Are you in the middle of a quarter-life crisis? Here’s how to shake it off

By Phoebe Dodds

Published Jun 28, 2023 at 11:36 AM

Reading time: 3 minutes

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Gen Z is a uniquely overwhelmed generation. We’ve grown up with the digital world at our fingertips, making us the first generation to have this much access to technology and, as we’re starting our adult lives, the aftershock is beginning to make itself known. We’re a cohort of youngsters who’ve been completely moulded and shaped by internet culture, and it informs everything from our career choices to our hobbies. There are endless benefits to having this much access to inspiration online, but there’s also a major drawback: the overwhelming amount of choice is sending some of us spiralling into a deep and expansive quarter-life crisis.

Earlier this year, I was hurtling towards my 27th birthday with a pit in my stomach. I’m generally very happy with most areas of my life—a perfect fiancé, amazing friends and family, a good career, and a devilish but adorable dog. But as this sort-of milestone birthday (aka entering the “will I join the 27 club?” year) approached, I couldn’t shake off this deep sense of dissatisfaction, no matter how much I cultivated an attitude of gratitude. Turns out, I was deep in the throes of a quarter-life crisis.

While scrolling through TikTok to find answers, I found myself on clinical psychologist Meg Jay’s acclaimed TED Talk: Why 30 is Not the New 20, and it really fired me up to make the most of my 20s. I stopped spending my days asking ChatGPT what to do with my life, and instead started taking small steps towards clarity, talking to a whole bunch of people, and trying new things to figure out what I really enjoyed doing, particularly when it came to work.

The crux of my crisis? There were way too many options. One day, I’d picture myself as a corporate baddie, and envision myself attending 5 am workout classes and then promptly putting on a power suit to head to work in a glitzy law firm (and no, I don’t have a law degree nor do I have any intention of getting one). The next, I’d be ready to embrace van life or maybe cottagecore, planning to retreat to a rural Scandinavian cabin, spending my days making fruit cakes (I hate fruit cakes) and reading classic literature (I prefer tacky self-help books).

Are you in the middle of a quarter-life crisis? Here’s how to shake it off

This analysis paralysis was made worse by the sheer range of options out there, and how accessible TikTok made them all feel. It’s a luxury problem, for sure, but more than that, it’s not rooted in reality. For starters, it would be hard to embark on a van life adventure, given I have neither a driver’s licence nor a van. Plus, the likelihood of me waking up every day for a 5 am spin class is about zero per cent.

The other problem is that social media only shows us a snapshot of someone’s life, and is inherently rooted in the present moment. This means that while some doomscrolling on a rainy winter’s Tuesday might convince us that we want to move to Bali, we don’t immediately think about the long-term implications this might have on our career, let’s say, and whether we’re okay with the consequences of our choice. It’s enough to give you a migraine and retreat to your room for some bed rotting in goblin mode.

How do you know if you’re having a quarter-life crisis?

A quarter-life crisis is a little harder to spot than its middle-aged counterpart, because it comes at a time when most of us are struggling with our identity anyway and engaging in a little extra soul-searching and Google-searching existential questions such as “How to find yourself?” The late 20s bug is also particularly prominent among high achievers, who might be doing pretty well in life, just not as well as they’d like to be.

If you feel like your quarter-life crisis is seriously getting in the way of your enjoyment of daily life, it’s important to visit a doctor or licensed mental health professional. In general, these are some medically agreed-upon symptoms to look out for:

– Feeling more stressed or anxious than usual
– Feeling insecure 
– Feeling confused, lonely or down
– Having less interest in activities you usually enjoy
– Having less energy
– Feelings of overwhelm or hopelessness
– Decreased motivation and increased procrastination

Feel like you’re stuck in a rut? I spoke with International Coaching Federation (ICF) accredited behavioural coach Gemma Perlin to get some top tips on finding your way out.

“First off, take a breath and relax,” noted Perlin. “Often, you feel like this just before a transformative change. Start by practising reframing your thoughts and shifting your perspective. Instead of dwelling on what could go wrong, focus on the opportunities and lessons you have available to you right now,” the expert continued.

According to Perlin, when everything feels so overwhelming and you just want to go back to bed, “break your quarter-life crisis into smaller, more manageable tasks or goals. It’s easier to tackle when you set specific and achievable targets, and create a plan to address each thing systematically.”

Perlin’s final tip? Visualise success. “Using visualisation techniques can help you reduce analysis paralysis by solidifying your goals, and helping you see a clear path towards what you want to achieve,” the coach concluded.

It’s also important to think about what you’re trying to achieve. We can’t do everything, and often we convince ourselves that we want certain things because of the content we consume, or the people we’re surrounded by. A quarter-life crisis is never nice in the moment, but as cheesy as it sounds, it really does provide you with the push you need to clarify your goals and start actively building the life you really want.

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