With millennials under increasing pressure to achieve, both professionally and socially, many are experiencing a quarter-life crisis. Here’s how to spot the symptoms and help yourself to stay happy.

Everybody is familiar with the term ‘mid-life crisis’, in which 40-somethings (usually men) panic about the passing of their youth.

This emotional turmoil is characterised by a crisis of identity and a desire to change one’s job or circumstances.

Quarter-life crisis - Compelo
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However, faced with Instagram and Facebook feeds of happy, successful people, careers and relationships have arguably never been so stressful.

As a result, some experts believe a new phenomenon is appearing − the ‘quarter-life crisis’ (QLC), or ‘young adult crisis’.

What is a quarter-life crisis (QLC)?

A QLC takes place during a person’s twenties and can be defined as a growing feeling of ‘pretend-adulthood’.

Although a modern term, research conducted by Oliver Robinson of the Department of Psychology and Counselling at Greenwich University found that over a period of years the QLC goes through several key phases:

  1. Locked-in – The feeling of being stuck within a relationship or a dissatisfying career path.
  2. Separation and time out – Distancing and ending their physical and mental ties with either their relationships of jobs. During the ‘time-out’ people often reflect on and reassess what their goals are.
  3. Exploration – Finding new motivation through new social circles, interests and hobbies.
  4. Rebuilding – Renewed positive outlook on commitments and long-term plans.

People can go through a QLC several times in their twenties. However, while it can be painful, it does give them the opportunity to change things and ultimately make themselves happier.

Recruitment specialist Forward Role Recruitment has found ways of spotting if you’re in the midst of a QLC, in addition to advice on how to deal with it.

Quarter-life crisis - Compelo

4 signs of a quarter-life crisis

  1. You wake up, go to work, go to the gym, eat, sleep, repeat. The constant weekly monotony gets you down. You’re questioning your decisions: whether you did the right degree, where you’re choosing to live, who you’re spending time with, what your career should be.
  2. You’re looking at your friends and work colleagues, contemplating why everything in your life is different from theirs. From comparing salaries to their #relationshipgoals, you scrutinise everything they do. Plus, you wonder how you could ever measure up to them.
  3. You wake up, check all of your social media profiles, see how many people liked your posts. You check them again five minutes later and again 200 times throughout the day. If you could cut yourself off from social media altogether you would. However, you’re addicted to checking on the glamorous lives of your favourite bloggers.
  4. There’s a constant stand-off between “I’m quitting my job and traveling the world”, “I’m going to climb the career ladder” and “Is this even what I want to be doing?” Disillusion with your job is common in the early years but you need to think whether it’s the job itself getting you down or if you’re after a fresh challenge. 

4 steps to overcome a quarter-life crisis

  1. First of all, stop the comparisons. Obsessive Comparison Disorder is amplifying your anxieties and adding to the crisis. Being able to take the step back and focus on your own successes (rather than seeing everyone else as more successful than you), will help put your mind at ease.
  2. Take some time to build support networks. Whether these are friends, co-workers or family, you need to talk to people about how you’re feeling through these moments. The likelihood is that they’ve gone through something similar − or have the same doubts that you are. It helps to know that you aren’t alone.
  3. Figure out your values. Remembering what makes you tick can help you stay on track when you’re feeling at your worst. If you’re not quite sure about your personal values, start with ten that you identify with, then narrow it down to five (but ideally three).
  4. Planning is vital. Producing a short-term plan will help you focus on what you want to achieve in the near-distant future. Whether it’s looking for a new job, buying a house or settling down with a partner, having this down in writing will give you a strong sense of direction and alleviate some of the stresses of what you want to achieve. Once you’ve got a plan in place, it’s about using your newly-decided personal values to prioritise everything you want to get done over next 12 months.

Quarter-life crisis - Compelo


As QLCs become more common, the key is noticing things that add to the stress and anxiety of everyday life and managing them. Stick to your plans and do not compare your successes to everyone else’s. This will keep you focused on the end goal and, most importantly, keep you happy.

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