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What Is a Quarter-Life Crisis and Is It Real?

Mary-Lauren O’Crowley, NCC, LPC 

Lately, it would seem that older generations are under the assumption that younger people, specifically of the millennial generation, are easygoing if not irresponsible, with no stressors to be had. But this is an over-generalization and by no means the reality. Although younger generations typically enjoy the benefits of good health, they are also prone to chronic stress brought on by long hours and low wages, crippling student loans, and a newer generation of daters who are less likely to commit or settle down. Add the impact of social media and competition with peers to this equation and you have a recipe for emotional disaster. Be it feeling as though they are falling behind in their careers, not having satisfying or stable relationships, or navigating the burden of debt, the levels of anxiety are creeping up for many individuals in their 20’s and 30’s. This anxiety is often described as a quarter-life crisis.

Stages of a quarter-life crisis 

  •  Feeling stuck

 A person may find themselves feeling stuck or trapped in a job or a relationship among other situations. They may also feel uncertain and unsure about their choices.

  •  Separation

The individual may leave the situation in which they felt stuck or trapped which ushers in a period of loneliness and solitude.

  1.  Reflection

The individual experiences a stage of reflection upon their choices and what they ultimately want out of life 

  •  Understanding

As time passes, the individual starts to understand their own values, wants, needs, and expectations, allowing them to then pursue paths that are more in line with said values. 

Presenting Symptoms 

A person going through a quarter-life crisis may end up feeling one or all of the following: 

  • Lack of direction 
  • Stress or anxiety about their life circumstances 
  • Feelings of uncertainty 
  • Depression
  • Comparison or general lack of self-esteem 
  • Lack of motivation and feeling lost
  • Sense of failure

How can counseling help? 

Young people in the midst of a quarter-life crisis may feel as though they need to talk to a professional. There’s a technique aptly named ‘NEEDS’ to address the issues associated with a quarter-life crisis: 

N – Normalize

E – Empower

E – Existentially Focused Approach

D – Developmental Approach 

S – Screening and Assessment 

This approach focuses on normalizing the experience and providing the individual with resources to help them better navigate this particular time in their lives. Therapists can support them in helping them to determine their purpose in life and helping them with their decision-making and nonetheless, differentiating normal transitions from crises.


While there are strategies to prevent the symptoms associated with a quarter-life crisis, it is also important to recognize that it is a normal part of life to question one’s decisions and feel a bit lost. Sometimes with acceptance comes peace. That being said, mitigation efforts should be focused on increasing self-esteem and self-efficacy, implementing daily self-care to prevent burnout, and conducting regular self check-ins to determine whether or not various aspects of life are still providing meaning and fulfillment. It is also important to keep yourself focused on your own achievements and successes rather than comparing yourself to others. When we engage in daily gratitude and conduct credit lists (giving ourselves recognition and credit for that which we do well), we become more empowered.

If you or someone you know is navigating a quarter-life crisis, please reach out to the intake specialists at Symmetry Counseling today!


 Bradley University. (2018, June 15). Understanding The Quarter-life Crisis. Bradley University Online.

Today, C. (2016, April 22). Validating the quarter-life crisis. Counseling Today.

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