According to TikTok, and most of my twenty-something peers, we are well and truly in the era of recognising the quarter-life crisis. Here’s why your twenties are likely to bring up feelings of loneliness, confusion and downright overwhelm, and what to do about it.
For decades, people have chalked up impulsive, reckless or out-of-character life decisions to a phenomenon known as the mid-life crisis (MLC). Of course, there are the common MLC scenarios that usually end up as the punch line of a joke: splashing out on an impractical sports-car, trading in your wife of 25 years for your secretary, or paying an irreversible visit to your local plastic surgeon.
But in essence, an MLC can refer to any period of transition where a person struggles with their identity. But even those of us relatively new to adulthood know these feelings can surface long before mid-life.
Almost every second video on my TikTok feed consists of a twenty-something speaking directly to camera about a phenomenon that has now been dubbed the ‘quarter-life crisis’ (QLC). As someone who is smack-bang in the middle of my twenties, the cries for help from my compatriots feel all too familiar.
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What is a quarter-life crisis?
The QLC is similar to its mid-life associate, encompassing a period of notable change spurred on by feelings of overwhelm, stress or indecisiveness. But unlike people with a 30-year career and paid-off mortgage to their name, twenty-somethings aren’t exactly able to cash out their existential overwhelm in the form of a new Ferrari.
And when I refer to overwhelm, I’m talking about the constant pressure to make money, travel the world, spend time with your friends, visit your family, dedicate time to self-care, work out like a fitness influencer, save for a home deposit, treat yourself to that new bag, put yourself out there on the dating scene, and somehow find time watch Netflix’s trending top ten.
According to Stella Ladikos, therapist and founder of Meraki Mental Health Training, there’s a reason so many of us experience a QLC during our twenties.
“While every chapter or period in our lives comes with its challenges this mid-twenties phase is characteristically unique,” Ladikos says. “Society generally expects those in their mid-twenties to have their lives ‘put together’, whether that’s with regards to their career, relationships, finance, or living situation, but the reality is, that most young adults don’t really have all these things figured out.”
The therapist explains that most people during their twenties are trying to achieve goals that may no longer seem attainable (such as escaping the grip of their landlord and becoming a homeowner), often feeling as though they are ‘behind’ because they haven’t met ‘the one’, aren’t starting a family, or moving up the corporate ladder.
The decade is filled with opposing desires, forcing us to filter through the expectations of our families, and comparisons to our peers. Like TikToker samcity_ says, “Being in your mid-twenties is basically wanting everything but being repulsed by everything at the same time.”
“On one hand, I wanna work my way up the corporate ladder and become a CEO, and on the other, I wanna quit my job and be a stay-at-home wife.”
While it’s easy to chalk up these QLC confessions and complaints online to youthful entitlement, The rising prevalence of such feelings may not be a coincidence. Ladikos says three years of lockdown, disruption, and uncertainty have taken its toll on many young adults who now find themselves feeling ‘behind’ in life.
“What I’m seeing more and more now is people in their mid-twenties feeling as though they skipped a whole chapter in their life to travel, work, figure out their career, and develop relationships due to Covid,” Ladikos shares.
However, according to Ladikos, some key players in the rise of QLCs, such as social media and the global pandemic, might also be responsible for some positive ramifications.
“For some of my clients, going through the Covid period completely redefined their career, relationships, and finances, so they came out of the pandemic with a life looking quite different to what it was before,” shares the therapist.
When it comes to social media, platforms like Instagram and TikTok have long been seen as detrimental to our mental health, promoting unrealistic ‘highlights reels’ that romanticise the lives of mass-followed individuals. Now, with trends such as this, creators are taking a more transparent approach to the content they share.
“From what I’ve seen, we are starting to shift to a chapter of social media in which people are opening up and sharing about the parts of their lives that typically tend to be hidden or masked,” Ladikos says.
“I think if we had a healthier balance in our algorithms between these more authentic voices and the glamourised content, fewer and fewer people would feel overwhelmed, lost, confused, unhappy, or stuck in a cycle of comparison,” adds the therapist.
Comparisons aren’t doing us any favours
Though it’s a perfectly natural human characteristic, Ladikos says being in a constant state of comparison can be extremely detrimental to our mental health. Comparing ourselves to others can leave us feeling like we lack control, a state of mind that only encourages anxiety and overwhelm.
“Everyone is on their own timeline, and things happen to people at certain times in their life for a reason,” says the therapist. “So, if you feel as though you’re ‘behind’ when you compare yourself to your friends or peers, try to keep in mind that maybe you are where you’re at for a reason.”
“If you’re not happy with something in your life and would like to see change or growth in that area, make that change for you, not because you’re trying to match others around you,” adds Ladikos.
A QLC looks and feels different for every individual. For example, maybe your crisis will manifest itself in a spur-of-the-moment haircut, or maybe you’ll wake up one morning and quit your job, dump your boyfriend and buy a one-way plane ticket to Mykonos.
Regardless, whether it’s during your twenties, fifties, or seventies, experiencing an overwhelming identity crisis is nothing to be ashamed of, and may in fact lay the foundation for much needed personal growth.