Mental Monday: Anxiety, times 30.

I recently read somewhere that people in their 30′s tend to have the most anxiety over any other age-group. I can’t recall where I read that or verify the research but, on a personal note,  it makes sense to me.

As you settle into your 30′s, there’s a good chance that you’re no longer a professional student or floating from one dead-end job to another.   You probably have a career or a career on hold while you’re raising children.   Although more and more people are holding off on marriage and children well into their 30′s (or abandoning that lifestyle all together), there is a whole host of other responsibilities that people in their 30′s usually have accrued. Maybe you have a demanding career, a mortgage or high rent, and car payments. And school loans from college or for that MA degree from when you were 25 that you may or may not have actually needed. The 30′s are a time when we become more knowledgeable about who we are and what we need in life to make us happy. However, reaching that place of happiness and staying there can easily make the most calm and collected of us into anxious nervous-wrecks.

Societal and familial values, in addition to biological urges,  have created a simple plan for us to follow – school, career, marriage, house, dog, children. Because of that, many people in their 20′s look at their 30′s as a time to get serious, settle down, and work even harder to get ahead. But then we arrive in our 30′s and get nervous when things don’t go as planned.

When our lives do follow that constructed order for how things should go, we now have to live up to the lifestyle. We have to make sure we can support our families, work hard in our careers, pay our bills, nurture our marriage/partnership, and keep our kids healthy, educated, and safe. We don’t have the luxury of having very few responsibilities. We need to raise our kids well, which includes wanting them to excel in school, sports, and arts. We worry about saving money for college as soon as we read the positive  pregnancy test. We work hard to make sure we can always afford everything we want for ourselves and our family.  And we’re so busy raising children and working on our careers, that our marriages, partnerships, and friendships can easily suffer.  A simple kinda life really isn’t so simple. Is it any wonder why so many of us are anxious?

There is no easy answer when it comes to avoiding the common anxiety associated with having expectations and ambitions. If we want marriage/partnership, children, a successful career, the picket fence – in essence, the proverbial “having it all” ambition that many of us share – then we must prepare ourselves for the emotional and mental toll it can take on us. Anxiety is a part of life and we need to accept it.

When we’re inundated with responsibilities, pressures, and the need to “prove something,”  it’s easy to get caught up in a vicious cycle of anxiety. We may interpret anxiety as something wrong when it can simply be a signal to us that something needs to change. Anxiety can actually be very healthy since it can motivate and strengthen us. However, when anxiety is compounded with irrational thinking, we are easily weakened by it. As challenging as it can be, we need to tune into our anxiety and learn how to use it to our advantage. Anxiety signals us when we need to work harder and “up our game” and it can also signal us to relax and let it go. It’s not easy to learn those signals but, whatever you do, don’t ignore the signs of stress and anxiety. Avoiding your stress will only exacerbate it and possibly cause physical symptoms as well. Confronting your stress and anxiety in a positive manner is the most beneficial way to deal with it. When you’re feeling overwhelmed by life, talk through your challenges. Have positive coping tools at the ready, such as taking a walk, practicing yoga, writing, or just taking time to be with friends and family.

Marriage/partnership, career, home, children – the 30′s is often a span in one’s life that is filled with many ups and downs, huge transitions, and great expectations.  The 30′s will often challenge most of us and it’s in those challenging times that we need to focus on everything good in our life. If we want more for ourselves, we need to be pragmatic and realistic. But one thing is for sure  – we can’t allow our self-worth to be determined by what we have and have not accomplished. I think that’s one lesson to be learned at any age.


Disclaimer: I am a Marriage and Family Therapist Intern with an MA in Counseling Psychology. While I have studied and have experience counseling clients on some of the issues I will address in the Mental Monday series, nothing I write is a substitute for medical advice or psychological counseling. Please do not rely on the content of this blog for medical or mental health care purposes.