Existential fear, unfulfilled expectations, and a sense of regret can do strange things to a person, although the good news is that you no longer have to wait until your forties to have a wobble, as the quarter-life crisis (QLC) is now a thing. Rather than running off with the circus or taking up base jumping, however, people going through a QLC tend to take out their frustrations by ranting on social media about their confused emotions and career struggles.
A new study in the journal Frontiers in Psychology helps to build a picture of exactly what it feels like to go undergo a crisis in early adulthood, by analyzing 1.5 million tweets by over 1,400 people aged 18 to 30 who have referred to a QLC.
Certain themes were found to be particularly prevalent in these Tweets, especially when compared to Tweets written by a second group of people that had not claimed to be experiencing a life crisis. For instance, the word “work” was most strongly associated with the QLC group, as uncertainties and exasperations around employment appeared to play a major role in driving existential insecurity in young adults.
A heightened use of personal pronouns – such as “I”, “my”, and “me” – was also a strong predictor of QLC. According to the study authors, this was to be expected as previous research has revealed a tendency for excessive focus on the self in people experiencing mental health issues.
Terms relating to the future, such as “tomorrow”, “preparing”, and “anticipating” were much more common among Twitter users who had referred to a QLC, indicating a tendency to worry about what is to come, while comments expressing mixed emotions and a sense of feeling stuck were also strongly associated with QLC.
Finally, after reviewing the scientific literature on the subject of early-adulthood crises, the researchers identified 20 terms that they hypothesized would feature more heavily in Tweets made by the QLC group than the control group. The analysis revealed that this held true for 16 of these terms. These were “stuck”, “trying”, “leave”, “change”, “unemployed”, “lonely”, “hopeless”, “overwhelmed”, “unfair”, “fail”, “coping”, “failing”, “dept”, “meaning”, “trapped”, and “try”.
The authors note limitations to their study, including the fact that the Twitter users may not represent a full range of socioeconomic status groups or may be different from the general population in other ways. They also filtered for English-only tweets, despite cultural origination, which could have introduced cultural confounds in language.
While experiencing a life crisis is obviously not pleasant, it is also not uncommon, with a recent survey indicating that about 70 percent of British people in their thirties underwent a QLC during their twenties. Fortunately, these lasted an average of one year, which means there is always light at the end of the tunnel.