Quarter-life crisis

You've heard of a mid-life crisis but is it possible that 20-somethings could now be feeling the same kind of strain?

Boy sat on patio, photo taken from above

What now?

What is a quarter-life crisis?

It’s a term related to young people, usually in their 20s, who are unsatisfied with the direction their life is going. People are often filled with feelings of anxiety and failure when they realise the world is more competitive and unforgiving than they were expecting.

Why does it happen?

There are no clear figures that reveal what causes a quarter-life crisis. However, one survey showed that 41% of 20-29 year olds felt significantly pressured to do well, with almost ‘too much stress to bear’.

Young people also have the highest amount of unsecured debt in the UK. Money worries and unemployment (two-fifths of all those who are unemployed are now under 25) have become two of the biggest stressors for young people.

What are the symptoms?

  • Feeling like a failure because your job doesn’t match your level of knowledge/skills
  • Frustration with the corporate world
  • Uncertainty about the future
  • Insecurity about reaching aspirations or completing day-to-day tasks
  • Lack of ability to hold onto close friendships or romantic relationships, as well as sexual frustration
  • Confusion of identity
  • Boredom when socialising
  • Loss of closeness in relationships
  • Feelings of wanting to be back at university, school or college
  • A sense that everyone is doing better than you
  • Strong desire to have children, but feeling this won’t happen

You’re not on your own

If you’re dealing with these sorts of emotions, try to recognise that help is out there and, chances are, you’re not the only one feeling this way. “I was looking forward to a bright future ahead of me,” says Chloe, who left uni five years ago. “I immediately discovered how competitive the corporate world is and settled for other jobs. I always felt unfulfilled and eventually moved back in with my parents. I went from being happy, outspoken and intelligent to depressed, lonely and lethargic.”

Chloe’s parents helped her identify the problem and encouraged her to visit her doctor (GP). “Recognising the problem made me realise that I’m not alone and helped me build up my confidence again,” she says. She is now much happier and working in a job she enjoys, for a television company in London. “My advice to others is to recognise the problem and don’t be afraid to seek help.”

What do the experts say?

Alexandra Robbins, author of Conquering your Quarterlife Crisis, has a different perspective on the whole idea. She went through her own quarter-life crisis and proved it can be turned into a positive when she decided to write books about it.

“The quarter-life crisis is not necessarily a negative phenomenon because it signals that this generation is confronting its identity issues before embarking on the path to adulthood,” she says. “Members of my generation won’t have a mid-life crisis because they will have already resolved their identity issues in their 20s and early 30s.”

Getting help

Often, these feelings come from feeling unfulfilled or like you haven’t reached your career goals. Take a step back and reassess what’s really important to you. Talk to friends and family about what you want to achieve and then break it down into manageable chunks or tasks. Being proactive about reaching your goals can help change your attitude towards your future and make you feel more positive. Read our articles on how to boost your employability, skills and experience, for more information.

The quarter-life crisis can range from a sense of being unfulfilled to a deep depression; if it feels more serious it’s important to seek help.

A positive first step is to talk things through with your doctor, explaining the symptoms and the reasons why you’re feeling this way. There are also many books about the subject – just reading and understanding it more may help you to put things into perspective and work out what’s important in your life. And don’t forget that friends may be feeling the same way – talking to them about their experiences could reassure you that these feelings are quite normal.

Next Steps

  • Anyone can contact the Samaritans on their 24-hour helpline to talk things through. 116 123
  • Prospects is the UK's official graduate jobs website.
  • Relate is an affordable relationship and sex counselling service. 0300 100 1234
  • Chat about this subject on our Discussion Boards.
  • Need help but confused where to go locally? Download our StepFinder iPhone app to find local support services quickly.


crisis| self-care

By Daisy Phillipson

Updated on 29-Sep-2015