Navigating a Quarter-Life Crisis

October 28, 2022

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Claudia Black Young Adult Center

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By Melissa R. Chalos

Most everyone is familiar with the midlife crisis, the one in which adults over 40 go off the rails, wrestling with identity, life choices, and mortality. That was then. 

Now, the crisis begins much earlier, at the onset of adulthood, in what should be one of the best and most exciting times of your life. This is the quarter-life crisis, and it involves many of the same emotions, anxiety, pressure, and societal expectations of the midlife crisis; it just occurs during a more developmental stage of life. 

As therapist Satya Doyle Byock writes in the introduction to her book Quarterlife: The Search for Self in Early Adulthood, “Crippling anxiety, depression, anguish, and disorientation are effectively the norm.”

This quarter-life crisis is so pervasive, in fact, that a recent LinkedIn survey of thousands of 25- to 33-year-olds found that a whopping 75% had already experienced it.

Defining the Crisis

Adolescents have always struggled to separate from parents and forge a sense of independence, to make their own path in life as an adult. This is nothing new. But today, young adults often feel indecisive, overwhelmed, and unequipped to deal with the realities of this season of life. 

What, then, is the definition of a quarter-life crisis, you might ask? It varies by individual, but generally speaking, it is a period in a young adult’s life — typically between the mid-20s and early 30s, but sometimes as early as the mid-teens — in which stress and anxiety is felt over your life’s direction, sense of self, place, and purpose.

While the triggers vary from person to person, it all comes down to being disillusioned with the limbo of becoming an independent adult. Unlike generations before who mostly followed an idealized, socially-prescribed course (such as graduate college, start a career, get married, and raise a family), today’s rising adults share the uncertainty of carving out a different path. 

For some, it might look like a “failure to launch,” as finance platform Credit Karma describes it. A recent survey by the company found, for example, that one-third of Generation Zers are currently living with family and have no plans to leave. 

Other stressors associated with a quarter-life crisis include:

  • Being on your own for the first time
  • Having to make decisions that have long-term effects
  • Navigating personal relationships beyond the collegiate norm
  • The struggle to find employment, interviewing, and career planning

Financially, the high cost of everything makes launching feel overwhelming, even paralyzing. Those in college struggle to afford to stay. Graduates often finish with tremendous student debt and face the harsh reality of landing a job that will support the lifestyle social media suggests is the norm. The financial insecurity and uncertainty take a toll.  

The mental and physical toll is also high, as young adults often experience symptoms such as:

  • Insomnia and fatigue due to anxiety
  • A need for change coupled with a lack of direction and motivation 
  • Fear of being left behind by peers who seem to have it all together

How to Get Through It

If any of this sounds like something you or someone you love is experiencing, you can be encouraged by knowing there is hope for those who struggle with quarter-life crises. Becoming a fully engaged, emotionally healthy adult begins with being intentional about taking your life seriously, both as it is and as you want it to be.

So once you recognize what you’re going through, you can learn how to overcome your quarter-life crisis. Here are three tips that can help:

1. Respect and Reflect

Begin by taking time to reflect and think intentionally about your feelings, the source of your discontent. As you contemplate the realities of your current life, you can begin to identify the values that matter most to you, as well as what you can change versus what you can’t. This is not the time to make a five-year plan, but rather to establish your three top priorities or objectives and set small, reasonable goals toward reaching them. Once you have those goals in view, set a monthly or quarterly reminder to evaluate where you’re at. 

2. Be Patient and Take Ownership

As challenging as it is when you’re feeling uncertain and alone in this phase of your life, the truth is you don’t have to have it all figured out. Take a deep breath in, then exhale slowly. This is a time to be patient and begin the process of self-discovery. One step at a time. 

3. Let Go and Aim for Balance

The quarter-life crisis is the best time to release the expectations you’ve placed on yourself that have left you feeling paralyzed. Let go of the should’ves, could’ves and musts. Stop comparing yourself to your peers, and instead, give yourself permission to try new things, to ask What if? and explore the possibilities around you. Mindfully care for your physical, mental, and spiritual well-being.

Help Along the Way

As you take these small steps toward self-discovery, you may find that the stress and anxiety of this season is simply too much to go it alone. At the Claudia Black Young Adult Center, there is hope for those who struggle with quarter-life crises. Here, we specialize in treatment for emotional trauma, addiction, or mental health issues like depression, ADHD, or anxiety, the underlying issues that leave many young adults feeling stuck “in-between.” We know that the journey into adulthood can be daunting, and we’re here to help guide and empower you to be your healthiest, fully-realized self. Contact us today to learn more.