Whatever your age, there’s an anxiety that’s just for you

The modern advice culture is enough to stress anyone out


As if there were not enough slumps, crises and declines to worry about, a new book has revealed another problem to concern us. Women in their twenties, who seemed to be in relatively good shape when it comes to careers and independence, are in fact “confused, conflicted and uncertain”.

The psychotherapist Leslie Bell argues in her new book, Hard to Get, that, when they are in their twenties, women tend to feel “adrift and lost by the paradox of sexual freedom”. Heaven knows, we have all been there – that paradox of sexual freedom can be a nightmare sometimes – but, according to Dr Bell, this part of the demographic is more seriously afflicted than others. “Contradictory directives leave young women in a bind, and without much help in figuring out what they actually want.”

All the madness of the modern advice culture lies in that phrase “contradictory directives”. At every turn, there are now bossy experts, guilt-inducing surveys, and nagging self-help manuals identifying a great generational problem, telling us how to fix it, thereby adding to the world’s anxiety about itself.

Fortunately for them, single women in their twenties are not alone. There is now so much research that every stage in life has been revealed to be an assault course of pressure and uncertainty. To help you find out what should worry you, here is a summary of generational surveys as they stand:

If you are a child…

…You are more likely to be obese than ever before. By the time you reach the age of 11, your reading standard will be worse than any seen at that age before and there will probably be no books at home. Surveys reveal that computer games are doing terrible things to your brain, and experts have decided that you are being dangerously sexualised by clothes, TV shows and websites. Frankly, things can only get better.

If you are a teenage boy…

…You are part of something called the “crisis in masculinity”, or “boy catastrophe”. This involves falling hopelessly behind girls in all areas and having a level of esteem which has gone through the floor and is now in the basement. Depending on which survey you read, you are either inappropriately precocious or worryingly backward when it comes to relationships.

If you are a teenage girl…

…You are becoming seriously addicted to social networking sites. You are bullying, or being bullied, more than ever before. One in three of you suffers from stress, and nine out of 10 of you are unhappy with your bodies. You watch 40,000 TV commercials every year.

If you are in your 20s…

…You are finding adulthood more confusing than you expected. One book encourages independence, the next prudence. If you are a man, you are less likely to settle on a career at this stage than previous generations did. Your sperm count also seems to be declining. You are a lot more likely to vote for a reality TV show than in an election.

If you are in your 30s…

…You will know that thirties are the new twenties. That turns out to be a bad thing. Adult dissatisfaction is a serious problem after 30, according to many experts. There will probably also be career anxiety syndrome or, alternatively, early burnout syndrome. We now know that memory loss starts at this age. Men and women are at their most unfaithful during this decade.

If you are in your 40s…

…You’ll see your thirties as a golden age. Your forties is where the problems really start. Depression will almost certainly hit you, and the world will seem more unfairly youth-obsessed than ever before. Heart disease, doctors have recently discovered, may already be making itself at home. If you are a man in your forties living in London, you appear regularly at the top of the charts in surveys into unhappiness.

If you are in your 50s…

…You have a more satisfying sex life than in your thirties but are less likely to find someone to share it. Statistically, you are now likely to belong to the “stretched middle”, simultaneously taking care of the previous and next generations. Only 19 per cent of women in their fifties admit to being happy. The rest feel unfulfilled, anxious and lethargic.

If you are in your 60s…

…You are part of the irresponsible baby-boomer generation which robbed their children and grandchildren of houses, education, planetary health and much else. You are likely to feel guilty about that but do little to redress it, which makes you feel guiltier still.

If you are in your 70s…

…You ought to be ashamed, swanning around the world, spending your children’s inheritance in a way previous generations never did. You volunteer more than any other age-group but nobody thanks you – not a bloody word. You are less likely to have a job as a TV presenter than ever.

If you are in your 80s…

…You are in good shape because no one is doing a survey into your life and telling you how to live it.

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