The Quarter-Life Crisis; Is That Really a Thing?

While most of us are familiar with a mid-life crisis, a transitional period during middle age in which self-identity and self-confidence are questioned and can result in an emotional crisis, not much has been written or researched about the quarter-life crisis.  A quarter-life crisis is a transitional stage similar to what is experienced in mid-life, but affecting those between the ages of 22 and 30. However, more and more experts in the mental health profession are recognizing that this generation shares a similar pattern of issues and concerns as their peers and are struggling with life choices.

While the 20’s are considered to be the best time of our lives with limitless opportunities and the freedom to make our own decisions, for many adults in that age group, it can be a difficult transition --- one that can cause anxiety and depression, instability, as well as feelings of loneliness and isolation.  

Young adults are faced with a myriad of decisions in all facets of their life that can cause emotional instability.  Coming from the structure and security of college, as well as the potential financial support of their parents, young adults struggle with life decisions that many believe will affect the trajectory of their life in the future.  For example, people in this age range may need to make decisions on which job opportunities to pursue, what city to live in after college, as well as basic economic decisions, most of the time within the confines of an entry-level salary. Additionally for many, there is the added stress of actually finding a full-time job in today’s economy, with some having to rely on part-time jobs to make ends meet.

Also with this transitional period comes anxiety and uncertainty regarding social relationships – trying to maintain friendships with friends from college, while trying to forge new relationships, potentially in a new city or within the workplace.  Finally, many young adults have the added stress of questioning their current committed relationships, with uncertainty about marriage and family. Many in this age group begin to compare themselves to where others are in their relationship.  

All of these issues can lead to feelings of anxiety, fear, instability and an existential crisis of “Who Am I?,”  according to Cyrus Williams, an associate professor at the School of Psychology at Regent University, who was cited in a recent article in Counseling Today.  

According to a recent study by Dr. Oliver Robinson at the University of Greenwich, in the article “How to Overcome Your Quarter-Life Crisis,” the quarter-life transition can be broken down into five main stages.

Five Main Stages of Quarter-Life Transition: 

Stage One:  You feel trapped by your life choices, whether it’s employment or relationships and you feel as if you’re living on “autopilot.”

Stage Two:  You feel somewhat suffocated and feel the need to take a risk to get rid of the feelings of being “trapped.”  For example, you feel uncertainty or are questioning your relationship, you decide to break it off immediately in hopes of releasing those feelings.

Stage Three:  You quit the job or end the relationship that is making you feel trapped and retreat into a self-reflection period to determine who you are or try to discover your life purpose

Stage Four:  You slowly begin to rebuild your life.  This stage may include beginning to date new people, or meeting with a career counseling to assess your interests and determine what type of career might best fit with your strengths or personality.

Stage Five:  You develop new interests or activities that are parallel to your aspirations.

However, instead of making major life decisions or drastic changes by focusing on external factors such as job or relationship issues, self-awareness and small behavior changes can make a big difference.  Many people believe that their surroundings are the things causing distress, but many times, changing the way you perceive a situation or making small goals toward change can go a long way.  

Suggestions for Stress Relief: 

Practice Mindfulness.   Mindfulness is the ability to be fully present and aware, nonjudgmentally, to our thoughts and emotions.   Studies have shown that by practicing Mindfulness through meditation, you can change the neuroplasticity of the brain, allowing us time to pause and respond to emotions in a more positive way.   Studies have shown that Mindfulness can also help reduce anxiety and depression.

Implement small changes.  Instead of making major life-changing decisions, such as quitting your job or moving to a new city, start with small changes first.  For example, if you are struggling with satisfaction in your job, reevaluate what type of positions appeal to you.  Develop a relationship with a mentor or supervisor in your company to discuss opportunities that might be a better fit within the company. Additionally, volunteer work is a great way to assess your interest in a new skill before jumping ship in your current position.  

Reduce Social Media – Constant pressure to keep up with your “friends” as well as comparisons to their “successes” can contribute to a negative self-image and can increase self-doubt.  Reducing or eliminating social media time and focusing on yourself can help reduce feelings of inadequacy or envy.

Identify activities that bring you joy.  Finding meaningful activities or interests can actually ward off depression.  Activities or interest that offer self-improvement, such as exercising or learning a new hobby, as well as activities that help others, such as volunteering or engaging in intellectual conversation, tend to reduce depressive symptoms more than superficial activities such as playing a videogame or going shopping.  By focusing on interests that bring you joy or meaning, rather than focusing on the interests of others, young adults are able to develop their own identity outside of other’s expectations.

Seek Therapy.    If symptoms persist, seeking the help of an empathic therapist can help to normalize and validate this transitional period and help to identify coping skills that focus on wellness and decision making.

 

Author: Erin Swinson, MS, LMHCA, LPC

Sources:

Allan, P. (2016, June 26).  How to Overcome Your Quarter-Life Crisis.  Retrieved from http://lifehacker.com/how-to-overcome-your-quarter-life-crisis-1782670670.

Shallcross, L. (May 2016). Validating the quarter-life crisis.  Counseling Today, 55(11), 36-42.

 

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