Anxious About Turning 30? Here’s How To Deal With Milestone Birthday Anxiety

When the clock struck midnight on January 1, all the 1994 babies had the same collective thought: “Oh my gosh, I’m turning 30 this year!”

By Meghan Dillon3 min read
Pexels/cottonbro studio

While all milestone birthdays are a cause for celebration, turning 30 often feels like everything will have to change when the day finally comes. This leads to plenty of women experiencing intense anxiety around turning 30, but it doesn’t have to be this way! The truth is that turning 30 is like any other birthday, but the societal pressures around where we should be at 30 are what make us anxious.

Why Is Turning 30 Such a Big Deal?

Our culture emphasizes turning 30 as the year that your carefree days end and the day when you should finally have your ducks in a row. We think of how Jenna Rink (Jennifer Garner) in 13 Going on 30 has a glamorous job, a luxurious Manhattan apartment (this economy could never), and a walk-in closet that rivals Carrie Bradshaw’s. Most of us aren’t as financially stable as we thought we’d be at 30, and many of us have yet to get married or start families. It makes Joey's freakout in Friends over turning 30 more relatable than ever.

The truth is that there’s nothing extraordinary that happens on the day we turn 30. Similar to the way none of us woke up feeling different on our 13th, 18th, and 21st birthdays, that won’t happen on our 30th either, but the societal expectations around turning 30 (especially for women) are what make us so anxious. Psychotherapist Dr. Jo Gee says, “Thirty can feel like a watershed age, where the expectations placed on women can come into focus, and anxiety can replace our sense of being carefree.”

Dr. Gee continues, “Perceived societal pressures to settle down, have children, and be in a ‘concrete job’ are often keenly felt with the change of decade. This runs alongside biological changes for women, which can lead to a general decline in fertility, in turn creating a sense of urgency in women reaching 30.”

Many of us (myself included) take these pressures to heart, depriving us of celebrating turning 30 by having a mini existential crisis. The good news is that it doesn’t have to be this way, and there are plenty of healthy ways to cope with the anxiety around turning 30.

My Experience Turning 30

My birthday is in March, meaning I was always one of the last of my friends to have a birthday during the school year. I hated it when I was younger because I had to watch all of my friends turn 16, 18, and 21 (there’s nothing like the FOMO of watching your friends go to bars when you don’t want to get a fake ID) before me, but have learned to let that go as I’ve gotten older. 

When friends started turning 30 back in September, it hit me that my 30th birthday was six months away. As time passed and more friends celebrated the milestone, I got more anxious about my upcoming birthday, which hit an all-time high in December when I realized that I was nowhere near where I thought I’d be at 30. I used to think that I would be married with kids by now, but I’m single and childless. In a culture that rebukes women for being single and childless at 30 (including those who, like myself, want to get married and have kids soon), this realization can be scary. 

After this triggered intense anxiety, I decided to talk it out with my therapist. I learned that I was far from alone in being anxious about turning 30. The good news is that there are plenty of ways to cope with milestone birthday anxiety.

How To Cope with Milestone Birthday Anxiety

Focus on Things You Can Control

Control is at the root of many anxieties, and this is no different. One of my biggest fears is losing my fertility as I get older, but aging is out of my control. What is in my control is my health, which is why I’ve shifted to focusing on preserving my fertility through healthy habits. I’m also working on putting myself out there when it comes to dating and progressing in my career, allowing me to build a life that will allow me to achieve my dream of marriage and children in the future.

Practice Gratitude

You might be anxious about turning 30 because you’re not as far along in your career or other aspects of life as you thought you’d be, but your life is probably still pretty great. Keep a running list on the Notes app on your phone with tiny, seemingly unimportant things that make you happy on a daily basis like the smell of your favorite candle or when the barista made you smile on your way to work. Maybe you found a new podcast that makes you laugh out loud, or you're feeling thankful for that friend that always gives the warmest hugs. Jot these things down and look back at your list when you're feeling down to realize how good you truly have it.

Remember That You’re on Your Own Timeline

We all know that comparison is the thief of joy, but not comparing yourself to others is much easier said than done. It’s hard not to compare yourself to friends who you perceive to be further along in life than you when you turn 30, but the truth is that you’re exactly where you need to be. We all have different timelines and are meant to achieve different things in life. Just because your best friend is married with kids at 30 doesn’t mean that you’re not meant to be a wife and mother someday.

Have a Celebration 

Since it is a milestone birthday, you might as well celebrate it! You can do something as low-key as grabbing dinner with your closest friends at a restaurant you love, or as outrageous as hosting a huge party in Mexico on the beach. Or maybe you don't love being the center of attention in which case maybe this is your excuse to finally book that solo trip to Italy you've been dreaming about for as long as you can remember. In any case, your 30th birthday is worth celebrating. This will also help you acknowledge the upsides of turning 30 (let’s be real, your 20s aren’t what they’re cracked up to be) and spend time with some of your favorite people.

Closing Thoughts

Turning 30 can be scary because it often makes us compare ourselves to others and wonder if we’ve fallen behind in life, but this milestone birthday doesn’t have to cause an existential crisis. Through focusing on things you can control, practicing gratitude, remembering that you’re on your own timeline, and properly celebrating, your 30th has potential to be your best birthday yet!

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