.

It's argued that the symptoms of the “male menopause” as some address it– the main one being a loss of libido – are caused in middle-aged men by the decreasing level (and effect) of testosterone, the hormone responsible for secondary sexual characteristics such as muscle strength and facial hair, as well as sexual drive and the production of other hormones, such as DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone).

Researchers believe that testosterone levels gradually decrease from the late 20s, and, by the time a man reaches 80 they will be at pre-puberty levels. However, unlike estrogen in women, there is no sudden, measurable drop in testosterone in men in middle age, and often the testosterone levels of men complaining of andropausal symptoms can still be measured as normal

What are the implications of a mid life crisis-how does it affect relationships with wife and family, career, home life, and overall mental health?

It is believed that feelings of disillusionment and irritability sets in at middle age when heightened sense of our own mortality and/or feelings of dissatisfaction at the way life has turned out steps in. Many times, such gloomy insights are often brought on by a particular trigger: a set back in the marriage, or a divorce, or even more trivial event like a milestone birthday.

A society which puts a very high emphasis on youth and its merits it' becomes difficult for many people to move smoothly into their middle years. Some men reaching mid-life may feel a loss of masculinity and confusion about their future role. Divorce, insecurity at work and the changing role of men add to the uncertainty many feel during this time of transition.

Many men find the changes in sexual function extremely difficult to accept and cope with especially if they had a very satisfying and highly sexual life.

By middle age, men may have achieved most of their realistic goals and be unclear about their future direction. Relationships may also change, and are often adversely affected, especially when children leave the parental home.

Men are better educated, healthier and likely to live longer when they enter mid-life than at any time in the past. This can lead to a greater degree of reflection, and often, introspection, on what has happened during the first part of life and what the future holds.

Sleep may be another factor. According to a report in the Journal of the American Medical Association, mid-life crises may be linked with a growing inability to sleep deeply. Men in their 30s and 40s sleep far more patchily and lightly than in younger years – even when they sleep the same number of hours as before. By the age of 45, according to the report, few manage deep sleep at all, leading them to grow fatter and more unfit because they cease to generate growth hormone.

How can a man avoid this?

  • Tackle Stress effectively-

  • Avoid using use alcohol, nicotine or other drugs to relieve it.

  • Explore some de-stressing treatments and exercises.

  • Other approaches, such as aromatherapy, massage and yoga, can all have a powerful relaxing effect.

  • Self-hypnosis tapes, meditation and other "mindful" techniques which help you to switch off can be useful too.

  • Research confirms that regular exercise promotes positive moods and reduces mild depression.

  • Accepting that you are growing older and none is immortal

  • Accepting that you're no longer young and that you're not immortal.. Rather than believing that ageing is simply about having to give things up, try to think about what you'd like to start. When you reach 60, you could still be only two-thirds of the way through your life. That leaves a great deal of time to broaden your interests, travel, return to education, learn new work skills or take up new sports.

  • Please provide us with some tips for our male readers how they can avoid mid –life crisis all together or if feel it is happening to them. What they can do to help themselves.

  • Take the time to talk about your feelings and troubling thoughts-Meet a counsellor-Talking things can be a powerful remedy for anxiety and depression in itself. Try to talk to your partner, your friends, men of a similar age – anyone you feel comfortable with.

  • Be positive. Although, society is negative about ageing that doesn't mean you have to be. Middle age is a time of reflection, and making beneficial changes to your life style. It is a second chance to review your life and make changes in direction in a positive way.

  • Eat well. Make sure you eat regular , nutritious and well balanced meals throughout the day

  • Having a regular sleep pattern.

  • Taking Vitamin and nutritional supplements can promote better health. Vitamin B complex in particular is thought to be helpful for stress. Taking a daily multivitamin and mineral supplement will act as a "health insurance policy", ensuring that you do not suffer from any dietary deficiencies which might affect mood and energy levels.

  • Take regular exercise. It's easy just to slob out, especially when you're feeling lethargic and down, but keeping fit will help to relieve stress and mild depression, and work out feelings of frustration. For all-round benefits, try to combine aerobic exercise, such as running, cycling or swimming, with some resistance work, such as weight training. It's vital to get into a routine that you won't find difficult to stick to. Playing a team sport and/or joining a club is a powerful motivator, as you won't want to let the lads down. It may well allow you to meet other men beyond the familiar circles of work and family, which can be refreshing and even therapeutic; chances are, others will be experiencing similar problems.

  • So your sex life may be changing – don't fight it, get used to it. Go for quality rather than quantity, and explore the possibilities of real intimacy.

  • Find a balance between work and home. Britons work the longest hours in Europe, yet report the lowest levels of job satisfaction. Too often we compromise our personal lives and relationships through fear of losing our jobs, and by succumbing to the pressures of an ever-accelerating workplace. Cut down on the hours and spend more time with your friends and family by:

  • Learning to delegate or even saying "No" to tasks where appropriate

  • Not claiming to be more available than you actually are

  • Developing better time-management skills

  • Treating arrangements with family and friends as seriously as you would work appointments

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