Your friends are getting married, every week someone else seems to be buying a house, getting their dream promotion or sharing their excitement because, “We’re pregnant!”
It may seem like these traditional landmark events are being reached by everyone else, everywhere you look – so if you aren’t doing all those things, but feel like you should be, it’s no surprise that it might negatively affect your wellbeing.
New research suggests that the pressure to hit these milestones is affecting younger people more than previous generations. Relate found that some 77% of millennials (25 to 39-year-olds) and 83% of Gen Z (16 to 24-year-olds) feel pressure to reach them.
The charity, who provide relationship support in England and Wales, even noted that ‘milestone anxiety’ is a topic that is increasingly coming up in therapy sessions.
What creates this pressure?
“Today, we live in a world of picture-perfect social media posts, influencer culture and reality TV shows which create this illusion of a dream lifestyle – young people achieving extraordinary goals and milestones in their Twenties and Thirties. It’s no surprise that so many Gen Z and millennials feel the need to keep up with others by following the latest trends, shouting about their successes and portraying a vision of the ideal life. They often validate their self-worth by the number of likes they get on social media rather than from their real-word existence.”
There’s also the added pressure from coupled-up friends and family asking when you’re going to put down roots or start a family, says Peer, “Which can further trigger feelings of inadequacy and frustration.
“It’s no wonder there is now a thing called a quarter-life crisis when people in their mid twenties start worrying about which direction their life is heading in.”
So how can you begin to break free of the pressure and enjoy exactly where you are in life?
Make peace with your inner critic
We’re often far more critical of ourselves than anyone else. Roger Taylor, a coaching psychologist and co-founder of psychology and coaching network Famn (famn.co.uk), believes that the first step to quieting your insecurity when milestone anxiety kicks in is “coming into a relationship with our inner critic”.
He says: “Recognise what the critic is saying to us and how harsh it is. Recognise that not everything it says to us isn’t always true, say when it says that you’re not good enough because you don’t have a baby and all your friends do, you need to acknowledge that that is not fact. Don’t accept everything.”
Plus, many things are outside of our control and what you may see as another person’s ‘achievement’, is often just down to pure luck.
Reduce overall life stress factors
The more stressed and anxious you are feeling in day-to-day life, the more insecurity around milestones will impact you.
“The more anxious we are about anything, the more anxious we are about everything. The financial crisis has dialed up our anxiety and perceived threat level and we are therefore seeing more as a threat. Our own inner critic could be an internal threat, triggering anxiety,” Taylor says.
Accept that everyone is feeling it
But Taylor says it’s not just a Gen Z and millennial issue. “It is not just young people, I was coaching a multimillionaire, high up in financial services, and he was weeping because he has never felt good enough.
“When we are younger we have had less time to work with our inner critic and some of the elements of success we may want we may not have achieved yet. But, it is often just as acute in people in their Fifties and Sixties.”
Celebrate your own wins
For Peer, it is important to take a step back and be proud of yourself.
“Remind yourself that success is relative – think about what it means to you – having a wonderful, simple life is the aspiration for many over riches and fame, so really drill down on what’s important to you and your definition of success. It’s the simple things that often make us happy,” she says.
“So many of us don’t celebrate our own ‘wins’, no matter how small or have gratitude for what we already have because we forget to celebrate the moment being too busy looking ahead to what’s next and what everyone else is doing.”
We forget to see ourselves as ‘being enough’ or ‘having enough’, she explains. “We need to remember that what we see in other people’s lives is usually a showreel of edited highlights they have chosen to share rather than the reality of everyday life.”
Reaching certain ‘milestones’ doesn’t necessarily equate to true happiness and contentment either – and the bowing to the pressure to meet these arbitrary deadlines could make you rush into something that isn’t right for you in the long run.
Set your own goals instead
Who says we all have to reach the same goals at the same time? And more importantly, who knows if those ‘goals’ will even make you happy?
If you do find goal-setting helpful, then make sure they’re unique to you and are things you can actually control (unlike falling pregnant or meeting the love of your life).
Peer says: “Write down your goals, ideally in a journal specifically dedicated to this and include what you want to achieve together with the date by which you’d like to reach your target. If it’s a large project or a big life change, break it down into smaller tasks or milestones which will help make it more achievable and keep you motivated.
“Then take regular time out to stop and reflect on how far you have come – checking off what you have achieved and proudly knowing that you are making progress. Reward yourself for small wins rather than holding out for the ‘big prize’ at the end.”
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