25ish- year old woman sitting contemplating life

Our mid-20s to 30s is prime time for an identity meltdown. If (or, let’s be honest, when) it happens, don’t flip out—you can come out of it even happier.

The postcollege years tend to be all about survival—finding a job, a roommate who doesn’t eat your food or steal your clothes, a solid boyfriend. Then, just as you begin to feel as if you’ve got things under control, it happens: a “Holy-crap-I-have-no-idea-what-I’m-doing-with-my-life!” freak-out.

If you’re in the 25-to-35 age range and this is resonating, congrats: You’re officially having a quarter-life crisis, something two thirds of young adults experience. Experts describe a QLC as a sense of panic that your life—career, relationships, etc.—isn’t where you want it to be. (There’s good reason that Hannah, Lena Dunham’s character from HBO’s Girls, is so damn relatable.) 

QLCs can be a bitch, as you may have already discovered. But as many as 80 percent of survivors say they feel happier and more satisfied with their life post-crisis, according to interviews conducted by Oliver Robinson, Ph.D., of the University of Greenwich in London, an expert in QLCs. He discovered that QLCs have four distinct phases; ride ‘em out and the odds are good that you’ll emerge on the other side feeling more awesome. It’s time to power through.

Stage 1: You Feel Trapped

Maybe you’ve been working at the same dead-end job for three years. Or you’re still with your college boyfriend but feel he’s coming to the end of his shelf life. Whatever has you tangled up, you want out—but you also fear that changing course now (quitting the job, dumping the guy) would pretty much be A. Total. Mess.