#MHAW23: Coping with milestone anxiety

MHAW Mental health

Today, it can feel like there's a lot of pressure to achieve certain milestones by a particular age. Whether it's graduating from uni, landing a dream job, or buying a house and starting a family, there can be a sense of urgency to reach these milestones as quickly as possible. This pressure can lead to a phenomenon called "milestone anxiety."  As it's Mental Health Awareness Week and the theme is anxiety, we thought we'd take a closer look at what's behind milestone anxiety and how to address it with the help of Relate Counsellor, Simone Bose.

Milestone anxiety on the rise for Gen Z

In 2022, relationships charity, Relate, where I work as a counsellor, carried out research on just over 2000 UK adults which found that 83% of Gen Z were feeling pressure to hit life milestones compared to 77% of millennials and 66% of over-75s who reported feeling this way when they were younger. This is also an issue which often comes up more with the young people I see in counselling than with older clients.

How can milestone anxiety manifest?

Milestone anxiety can manifest in several ways, including feeling like you're falling behind your peers, feeling like you're not living up to societal expectations, or that you're not living up to your own expectations. This pressure can be particularly challenging if you're still trying to figure out who you are and what you want out of life.

Putting ourselves under pressure

But where does this pressure come from? Interestingly, the respondents in our survey who were facing milestone anxiety were more likely to say the pressure was coming from themselves (39%) than from society (22%). Gen Z were the group that was the most influenced by social media which can increase comparison culture making us feel like everyone else's lives are perfect or certainly better than our own might be.

'Traditional' and 'alternative' milestones

Getting married and having children were the top two milestones Gen Z felt under pressure to achieve overall. However, 95% of Gen Z felt there were other life milestones that should be better recognised like leaving an unhealthy relationship and quitting your job to do something you love.

Following your authentic path

It's important to recognize that everyone's path in life is different, and there is no one-size-fits-all approach to achieving success and happiness. What works for one person may not work for another, and that's okay.

Here are a few tips for how to reduce feelings of milestone anxiety and live a life that feels authentic to you:


  • Reflect on what truly matters to you. Take some time to reflect on what's important to you and what you want to achieve in life. Make a list of your values, interests, and goals, and use this as a guide to help you make decisions that align with your authentic self.


  • Don't compare yourself to others. It's easy to fall into the trap of comparing yourself to others, but this can be harmful to your mental health and wellbeing. Remember that everyone's journey is different, and what works for someone else may not work for you.


  • Embrace failure. Failure is a natural part of the learning process, and it's okay to make mistakes along the way. Embrace failure as an opportunity to learn and grow and use it as motivation to keep moving forward.


  • Surround yourself with supportive people. Surround yourself with people who support and encourage you to follow your own authentic path. Seek out mentors and role models who have similar values and goals, and don't be afraid to ask for help or advice when you need it.


  • Stay true to yourself. At the end of the day, it's important to stay true to yourself and your values. Don't compromise your integrity or authenticity for the sake of achieving a milestone that doesn't align with your true self.


  • Seek support. If you feel anxious around reaching certain milestones, consider therapy. A trained counsellor or psychotherapist can help you explore why you feel under so much pressure, consider what actually interests and excites you and support you to be the person you really are..


It can be so tempting to compare yourself with others but as the 90s classic Everyone's free (to wear sunscreen) goes: sometimes you’re ahead; sometimes you’re behind; the race is long, and in the end it’s only with yourself.