Mental Health
Quarter-Life Crisis: Pandemic Edition

Quarter-Life Crisis: Pandemic Edition

4 min read


Madison Montalbano

What is a Quarter Life Crisis?

Becoming an adult. What does that mean? Does it provoke feelings of excitement? Fear? Maybe both? 

If so, you’re not alone! During early adulthood (18-30), so much can still be up in the air regarding your career, personal identity, social life, partnerships, living situation, and financial independence.

Due to these factors and more, many people in early adulthood experience a quarter life crisis. A quarter life crisis is a developmental crisis that is unique to early adulthood. These crises are times of instability and heightened emotion that can come with times of transition. They are typically set off when someone is trying to settle into stable life roles, but runs into obstacles that make them feel overwhelmed and as if they lack the tools to cope effectively. Some may feel trapped by their commitments while others struggle to find work or love.

Overall, the question during this period is “who am I?” Many feel uncertain, stressed out, caught in-between, and focused on themselves (Black, 2010).

How the Pandemic Complicated Quarter-Life Crises 

Since March of 2020, nothing has truly felt the same. Our worlds became smaller, and we were forced inwards, for better or worse.

With so much to figure out about themselves and the world, young adults benefit from being out in the world to experiment. The ramifications of the pandemic are still unfolding, and yet life stops for nothing. It is important to pause and reflect on the ways the pandemic changed our lives with the goal of offering ourselves some compassion if we don’t feel like we’re where we want to be in life.

Let’s take a look at a few of the ways the pandemic complicated a “typical” quarter life crisis:

Loss of Rituals

Rituals and routines can give us some sense of normalcy and ease the passing of time. Unfortunately, graduations, birthdays, weddings, and even routine hang outs with friends and family have all looked very different these past two years. It might have felt as though you were catapulted from one thing to another. 

If you’re in your 20s right now you might feel like time is running out. So much is expected in this defining decade of your life. However, the pandemic made time stand still in a way. You might be feeling as though you were robbed of typical developmental experiences you can’t get back.

Finding Ourselves in New Ways

While solitude and time for personal reflection can be hard to come by, the pandemic has forced many of us to spend a lot more time with ourselves. This time may have contributed to so many people coming to terms with different parts of themselves that may have been suppressed. All the many ways we were able to keep busy and distract ourselves started to disappear and we were left with our inner monologues.

With all the extra time inside, many of us turned to social media platforms (especially TikTok) for solace and entertainment. Some ended up learning a lot more about themselves and how they want to express who they are. Queer content creators flooded TikTok and viewers were introduced to people with a wide array of gender identities and sexual orientations. Seeing others live authentically can be inspiring and can help us give ourselves permission to explore new possibilities.

Career Shifts

Both the pressure to work and the lack of care for workers during the pandemic made many people reassess the goals they once thought they had. We learned that working hard is not always enough for job security, and questioned the emphasis on work rather than living a meaningful life. Many began to ask themselves:

“Is this what I really want to be doing?”

 “Is my work valued?

“What else might be out there for me?”

The Great Resignation, as it’s been termed, can largely be tied to the pandemic. Young people especially began to question the status quo and asking for more out of life.

Even leaving a job that made you unhappy can be stressful. Leaving the familiar is no easy feat, but, with so much already up in the air, it makes sense for us to be brave and ask for what we really want.

Moving Forward

I believe it is important for us to acknowledge how we were affected by this global crisis on an individual level.

Many people lost loved ones, opportunities, relationships, and experiences. I think many share in the loss of what these past few years would have looked like for us without the pandemic. Propelling ourselves forward while ignoring what we’ve been through can leave us feeling more disconnected from ourselves and the lives we truly want to live. It could be useful to journal about what you’ve been through, acknowledging the ways your life looks differently now and how that makes you feel. Having an honest conversation with peers about how the past two years have affected you could also be a great way to connect with your experiences and others.

What Can We Do?

We are now offered a unique opportunity to re-imagine what our futures could look like. 

How would it feel to let go of previous expectations and the timeline of milestones or accomplishments our culture imposes on young adults to redefine what success really looks like for you?

Here are a few suggestions for navigating a pandemic quarter-life crisis:

Create new routines and rituals.

Even with the world re-opening, take time to check-in with yourself and focus on your inner world. This could look like some reflection time while doing a skin care routine, cooking for yourself, meditating, doing yoga, this list could go on. Try and find what feels good and restorative to you and incorporate that into your schedule.

Give yourself permission to let go of who you think you’re “supposed” to be in order to make room for who you really are.

 It could be useful to practice asking yourself more questions about your own wants and needs from different areas of your life (work, school, relationships, family, etc.)

Seek out therapy and/or support groups to help you navigate through your ongoing life changes and begin to process the trauma of the pandemic.

You don’t have to do any of this alone. Speaking with a professional and having a support system can make navigating through a quarter-life crisis a bit less painful. 

Experiencing a quarter-life crisis amidst a global crisis can be stressful and overwhelming. Try to keep in mind that waking up every day and trying your best (whatever your best looks like that day) is more than enough.

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About the author

Madison Montalbano, LMSW is a queer affirming therapist in New York City who works with adult individuals and couples experiencing relational issues, confronting life changes, managing anxiety, and exploring different parts of themselves. She takes a person-first stance and integrates multiple therapeutic modalities, including psychodynamic and cognitive-behavioral techniques, with a focus on the mind and body connection. To learn more about Madison, check out her MyWellbeing profile or reach out to her directly. Madison also runs therapeutic groups and workshops. Check out her practice’s website to inquire about upcoming offerings.

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