The idea of a quarter-life or mid-life crisis might sound dramatic, but these terms describe common periods of change and uncertainty that many individuals go through. In fact, any major life change, no matter your age, can trigger existential questions of purpose, role, and direction.
Common life circumstances that lead to these kinds of crises include:
- Questions about work and career: You might wonder if you’re on the right career path, whether you’d be happier doing something else, and what the broader meaning of your work is.
- Concerns about relationships: You may be worried about finding a partner, considering a big change like marriage, or rethinking a longstanding relationship.
- Changes in family structure: Having children, supporting aging or ill family members, and dealing with grown children leaving home can raise questions of role and life priorities.
- Doubts about overall purpose: Simply wondering about what your life’s meaning is and how your choices add up to a bigger purpose can sometimes lead to an existential crisis.
If you’re going through one of these situations, know that these anxieties are addressable. Try out the following strategies to turn this challenge into an opportunity for growth and renewed sense of direction!
1. Question your “shoulds”
Quarter-life and mid-life crises are frequently tied to ideas about what you “should” have accomplished or what you “should” be doing by this point in your life. Consider a few common examples:
- “I should be married by now.”
- “My career should be further along at this point.”
- “I always expected to have children by this age.”
- “Other people my age all seem to know exactly what they want out of life.”
Notice that there are different ways of phrasing these “shoulds,” but they all come down to the idea that you’re somehow failing to measure up to an external standard.
In many cases, however, you’ll find that you don’t really believe in or care about the standards you’re trying to live up to. Try writing down a list of all the “shoulds” that might relate to your current crisis, and then ask yourself: Do I really believe this assumption? This is a technique related to the practice of reframing untrue thoughts (which comes from cognitive behavioral therapy), and it can help you see how your thoughts are making your circumstances seem worse than they really are.
As you work through this process, remember also that goals can change – for example, what you really wanted five years ago might not be what you really want today, and that’s okay. Try not to hold yourself to outdated expectations that no longer apply to your life.
Finally, it’s worth noting that “shoulds” are deeply rooted in societal expectations and your observations of other people. One thing that might help is taking a break from social media, which can often prompt you to compare yourself to others and internalize other people’s “shoulds," even when you don’t really value them yourself.
2. Search for your passion
If you think that a lack of purpose or direction is contributing to your quarter-life or mid-life crisis, it can help to take an active approach to rekindling your passion for life.
Try using a passion search exercise to get a clearer sense of what’s missing in your life and how to go about finding it. Put simply, a passion search exercise is a structured way to dig deeper into what your purpose might be and figure out practical steps for making it a reality.
A passion search exercise will lead you through six key steps:
- Prepare yourself for deep contemplation
- Answer questions to get in touch with your interests and desires
- Reflect on your responses
- Draw conclusions from your exploration
- Find ways to bring your goals to life
- Learn how to confront obstacles and adapt to change
In many cases, you’ll find that working through this process will help you reduce anxiety around your uncertainties and figure out concrete strategies for making positive change.
3. Start a self-exploratory journal
Often, a big part of what’s so hard about quarter-life and mid-life crises is not knowing exactly what’s wrong. You feel like something’s off, but you don’t know what or how to fix it.
If this resonates with you, try starting a journal as a way to reflect on different aspects of your life and how you feel about them. Regular writing sessions can help you spot trends in your feelings and experiences, which often makes it easier to figure what actually needs to change in your life – and, conversely, appreciate what’s already working well.
What’s more, a journal also gives you a place to record hopes and fantasies about how you want to shape your life going forward. By setting aside time and space to let yourself dream about how you’d like your life to change, you’ll often stumble upon helpful new solutions or directions.
As you write, remember that it’s important to include positive things as well as negative ones. That way, you’ll be sure to notice what’s going well in your life, and you can use that information to inspire you in areas that still need some finesse. Some people find it helpful to set aside time once a week to write in a gratitude journal, where you specifically focus on listing things you’re grateful for.
Writing in a journal doesn’t have to be formal or structured, either. Just free-writing whenever you have time or listing your thoughts as bullet points can help you get a fresh perspective.
4. Focus on self-care
When you’re dealing with a quarter-life or mid-life crisis, it might feel like only large-scale solutions will be helpful.
But don’t underestimate what a big difference basic habits can make! By taking good care of yourself on a day-to-day basis, you’ll set yourself up for success in tackling the bigger issues that might be at the root of your crisis.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed and uncertain, take time for as many of the following forms of self-care as you can manage, and see how your perspective changes once you’ve had a chance to recharge:
- Try to get enough sleep each night
- Drink plenty of water and eat a balanced diet
- Get moving with whatever forms of exercise you enjoy
- Spend downtime with loved ones
- Practice meditation or another mindfulness practice
- Have fun! Give yourself space to read a novel, go to a movie, bake a cake, or whatever helps you decompress, and try not to judge yourself for taking attention away from your crisis.
You might also find it helpful to just try out new things that sound interesting, even if you’re not sure where they’ll lead. Starting a new hobby or taking a class can be powerful forms of self-care.
5. Lean on your support system
Going through a quarter-life or mid-life crisis can often be isolating; you might feel as if you’re the only one who doesn’t have it all figured out.
But these kinds of challenges are actually very common! Though it might feel scary or awkward, try sharing some of what you’re going through with trusted friends and loved ones. Chances are they’re experiencing similar challenges, or have dealt with their own crises in the past. Hearing how they’ve coped can help you feel less alone and give you ideas for how to move forward, and you may find that you have some helpful advice for them, too.
The key idea here is reframing your quarter-life or mid-life crisis as a normal part of human life, rather than a failure or something that’s wrong with you. By seeing how others’ experiences are similar to yours, you’ll likely have an easier time internalizing the idea that your crisis is as much a chance to grow as it is a challenge.
6. Consider working with a coach or therapist
No matter what kind of crisis you’re dealing with, working with a therapist or coach can also be a helpful way to cope with your challenges.
Individual therapy for existential crises might be a good choice if you’re dealing with symptoms of anxiety, depression, or other mental health challenges. In therapy, you’ll have a safe space to process your thoughts and emotions about what’s going on, and you’ll also learn concrete strategies for working through the crisis.
If your quarter-life or mid-life crisis is tied to career issues or a general search for purpose, a life coach could also be a helpful option. Particularly if you’re looking for motivation, inspiration, and strategies to move forward with a new life path, life coaching can be an empowering way to work toward your goals.
Using Zencare, you can learn more about different kinds of therapy and search for therapists and life coaches in your area.