How to Beat Quarter-Life Crisis: Top 5 Tips from Therapists

As Corona Virus continues to corner us in our houses, many of us are encountering realities we aren’t ready to face. Basements that need cleaning. Relationships that need refreshing. Goals that need clarifying. For some of us — especially those among the 3.3 million who filed for unemployment because of COVID-19 — ugly realities are more urgent. What should we do with our lives? If you were already experiencing existential insecurity, now you have that final push to beat your quarter-life crisis for good.

Thanks, Corona. You’ve given us plenty of time to stay home and work on slaying our dragons.

But seriously — how can we beat quarter-life crisis? Having extra time is great, but being unemployed and adrift on a sea of uncertainty isn’t. What steps can we take to clarify our life goals, find new direction, and plunge through this sense of lostness?

In this article, I’ve talked to three life coaches to get their absolute best tips on beating quarter-life crisis. I’m sharing their five best pieces of advice, and you’ll want to be sure to stay around to glean the unconventional wisdom of number five!

1. Don’t Let Screens Slow You Down from Beating Quarter-Life Crisis

Valerie Hamaker, a therapist specializing in relationship counseling, is a beacon of warning to an increasingly digitized population. In her journey to help people experience healthy attachments and wholesome relationships, she raises a prophetic voice about the impact of technology in finding our life purpose.

Hamaker says, “those embarking on adult rolls and responsibilities are often vulnerable to struggle because many have less interpersonal skills that are necessary to adulthood due to the pervasive nature of screens, which have often been a part of the young adults life since they were toddlers.”

What’s the connection between purpose and screentime? (As a digital minimalist, I’ve written about my own experience of intentionally detaching from technology, which you can read here, here, and here.) Hamaker pinpoints the issue: the over-use of technology has a role in delayed social development, which sets us up for an inevitable quarter-life crisis. She says,

“Screens can serve as a barrier in moving people through difficult relational situations and when individuals never learn how to navigate these situations, they may become overwhelmed, feel insecure, lack the skills to work through difficulties, and retreat to more screens for solace.  As screens can be addicting (social media, gaming, pornography) they can seem like a temporary solution (I feel better when I don’t think about my problems but can become consumed in a game, for example) but end up contributing to the larger problem of lagging interpersonal and skills development.” 

Part of Hamaker’s campaign to raise awareness about the impact of technology involved co-founding Face to Face Movement, a collaboration of therapists and professors who help communities understand and balance technology’s influence. She also shares an inspirational podcast on transformation and personal growth — which reminds us that technology isn’t evil, but it’s a tool we can either use or abuse. If we want to beat quarter-life crisis, one of the most important steps we can take is to recognize contextual factors such as technology.

If you’re going through a quarter-life crisis, scrutinize your digital habits. Get an outside opinion on whether you may have social or emotional delays due to our social milieu of too-much-tech.

2. Overcome Quarter-Life Crisis with Hardcore Lifestyle CHANGE

You might have assumed that life coaches and therapists will lay you flat on their couches, give you a magical mantra, and send you home with all your problems solved.

If only!

Working through personal growth is tough, and the quarter-life crisis is no exception. Catherine Allouis, a Canada-based counselor and life coach specializing in life transitions, definitely puts her clients to work. Her view is that beating quarter-life crisis requires readiness to change and an ability to put interventions into practice. She writes,

“If the person is resistant to change, they feel stress, anxiety, overwhelm; they are not able to confront the challenge in front of them, they freeze and are unable to take any action mentally and physically. If the situation is accepted, it takes less time to recover, but again, support and help are the keys for anyone experiencing a crisis.”

Allouis goes beyond mental exercises and recommends lifestyle interventions that take into account the whole person.

In her words, “You have to renew yourself. Your old patterns will not help anymore.” She recommends learning to have an open mind, eating healthy and sleeping enough, having the support of friends and family, exercising, walking, being out in nature, and talking to someone with strong listening skills.

Her whole-body advice reflects my own experience beating clinical depression. I attended a 10-day depression recovery program in California. They didn’t give me pills — they gave me healthy food, an exercise regime, sunshine, nature hikes, wholesome social connections, and counseling.

I worked hard and adopted healthier lifestyle choices, and I’ve been depression-free ever since. Not everyone will beat depression without medication, but some can. Some things in life have a multitude of causes that all demand equal attention.

Maybe the quarter-life crisis is the same. Maybe we have to be willing to reshape multiple aspects of life and lifestyle to create the new self that makes it out the other side.

The quarter-life crisis is a complete redefinition of self, a crucible that takes in raw ore and turns out pure gold. Change is inevitable. And change isn’t necessarily negative. Allouis concludes, “the quarter-life crisis is an essential trigger for tremendous and positive change.”

So be ready for it. To beat quarter-life crisis, you’ll have to submit to the burning, melting, molding process of redefining yourself.

3. Revamp Your Expectations in Order to Beat Quarter-Life Crisis

My husband played an awful trick on me for my 28th birthday.

He’d told me that he would take me out to eat anywhere I wanted. I picked P.F. Chang’s, the restaurant where we’d had our first date. My expectations were set. My mind was prepared for Asian food.

As we got in the car and started driving, my (very frugal) husband started backpedaling about the expense, and wondering if we should go somewhere cheaper. Not wanting to lavish a nice meal on myself, I didn’t object, but deep down, my expectations were dashed. I felt sorely disappointed when we agreed to go to a cheap sandwich place nearby.

For my birthday! I felt terribly unappreciated.

But instead of the sandwich shop, he pulled into an adorable cafe a few blocks further where my friends were waiting to surprise me with balloons, dessert, and birthday wishes. It was much better than P.F. Chang’s!

But I haven’t forgotten that moment of disappointment when my expectations imploded. Since my husband and I are both quite frugal, going out for sandwiches any other day of the week is a nice treat. But my expectations were set on a nice restaurant, and my expectations set the stage for disappointment.

It illustrates the fact that expectations are an immaterial, intangible thing that has power to make us miserable in otherwise lovely situations.

Brittany Chierico, a New Jersey-based Life Coach, specializes in helping early-career clients find clarity. For her, proper expectations are key to beating the quarter-life crisis.

People who fear that life is not aligning with a timeline they have set may be more likely to experience a quarter life crisis,” she says. But why do these timeline expectations set us up for crisis? According to Chierico, it is because we are “seeking more than we are often taught in schools and by our parents/guardians. Many individuals are told to go to college, get a good job, get married, buy a house, etc. but certain personality types are seeking more than a 9-5 job, which can lead to a lot of confusing feelings and questions about life.”

Faulty expectations can be that single, immaterial thread that holds us back from contentment. Chierico continues,

“Many years ago, individuals typically just followed in footsteps that were set up for them. There was not a focus on discovering strengths, passions, interests, etc. and aligning that with an individual’s purpose in life. Now, more people have access to education and career planning tools. Millennials are learning that there is a possibility to do what you love and get paid for it, and they want to enjoy their life…they take the steps they believe they are supposed to take to find meaningful work (go to college, get a job, receive a paycheck), but then realize that the job or field they are in isn’t bringing meaning to their life the way they thought it would. They often find themselves miserable and wondering where they went wrong and why they are unhappy because they did everything they were taught to do.

Is our entire life up till now a failure…? Or are our expectations failing to be realistic?

Quarter-life crisis is often an issue — not with education or career planning tools — but with our own faulty expectations. In another post, I talk about common fallacies that can underlie our failed quest to a purposeful life.

If you’ve done everything “right” and still find yourself in the thick of a quarter-life crisis, check your expectations. Check your self-imposed timeline. And ask yourself what life would be like if you didn’t have these invisible taskmasters.

4. Find a Mentor to Help You Through Quarter-Life Crisis

Human beings were never meant to do life alone. The United States, which ranks as the most individualistic nation in the world (followed closely by Australia and the UK) is an experiment in abandoning our tribes.

From my training in anthropology, I’m not hopeful about the outcome if things don’t change.

Togetherness and social connection has strong links to our sense of well-being and purpose in life. So it makes sense that Valerie Hamaker recommends a mentor to help us beat quarter-life crisis. She says,

Find a support system or a mentor who can help you see what you are going through and help you not feel lost, unconnected, and alone.  This mentor can facilitate opportunities to help you move into more adult-like responsibilities (higher education, skills training, work opportunities) that are a blend of mentor assistance but chiefly executed by the young adult themselves.”

Some young people may object to reaching out for help because of the financial cost of getting a therapist or life coach. Others may dislike the payment model because it precludes the mutuality of a “real” relationship. A good middle ground option is finding a mentor.

You can find a mentor in your circle of family, friends, and acquaintances. Think of older, more experienced adults that you admire in your university, church, gym, or workplace. You can also search a variety of online databases of volunteer mentors if you face significant challenges, such as:

  • Mental health Challenges
  • First-Generation College Attendee
  • Low Income
  • Recent Immigrant
  • School Dropout
  • Other At-Risk Categories

The downside of online mentor-matching services is that they may have age limits that bump up against the period in life when you are likely to experience your quarter-life crisis (around age 22-30). Some volunteer mentors work with youth up to age 18 or early 20’s, but you may find some who do not have an age limit.

Your best bet will be to find someone you already know and admire and ask them to walk with you through this tough time in life. Hamaker recommends mentoring during this period to help it pass quickly and more easily. When she counsels young adults with a quarter-life crisis, she tells them to “put their phones down and socialize with real human beings. Learn to be vulnerable. Learn to look into another’s eyes and talk to them.”

Perhaps reuniting with our tribe is exactly what we need in order to figure ourselves out again.

5. Find a Safe Launching Pad to Avoid Quarter-Life Crisis

Perhaps much of the existential slump we experience during the quarter-life crisis can be avoided. What if there are elements in our society that lend themselves to this young adult “failure to launch?”

I’ve been an expat since 2013 — originally from the US but living in the Middle East, where my husband works in the nonprofit sector. I’ve been able to study cultural patterns that are very foreign to the way we do “adulting.” Usually, young adults in the near east ease into their new role with much more scaffolding than in the US. I’ve made a few broad comparisons in the following chart.

Could it be that western culture fails to provide the easy transition to adulthood that would help us avoid much of the pain of the quarter-life crisis? When I spoke with Allouis about my cultural observations, she registered a bit of surprise. Being born and raised in France, the idea that parents would push their children to be independent was not something she resonated with.

It is perhaps worth noting that while the USA scored 91 on Hofstede’s Individualism Index (the highest scoring nation in the world), Allouis’ native France scored significantly lower, at only 71, signifying a more balanced approach.

Allouis says that in French culture, parents do not push their children out. “They support the children and respect their choice to stay or go.” She believes that opening the door too soon could initiate the quarter-life crisis much earlier, as the brain is not fully developed until around age 25.

“One of my children is almost 19; he doesn’t know what to do next,” she says. “He is scared and anxious about life. He doesn’t feel ready for the adult life and all the changes it applies. He knows, and I told him a few times, he can stay with me. We are family, we support and help each other.”

Perhaps it is this mindset of mutual support that can help to balance America’s hyper-individualism.

Allouis reminds us that “When the children leave when they feel ready, it is their decision and is [sic] prepared to accept their challenge. The change will be smoother, and they know and feel their parent [sic] support them. They feel love and understanding; They have the self-esteem and courage to take their life in their hands.”

She believes that adult children from deeply supportive homes will still go through a rough transition to maturity, but the process will be far more comfortable because of the positive social system they have. Listening, understanding, love, and support, she says, “are the ingredients to have a successful life transition.”

Perhaps if we want to beat quarter-life crisis, we can begin by securing a safe launching pad — if it’s too late for us, at least we can do our best to provide gradual scaffolding to the next generation.

Conclusion

Where are you in your quarter-life crisis? What steps are you taking to work through it? Research suggests that Millennials tend to wallow in their pain for an average of six months before trying to “sort their life out.”

That’s a long time to be at rock bottom.

Instead, try these five tips from experienced therapists. You can be well on your way to beating quarter-life crisis by:

  1. Renegotiating your relationship to technology
  2. Being open-minded to significant lifestyle change
  3. Changing your expectations about life’s timeline
  4. Finding a mentor to walk beside you
  5. Negotiating a safe launching pad into adulthood

What have you been doing to beat quarter-life crisis? Share your experiences in the comments below! I hope the interesting developments in our world these days will provide you ample time and opportunity to work on yourself and work on constructing a meaningful path for your future.

Best wishes on your journey,



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Jaimie Eckert

Scrupulosity Coach

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