Milestone Anxiety: How To Cope

Read on if you’ve recently been asked, “When are you giving me grandbabies?”

Getting a degree. Buying a house. Getting married. Starting a family. All of these are considered “life milestones.” And while they can bring excitement and joy, they can also inspire anxiety and frustration. Whether you are currently pursuing one or more of these life events, or running in the opposite direction, it can often be impossible to escape the pressure put on us by our families to hit these milestones.

“Some 77% of millennials (25 to 39-year-olds) and 83% of Gen Z (16 to 24-year-olds) feel pressure to reach traditional life milestones.” These are higher percentages than in older generations. As it becomes more socially acceptable to choose not to pursue traditional life milestones, or to choose to pursue them later in life, it would seem as if “milestone anxiety” would lessen. However, many of us still face pressure from social media, parents, and even ourselves. The term “milestone anxiety” itself is somewhat of a new concept — in previous generations, there was less room to question or feel anxious about how and when to pursue traditional life milestones.

So What Can We Do About It?

Milestone pressure can often feel inescapable. And unfortunately, we can’t give you access to some hidden escape route or magic “milestone shield.” But we do have some tried and true methods to help strengthen you against these ever-present expectations.

Tip #1: Develop an Inner Locus of Control

First and foremost, recognize that you ultimately cannot control what others say or feel. You may not be able to stop your parents from having certain expectations of you. You certainly can’t control all of the various social pressures you’re exposed to, unless you want to go live in a cave somewhere.

What you can do is strengthen you inner locus of control. Put simply, this means strengthening the belief that you are in full control of your life, and not beholden to the wishes of others. With a strong inner locus of control, you know you are the author of your actions and reactions, and don’t place blame on others for how you feel.

As with any area of growth, strengthening your internal locus of control involves self-reflection. How have you internalized the beliefs and expectations of your family of origin or society in general? In what ways do you associate certain life milestones with the idea of “success” (and not hitting those milestones as “failure”)?

Tip #2: Practice Grace with Yourself

While it’s important to take responsibility for your actions and reactions, it’s also important to practice grace with yourself. If you are accustomed to feeling anxiety about hitting life milestones, it takes time and consistent effort to learn new ways of thinking.

Know that there will be ups and downs, but returning to your previous ways of thinking, feeling, or reacting is not a “failure.” It is simply an opportunity for further growth!

Tip #3: Set Boundaries When Needed

Of course, it’s not always JUST an inside job. Sometimes, it’s necessary to set boundaries with specific family members or friends who consistently pressure you or voice their expectations of you. When it comes to setting boundaries, it’s important to first reflect on the specific behavior that is bothering you and identify how you would like to see it changed. Be clear about your needs and communicate how you feel. Give yourself permission to do what’s best for you, and know that you can always re-negotiate boundaries as needed.

Tip #4: Choose Your Own Milestones & Celebrate Accordingly!

There are many life milestones that deserve to be celebrated, beyond just the “traditional” ones that we’ve discussed thus far.

For example:

  • Leaving an unhealthy relationship or getting a divorce
  • Choosing not to have children
  • Coming out as LGBTQ+
  • Moving in with a partner
  • Getting a pet
  • Starting a new career

A Gem From Dr. Joy Herself 💎

Sometimes, no matter how much internal work we do, family expectations can be difficult to face. Fear of disrespecting an elder or causing a family conflict can add complexity to an already challenging issue. In this clip from our Cup of Joy on navigating family pressure to have a baby, Dr. Elizabeth Joy normalizes these difficulties and gives you some extra motivation to live your best life.

Transcript:

“Why? Why and how did we get to a point where family pressure even can exist? And I think that’s important to think through because there are folks who will show up to this conversation and may not be willing to listen to this. If the culture that you were brought up in says that ‘you respect your elders no matter what.’ And so when you think about that, especially African American culture, and you know, some other non-Eurocentric cultures, that’s everything.”

“And so there’s some folks not able to show up to this, they don’t even feel like they have choice because means disrespect. And disrespect is not an option to your elders. So I just want to highlight that and honor that if you if you’re listening to this, and that’s a reality that you’re maneuvering, I honor that. That it’s important for you to to honor your elders. I will say that’s one of the movements we’re seeing. When you think about it, again, I’m claiming our generation as the original OG disruptors, and then moving forward, most absolutely dominantly in your generation. Just saying, ‘Hold on. That doesn’t make sense. That’s not good for me, that’s not healthy.'”

“And I just want to encourage those who are kind of maybe secretly or internally feeling like, I’m not feeling good about this, this pressure, but I want to honor and respect and I take seriously that component of our culture. I would just encourage folks to think through, you know, there’s always a need for growth in everything, right? And so that’s what we see in the world. If you’re alive long enough, you see that over time, doors open for a conversation to be started that could never be had, for new truth to start to emerge as a possibility.”

“And so I would just encourage folks to not think of it dichotomously. To say you’re either disrespecting your elders or you’re not. And again, I understand that when you’re talking to them, they’re only gonna see it dichotomously. ‘You’re disrespecting us or you’re not right. And so what we want for you is what you should be doing.’ So I just wanted to call that out and honor it. And again, I honor all of the nuances that are part of every conversation we have, there’s no topic we have where we’re going to touch on every element of it or all the complexity of it. But if you know Elizabeth Joy, then you know I show up always thinking about how can the person I’m sitting across from or the person who’s listening to me, tap into a better life, tap into their best life, whatever that is.”

“I think a lot of us think that life is just hard and it’s just always gonna be that way. But I know for sure you can actually really enjoy your life. But you can’t do that if you are making decisions based on what other people expect of you.” – Dr. Elizabeth Joy


For the full video, follow us on LinkedIn . For live group coaching with Elizabeth & Laine, peer-to-peer support, and a wealth of resources to improve your well-being in all 8 spheres of success, join us in the Joy Society membership community!

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