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The idea of a midlife crisis is so common and widespread that it’s often used as the plot for TV shows and movies. You probably don’t have to think very hard to remember an episode about a middle-aged man buying a red sports car on a whim or to remember a joke in a movie blaming a character’s affair on a midlife crisis.

You’ve likely seen it in real life too, or at least heard it talked about a lot when a coworker gets divorced or a relative suddenly quits their job.

So, it might surprise you to learn that a midlife crisis isn’t a mental health diagnosis. In fact, experts have been debating for decades whether midlife crises are real at all. There’s still no good answer.

What we do know, is that there’s some evidence that reported happiness appears to drop for people between ages 40 and 60. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also reports that this age group has the highest rates of depression.

Why are rates of depression so high? And where did the idea of a “midlife crisis” come from? There are a few answers to this.

One reason is thought to be that midlife is the first time many people are no longer able to think of themselves as “young.” This change in thinking can force people to rethink everything about their lives, including their marriages and careers. That might be part of why midlife is associated with a high rate of divorce and marriage trouble.

Additionally, people in midlife are generally settled into their careers and might realize they haven’t achieved the things they wanted to.

Fortunately, midlife doesn’t have to be a crisis at all. In fact, midlife is a fantastic time to make positive changes in your life. So rather than buying a sports car on a whim, try following our tips to make the most of midlife.

You can improve your relationships while working on being happier and healthier. Then maybe you can make sure that a sports car is actually in your budget.

It’s common for people in midlife to report burnout.

You might feel overworked. You might be stressed taking care of your children or an aging parent. You might be juggling your relationship with financial and other hardships. No matter what you’re juggling, it can be hard to stop and breathe. You might even feel selfish taking time for yourself.

You don’t need to. Mental health experts agree that focusing on yourself is incredibly important. Taking the time to ask yourself what you want and what you’re feeling can be the first step to knowing if you need to make a change.

So, before you do anything else, take some time to think about how things have been going for you in the past few years. It’s the best way to get started on your midlife refresh.

Midlife can bring changes. Often, these changes happen fast without an adjustment period or time to process them.

Many mental health professionals agree that one of the best things you can do is set aside the time to acknowledge those changes. This doesn’t mean you need to dwell on the past. It simply means that it’s a good idea to be actively aware of changes.

For some people, this might mean journaling to work through events. However, even if writing things down isn’t a method that works for you, you can take time and space to reflect on any changes you’ve experienced over the past few years.

One thing that can be especially beneficial? Taking time to be grateful for any positive changes.

There are multiple benefits to learning something new. It can keep your mind active, give you something to be excited about, and give you an amazing sense of pride and accomplishment. That’s why it’s so highly recommended by mental health professionals for people in midlife. It’s also a great way to take a break and take a little time for yourself.

You can learn an astounding range of things from the comfort of your home. You can learn to speak a new language or write computer code using apps on your phone. You can take entire courses from top universities on just about any subject you can imagine. Some online course programs even allow you to earn credits or certificates.

If you’d rather get out of the house, your local community college is a great place to start. Most community colleges offer a full slate of courses just for adult learners who’d like to pick up a new skill.

Therapists and researchers have strongly suggested that social connections are important for mental health. It can make a huge difference in your life to have people you can share good times and celebrations with, people you can call for a good conversation, and people you can count on for support during tough times.

It’s also common to feel isolated, especially in midlife. Reaching out to family and friends and trying to stay connected can help. You don’t have to plan a party or major event to reconnect. It’s best to start with a simple hello, whether that’s sending a text message to your sister, a Facebook message to a local friend, or an email to a friend you haven’t seen in years.

Unfortunately, marriage difficulties are often associated with midlife. Divorce, affairs, or simply a cooling down of romantic and sexual feelings are commonly reported to therapists.

Of course, that doesn’t mean the decline of relationships is an unavoidable part of midlife. Marriage and family therapists recommend that you take some time at this point to think about what you want from yourself, your life, and your partner. If you’re still dedicated to them, it might be a great time to find new ways to celebrate each other.

Actions, such as planning a romantic vacation, going on date nights, or taking care to appreciate each other more, can go a long way toward a happy midlife love life.

That doesn’t mean you have to be married to take time to focus on your love life. Midlife can be a good time to focus on what you want out of any future relationships, or to decide if you’re interested in having a future relationship at all.

You might decide you want to make the leap and download that dating app or swallow your nerves to tell someone you’ve been seeing casually you’d like something more serious.

Exercise is important. In addition to its many physical benefits, it can improve your mental health, sharpen your focus, and reduce your stress. It can also start to feel boring, especially if you’re already feeling restless or fighting negative thoughts in your life.

So, even if you’re already hitting the gym several days a week, finding new ways to stay active can help. It can keep you motivated, boost your mood, and increase your confidence.

Don’t be afraid to step outside your comfort zone when it comes to fitness. A ballroom dance class, hiking group, or local recreational sports league can all be fantastic ways to stay fit. Plus, they can be a fun and low-stress way to make a few new friends.

Small changes can go a long way. Midlife is an ideal time to start a new healthy habit.

You don’t have to overhaul your entire lifestyle — you can pick a small change and stick with it. You’ll get the health benefits of the change and the satisfaction that comes with maintaining a new habit. That means a mental health and physical health boost for a single action, and it’s hard to beat that.

Some suggestions? You could start taking the stairs every day at work, bringing a planned lunch from home, having fruit every morning, or making sure to drink enough water. You can also consider cutting out some less-than-healthy habits, like drinking soda or smoking.

Spending time outdoors has proven mental health benefits. Therapists often suggest that patients in midlife take an outdoor walk at least a few times a week.

A walk around your neighborhood can be a great way to get fresh air and get your blood pumping, but you don’t have to stop there. If you want to go further, consider spending the day hiking the trails in a local park. You could bring a friend to provide motivation, or use the time on the trail to clear your mind.

Of course, you don’t have to just walk to get the benefits of the great outdoors. Boating, swimming, camping, or just relaxing on a nice day can all boost your mood.

It’s common to feel dissatisfaction with work during midlife. You might feel burnt out, bored, or that you wasted your time in a career you don’t love.

While it might be tempting to quit tomorrow, there are better ways to handle this feeling. Experts agree midlife is an ideal time to work on something you’re passionate about.

Maybe you’ve always wanted to write a novel, or maybe you’ve always been curious about selling your homemade jewelry online. No matter what, focusing on a project you really care about can boost your energy and optimism. Plus, it might bring you an additional source of income or even shift your career.

You might think of therapy as only being for times of distress, trauma, or crisis, but that’s not the case. Therapy is a great tool for times of transition, too. Midlife can be a great time to talk with a therapist.

A therapist can help you sort out feelings about past events, manage your current stress, and plan for your future. They can help you make the most of your midlife years and feel confident about your way forward.

Additionally, if midlife has brought major changes such as divorce, marriage difficulties, or death, or if it’s caused significant reflections on your past, a therapist can guide you through your thoughts and feelings.

Midlife is a wonderful time to restart things that might have felt a bit stalled in your life. Whether it’s your relationships or your health, you can take control now and make positive changes.

Right now is the best time to take steps that improve your life for years to come. You don’t have to let midlife be a crisis that drags you down.

Instead, spend some time outside, call a friend, go on a date with your spouse, pick up your guitar again, take a cooking class online, join a runner’s club, and consider making an appointment with a therapist to help you through it all.