Have you ever heard about the quarter-life crisis? The quarter-life crisis is the period from the mid-20s to the early 30s when an individual is struggling to define their life as an adult. It used to be the stress of entering “the real world”, and the emotional upheaval about how to transition into adulthood. Depression, insecurities, disappointments and loneliness are seemingly worse when you are hitting the quarter-life crisis as a student.
There are more students in their mid-20s that are still in the university than ever before, either earning an advanced degree, changing majors or deciding to go back to college after some breaks. But what happens when you are still in school when your biological clock is ticking and you’re about to turn 30? Educated 20- and 30-something are most likely to be hit by quarter-life crisis. People have a certain image in their head about what they need to achieve by a certain age: steady job, identity of life values, living up to the parents’ expectations. The fact is here you are, still worrying about your GPA, and before you know it, you are completely questioning your life goals.
According to licensed therapist Jennifer Burton, our society's ideas about time frames for accomplishments stem largely from Erikson's eight stages of development. Erik Erikson was famous for coining the phrase,” identity crisis” in his comprehensive psychoanalytic theory.
“The reason why this is concerning, however, is because we are living much longer lives than we did when these stages were developed,” said Burton who has a practice in Southern California. “Because of modern medicine, the stages technically need to be backed up by about ten years, meaning that life accomplishments normally achieved during mid-twenties (degree, job, starting adulthood, finding a spouse) are more likely accomplished in mid-thirties.”
The fact of the matter is, a lot is asked of college students. Students are expected to get stellar grades, do an internship, have a job, be active in the school club and somehow manage to have spare time for a social life.
Arely Villanueva is a fashion journalism student at Academy of Art University. She used to study law before she decided to change her major last year. She is trying to build her resume by working 45 hours per week as a manager in a retail store besides being a full time student “I do feel frustrated when my friends already have their first careers. However it is really hard to balance the work responsibilities when I reach home everyday at 11pm and still need to do assignments for the school. Sleeping is a privilege as this point of my life. My whole life is fucked up, I am starting to feel like it is not worth it,” said the 24-year-old.
Living in the social-media era also makes society become an envious generation; they are bombarded with daily basis information on how well their friends doing in life. Adam Amiley Poswolsky, the author of The Quarter-Life Breakthrough came up with the term FOMO, Fear Of Missing Out, comparing with what other people were doing. This makes it very easy to feel like student in their mid-20s are underachieving in life.
“As such, someone in their mid-20s is more likely to be struggling with the issues of the teen years (which in fact they are struggling with, but thinking they are flawed as a result). There may certainly be some outliers who actually "have it all together" and know their life path early as well as how to achieve their goals, but we can't be fooled by what we see on social media, since everyone is putting up the facade vs. what is really happening in their lives,” explained Burton.
She added: “Also, in brain development terms, the cortex, which (in simplistic terms) is the thinking part of our brain, is not fully formed until 26 years of age. Thus, the expectations 25-year-olds put on themselves is highly unrealistic, and it is more ‘normal’ to not have it all figured out.”
Burton also mentioned that there is no many ways to avoid a quarter-life crisis, any more than we can avoid other life struggles. In order to fully "lean in" to the joyous and pleasurable things in life, we also have to "lean in" to the other stuff too.
“This is not to say that if someone is truly experiencing severe anxiety or depression that they shouldn't seek medical help and therapy. In many cases, therapy alone can be very helpful - and in a recent study, it was found that a combination of medication and therapy for depression works better than medication alone,” She acknowledged.
Therapy does not have to be a huge expense. While therapists in private practice can be pricey if they don't accept medical insurance, there are other options. Many local agencies that train therapists have very low sliding scale rates, and college counseling centers offer free therapy for students. In addition, one major benefit of the Internet and smart phones is that we can access coping skills and helpful apps. There are apps that will provide meditation training and other methods for coping with stress, anxiety and depression.
Like many conditions the quarter-life crisis affects some of us more than others. However it is really important for students to understand that it is normal to have the quarter-life crisis. Overwhelming instability often causes depression and anxiety, preventing us from getting the best of ourselves. But with the right coaching and approach, it can also be a positive and transformational experience. (MT)