I'm Turning 26 And I'm Pretty Sure I'm Having A Quarter-Life Crisis

Confessions of a mid-20s drama queen.
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I’ve always enjoyed my birthday – but for some godawful reason, this time it’s leaving me with overwhelming anxiety, panic attacks, and the irrepressible urge to bleach my hair, change my name, and move to another country.

Now you might be thinking, 26 isn’t all that bad. You’re more mature than you were at 21, and you’re nowhere near 30 yet (which isn’t a bad thing, FYI).

In a perfect world, you’d be right. Unfortunately, I live in a world warped by societal pressures, harsh realities, and the tendency to judge myself based on the accomplishments I see of others online.

We’re taught from a young age that we have to have our entire lives mapped out by the time we pick our A-Levels. We’re ultimately forced to follow a career path that we’ll most likely stick with into university and our later lives – and carry on with for the rest of our lives. Chilling, I know.

At first, I thought I had everything figured out, but now my entire world seems like it’s falling apart. Like the true detective I am (maybe it’s the fact I’ve been raised on Murder, She Wrote), I decided to do some digging.

It turns out I’m not the only one who feels like this.

So… you’re having a crisis, here’s why

If you’re asking yourself questions such as: “What am I doing with my life?”, “Is this what the rest of my life is going to look like?” or maybe even, “What’s the point of everything?” chances are you’re going through a quarter-life crisis, according to Forbes.

A quarter-life crisis is a period in a young adult’s life that typically happens between one’s mid-twenties and early thirties, says MindBodyGreen.com.

According to licensed psychologist Rachel Needle, it’s “a feeling of stress and uncertainty often triggered around this time in someone’s life as they figure out who they are and what they want.”

“People might feel lost, trapped – personally and/or professionally – and uninspired during a quarter-life crisis,” she explains.

“While this is said to be some of the best times of our lives, there is a lot of pressure on people at this age as well, and struggles specific to this time in life.”

Seeking a change in your life

The question: “Is this what the rest of my life is going to look like?” is something I’ve been repeatedly asking myself leading up to my birthday. Don’t get me wrong, I do like my life. I like where I live, I’m happy with my accomplishments, and have a clear enough career path that I’m happy to be following.

That being said, the constant “what ifs” flood my brain, leading me to second guess every single life decision I’ve ever made.

Dr Elena Touroni, a consultant psychologist and co-founder of The Chelsea Psychology Clinic, explains why we do this.

“Our brains are wired for growth, which means they will always seek out new experiences,” she says.

“You may be feeling confined by the predictability of your daily routine. Or it could be linked to a desire to live your life in a way that is more aligned with your goals and values. I would say it’s a sign of self-awareness, and it’s OK to take your time to explore what’s next.”

I also asked her why I felt so incredibly insecure all of a sudden, and why my accomplishments felt like they weren’t good enough.

She told me that it could be due to comparing myself to everyone and everything I see online.

“Comparing ourselves in today’s interconnected world is almost inevitable. But social media isn’t the only culprit when it comes to feeding these kinds of comparisons and insecurities,” she explains.

“Childhood experiences can also play a role in determining whether someone is vulnerable to experiencing issues with low self-esteem.”

She suggests if it becomes a recurring theme, it might be worth exploring this further with a therapist “who will help you unravel where this feeling stems from and what steps you can take going forward.”

Going through your 20s in a pandemic

If going through a quarter-life-crisis wasn’t enough, I’m pretty sure I can’t be the only one who feels like my 20s were taken away by the pandemic, leaving me feeling like my mind is trying to make up for lost time.

“Many of my fellow millennials, as well as Gen Zers, feel like they’re losing or have already lost the best years of their youth — and the promises that those years were supposed to hold,” writes Shannon Keating for BuzzFeed News.

When the pandemic began, I was 22, and the effects of its consequences are still lingering with me as I turn 26.

Being confined to the four walls of my bedroom, social distancing, and watching millions of people die around the world from Covid, has left me in this foggy, almost purgatory-like state of mind that clings helplessly to my former 22-year-old self, all while trying to navigate life as a nearly 26-year-old.

“Our 20s are pivotal years for all kinds of different life experiences. The pandemic took these opportunities away from you,” Dr Touroni says.

“Wanting that time back is natural and speaks to the importance of lost experiences. But don’t forget that it’s never too late to pursue those experiences now.”

Accepting reality

I keep telling myself life isn’t a race. I’m not here to beat anyone, nor are other people’s accomplishments a reflection of my path to success. Turning 26 isn’t a bad thing, and neither is going through pivotal moments in my life.

I’m going to keep reminding myself that I’m worth so much more than my career, the money in my bank account, and the constant pressures we put on ourselves “competing” with each other online.

I’m going to take time to reflect on my body and mind to prevent burnout and allow myself to be vulnerable and honest with myself – it’s the best step forward.

“Birthdays mark the passage of time and can draw attention to where we are in our lives. If there’s a perceived gap between where you’d hoped you’d be and your current reality, it’s normal to experience strong emotions,” Dr Touroni says.

“Remind yourself that everyone’s journey is unique and there are no hard-and-fast rules for where you should or shouldn’t be.”

Here’s to turning 26!