Quarter-Life Crisis: What Is It And How To Handle It

By Jack Flynn - Jul. 26, 2021
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You’ve probably heard of the term “midlife crisis” and all the emotional anguish that comes with it. However, you’re far from cresting your mid-forties. Maybe then, you’re confused as to why you’ve got an ominous cloud hanging over your head and so many unanswered questions – even though you’re only in your mid-twenties!

Unfortunately, quarter-life crises are all too common, as many young people struggle with questioning the direction of their career, relationships, and overall life purpose.

Take a deep breath.

These questions are normal, and you’re not alone in your endeavor. People all around you are also coming to terms with important questions and life-changing decisions. These things are overwhelming, just as they are unavoidable. Even so, you shouldn’t succumb to your confusion and dread.

In this article, you’ll learn about the nature of a quarter-life crisis and how you can handle your existential turmoil in a positive and productive way. Remember, your feelings are completely valid, and you shouldn’t ignore them, as they will help you find clarity in your future.

What Is a Quarter-Life Crisis?

Like a midlife crisis, a quarter-life crisis is a period of uncertainty, questioning, and intense soul searching during your mid-20s to early 30s. Often, people experience this uncertainty because they feel trapped, uninspired, and disillusioned.

German psychologist Erik Erikson proposed the existence of a crisis at this point in an individal’s life. He proposed a quarter life crisis as associated with “intimacy vs. isolation.” In simple terms, it’s the time in your life when you enter the “real world” and exit the protective bubble of your family home or your college campus.

At this point, people typically seek out intense relationships with others, and feel lonely and confused when those relationships fail to materialize. There’s also a common feeling of old relationships failing to suffice as personalities change and grow apart.

Choosing a career is also a significant stressor that brings about a quarter-life crisis.

For example, you may feel like you’re stuck in a dead-end job while your friends are advancing their careers. On the other hand, maybe your friends are all getting married and having kids while you’re struggling to find “the one.” Perhaps you just don’t know where you’re going in life, and your current trajectory bothers you.

What Leads to a Quarter-Life Crisis?

Some common stressors that can lead to a quarter-life crisis include:

  • Excessive job searching, interviews, or career planning

  • Struggling with living alone for the first time

  • Navigating new and serious relationships

  • Making long-term personal or professional decisions

  • Fear of major life changes or the lack-there-of

Often, these issues will cause a quarter-life crisis to rise to the surface and then present in a few phases:

First, you may feel trapped in some form of commitment, either in your personal or professional life. Now you have to pay rent, or are obligated to continue working at your current job, or are trapped in some kind of “adult” relationship. These feelings of obligation and commitment can be unpleasant and overwhelming, especially if this is your first time experiencing them.

Next, you might experience a feeling of prolonged loneliness due to being separated from past romantic partners, jobs, or social groups. Maybe you just moved to a new place and feel completely alone.

Then, during this period of isolation, you’ll be forced to reflect on where you are in life and recalibrate your plans. This is often the most difficult time to experience a quarter-life crisis, but it’s necessary for clarity. Perhaps you need to change your plans and explore new activities, social groups, or career opportunities.

Obviously, these phases can be unpleasant and overwhelming. One of the significant problems with quarter-life crises is that the people experiencing them often feel that they have no reason to be struggling. People have it ingrained in their minds that these years are supposed to be fun and relatively painless. Consequently, if you’re experiencing these feelings, you may try to brush them off – to your own detriment.

Instead, we should all acknowledge that the quarter-life crisis is very real and affects young people from all walks of life. With that in mind, we can find positive ways to address it.

Signs of a Quarter-Life Crisis

The sorts of stressors we mentioned above aren’t exactly rare — they’re some of the most common experiences among human beings in the 21st century. Not everyone goes through a bona fide “crisis,” but there are some tell-tale signs that something is going on:

  • Feeling aimless. A feeling many entry-level adults experience is one of absolute uncertainty about where to go or what to do or who to be with. This can be exciting for some people who like that it’s all unknown and look forward to figuring it out.

    But for some, it’s anxiety-inducing to consider that what you’re doing now isn’t leading toward some grander goal.

  • Feeling jealous of your peers. As we go out and get jobs, some friends may seem to succeed more than you in certain areas. Maybe your friend you always thought was a goof is now running his own start-up, or your friends all seem to be getting married and/or having kids.

    FOMO is a big part of the 21st-century experience because we see (however inaccurately) into more people’s lives than ever with social media. It’s important to recognize that there’s no set timeline for “figuring it out” and trying to rush toward certain life milestones isn’t necessarily the best way to bring peace to your life.

  • Feeling unmotivated. Putting off big decisions, putting the bare minimum of effort into your work or relationship, and just generally losing your spirit for life are all signs of a quarter-life crisis. There’s a paradoxical desire to be trusted as an adult while at the same time yearning for a time when you didn’t have so many responsibilities.

  • Feeling lonely. There’s a real sense of camaraderie in your high school and college years, even if things are intensely awful. Then you graduate and separate from all those peers you built solid relationships with over the years and are thrown into a working world with surface-level conversation and you have to start from scratch building new friendships (see the above point about lack of motivation).

    This is an important reason why staying in touch and having connections in your community are important barriers to being overwhelmed by a quarter=life crisis.

How to Handle a Quarter-Life Crisis

Even if addressing your quarter-life crisis may feel insurmountable, there are ways to get through to the other side and have renewed positivity. Here are the best ways to get through it:

  1. Remind yourself that this is normal. As mentioned previously, the quarter-life crisis is an entirely normal, even if unfortunate, phenomenon. With that in mind, remind yourself that your struggle is completely normal. There’s nothing wrong with you, and your feelings are valid. Once you’re aware of that, you can find ways to address your quarter-life crisis.

  2. Allow yourself the time to think. A quarter-life crisis can’t be addressed if you don’t even know what’s bothering you. Regardless of how many hours you work or how many classes you’re taking, it’s vital that you give yourself the space to address what’s bothering you.

    Working all day and then coming home to play video games or party until you go to bed will never help you address a growing sense of dread and dissatisfaction with your life. Instead, give yourself the time and space to think through all of the things that are bothering you.

    Remember that creating lists, financial plans, calendars, and other essential reminders can help bring you some clarity. Even if you don’t go that far, simply giving yourself the time to think about what’s bothering you can go a long way.

  3. Find ways to ease your loneliness. Humans are social creatures, and when we feel separated from our friends and family, we tend to struggle. Sometimes this struggle can even lead to further isolation. Given that, you can find comfort and valuable advice from people who understand you.

    Seek out people with whom you can be sincere and vice versa. A second voice – outside of the one inside your head – can help you get a new perspective on your current situation, relationships, and future goals. Remember, there’s no harm in seeking out career counselors or therapists.

  4. Communicate your thoughts and goals. Whether you have a serious relationship or not, it’s crucial that you communicate with the people who are close to you. For example, if you have a romantic partner and know you want to marry or have children, you’ll never know if they share the same goals if you don’t communicate with them about your own goals.

    The same logic applies to workplace relationships, as a lack of communication can lead to unsatisfactory, dead-end relationships that will add to your feeling of crisis. Instead, lay out your goals and boundaries at the forefront of all your relationships.

  5. Don’t let your degree or job define you. Often, people feel lost in their mid-twenties and early thirties because they feel trapped in their current situation. If you went to college for a specific degree or have been in the same position for many years, it’s easy to feel like you’ll be stuck in a certain role forever.

    For example, maybe you achieved a degree in nursing but have now decided that being a nurse only drains your energy and doesn’t bring you any joy. It’s easy to feel obligated to that job because you likely invested a significant amount of time and energy into receiving that degree.

    However, you shouldn’t ignore your feelings of dissatisfaction. Instead, you should know that your degree or current career doesn’t need to define you. You don’t need to work a job you hate just because you’ve invested in it. Allow yourself the freedom to look into other career options and redefine yourself.

  6. Don’t be afraid of change. By nature, the uncertainty of change can lead to a surplus of fear and anxiety. Even if you feel stuck in your current situation, you might worry that any alternative would only be worse. However, change is a critical way our lives can improve, and often, it might be exactly what we need.

    For example, if you’ve ever lived with your parents, you know it’s easy to feel trapped and unhappy with your living situation. However, you might worry that if you were to live on your own, you’d struggle with the cost of rent or need to figure out a new commute. While these changes can seem unsettling and even scary at first, the odds are that you might feel better with more freedom.

    When in doubt, if you’re unhappy and have the resources to commit to change in your life, you should go for that change.

  7. Be decisive. Once you realize that you might need a change in your life, it’s crucial that you find the strength to make decisive decisions. If you’re always going back and forth between “well, I know I should do this, but I don’t know,” you’ll never make the critical decisions needed to move your life in a positive direction.

    Take a deep breath and think over your options. Then, once you’ve discerned the most favorable solution to a problem, be willing to make some decisions. Even if this causes anxiety in the moment, deciding will serve you well in the future.

Final Thoughts

Even if being in the throes of a quarter-life crisis can feel overwhelming, these tips can help guide you through your most challenging and lonely moments. Remember, just holding onto a little bit of positivity can go a long way.

So take a deep breath and know you’ll get through your quarter-life crisis – one step at a time.

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Author

Jack Flynn

Jack Flynn is a writer for Zippia. In his professional career he’s written over 100 research papers, articles and blog posts. Some of his most popular published works include his writing about economic terms and research into job classifications. Jack received his BS from Hampshire College.

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