How to cope with ‘end of decade anxiety’

The end of the year is a great opportunity to take stock of everything you’ve accomplished and everything you’re proud of – and share it on your socials. Obvs.

While it truly is important to congratulate yourself for even getting through 2019 (it’s been a ride) and brilliant if you feel confident enough to do it publicly – for some, the pressure to round up every single thing they’ve achieved in a succinct, impressive thread is stressful – to say the least.

And it feels even worse at the end of an entire decade. Ten whole years to dissect, judge and critically evaluate. Why are we putting ourselves through this self-imposed scrutiny?

It gets even harder when you start looking at everyone else’s carefully curated lists.

Sure, they may throw in one or two hard times, allude to ‘difficult’ patches or ‘struggles’, but they are always quickly offset by wildly compensatory successes. A book deal, a promotion, the dream job, the dream property, the dream wedding.

If you haven’t ticked off any of these big hitters in the past ten years, if you feel like you’re still struggling with where you are, or still struggling to be happy, you might feel a sickening sense of dread scrolling through everyone’s glowing report of the the 2010s.

‘Any big date or number gives us a prompt to reflect,’ says Dr Josephine Perry, performance psychologist at Performance in Mind.

She says doing this can be a real positive as it can help us to appreciate what we have, and what we have achieved. She says seeing other people’s social media lists can inspire us to try similar things and maybe even step outside of our comfort box.

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The festive period in general can be overwhelming and lead to feelings of stress and loneliness (Picture: Ella Byworth for

But you have to be in the right place for these posts to have a positive, hopeful effect on your outlook. It’s all too easy to fall into the trap of destructive comparison.

‘If we are not in the right mindset when we see all these “best of the decade” lists we can really start to compare ourselves with others and see ourselves as failing,’ she adds.

‘We feel threatened that everyone else is more successful or happier than us.

‘Of course, most of the time they are using impression management; only showing their best moments; the bits they are happy for you to see. You are comparing your real “warts and all” life with their glossy highlights.

‘Remembering this, knowing that they too will have difficulties in their real lives, can help you feel less anxious.’

James, 30, says she has struggled with this in the past, and says it feels even more intense when the roundups are about the last decade.

‘I actually just find it overwhelming,’ James tells

‘I start trying to think about the things that I’ve achieved, and I don’t even know where to begin. None of it feels as good as what other people are sharing, and it just ends up making me feel a bit shitty about myself.

‘The new decade feels like there is all this pressure to make something amazing of it. To set these goals and create a new and better life for myself. But it’s just another day, just another January.

‘The pressure to live up to a new decade just feels too much.’

Dr Josephine’s advice is to get involved with the lists, but to some at them from a more positive, nuanced angle. And you don’t even have to share your list with anyone.

‘Remember what you have achieved and what you want to do in the future,’ she suggests. ‘Showing gratitude to yourself and being thankful for all that you do have can make us feel calmer and better able to face what is ahead of us.’

There is a reason why New Year’s Eve so often ends in disaster. It’s the pressure. The promise of a magical night, of new beginnings, of some kind of rebirth at the strike of midnight.

But the reality is that midnight on New Year’s Eve is just another midnight. The passing of time holds no transformative power over your career potential, your love life, or your character. But it is this hope of something magical that dooms us for disappointment.

‘The illusion of the new decade is what’s causing so many of us anxiety,’ says Raghav Parkash high performance and life coach.

‘Sometimes we forget that a New Year is not so much more than just a change in the date. As a result, when start the new year, we fall in to the trap of believing we have to set a number of goals which can be incredibly overwhelming.’

Think about your intentions when pulling together your list of achievements (Picture: Ella Byworth)

Raghav says that these goals often miss the point. We don’t set targets around things that will make us happy, but things that will make us appear to be successful.

‘We also tend to think that we need to create all these goals and changes very quickly – as though there is some time limit on progress.

‘What would be better is if we used the New Year to slow down and focus on our priorities, one at a time, which is where we are much more effective, happier and able to perform better.’

It’s not only the lists that are making us anxious as the decade rounds to a close. We’re slightly hungover from Christmas, we have to go back to work really soon, and we’re staring down the barrel of the bleak end of winter.

Jess, 25, says she always feels particularly sad at the end of the year, and the thought of a new decade on the horizon feels scary, rather than hopeful.

‘I’m not sure if it’s because I’m not sure I’m doing what I’m supposed to, or because my Irish mum thinks New Year is a day solely to mourn every family member that has ever died.

‘But I just feel like it’s another reminder that time is passing and it keeps passing and there’s nothing you can do.

‘Even if you achieved things that made you proud or happy, it never matches up to what other people did (some of them younger than you, ugh).

‘There’s just too much comparison and looking backwards through rose-tinted glasses as if everything happened to people in one big positive moment rather than a series of lapses and improvements.’

Maybe what we need is a healthy dose of realism. The retrospective idealisation that we are prone to at this time of year isn’t helpful and doesn’t accurately reflect life.

What we all need is a touch more authenticity – and maybe to find a way of congratulating ourselves for our achievements without making it about garnering the approval of others.

‘Remind yourself you are not in competition with anyone else,’ suggests Raghav.

‘When we try to compete with others, our happiness and well-being becomes dependent on what you achieve, instead of what makes you happy.

‘The truth is, everyone is on a different path, playing a different game, dealing with different life conditions and doing the best with what they have in the moment.

‘Focus on the process and journey, not just the outcome. The whole fun of achieving any form of success is not just the accomplishment, but the journey and process getting there.’

That’s incredibly easy to forget when all you see is people tweeting the outcomes of their successes, and not the hours, weeks or months of work and stress that went into that achievement.

‘Success takes time and patience,’ adds Raghav. ‘And, while it may feel like you haven’t gotten to where you want to be, remind yourself it’s about the journey and the steps you take daily.

‘The more you throw yourself in to the journey, the happier and more successful you’ll feel overall.’

Raghav says that another way to overcome anxiety at this time of year is to practice being happy about other people’s successes, and not letting it affect how you think about yourself.

‘The practice of celebrating other people’s success is very fulfilling,’ he explains. ‘Firstly, it allows us to really celebrate and get behind the people who have accomplished what they have.

‘Secondly, this is a great step to strengthen your own self esteem and belief in yourself.

‘People who can recognise and celebrate other people’s successes tend to feel much better about themselves and more inspired.’

It’s important to remember that if New Year’s Eve doesn’t make you want to throw on a sparkly dress and drink champagne in the street – that’s totally fine.

New Year’s is tough for lots of people and the pressure to sum up achievements, set new goals, and generally become a better person overnight, is understandably anxiety-inducing.

And don’t worry if you can’t look back fondly or proudly on the last ten years. You’re still here, and maybe that should be enough of an achievement in itself.

Think of the stroke of midnight as an opportunity to close the door on the previous decade and open the door on a new one. You don’t have to dive right through that doorway with a bulging to-do list and boundless enthusiasm, but it’s open… when you’re ready.

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