How To Combat 'Milestone FOMO'

From practicing mindfulness to connecting with our spirituality, there are a number of ways to live a more content life. And yet, despite your most ardent efforts to avoid comparison and focus on the things you do have rather than those you don't, it's easy to get sucked into looking at those around you and wonder how life seems to be moving at a faster pace for them than for you. 

Has your best friend found love and a happy marriage before she turned 30? Has your colleague at work received a promotion he's been waiting for? Did your neighbors buy that expensive car they'd had their eyes set on since the beginning of last year? People's milestones — whether they are personal, social, or professional — can arouse mixed feelings in you. You want to feel genuine joy for them, but there's also a small part of you that weighs those milestones in relation to your own life. Psychiatrist and Chief Medical Officer at LifeStance Health Dr. Anisha Patel-Dunn, explaining this familiar emotion to PureWow, says, "Milestone FOMO describes the experience of feeling like you are behind or inadequate compared to your peers who are accomplishing milestones that you have not yet achieved."

FOMO, which is defined as a fear of missing out, is not a new concept. However, in addition to finding the best ways to motivate yourself to live your best life, you may still need help to combat the comparison-induced blues that can crop up now and again.

Practicing empathy for your own life helps combat milestone FOMO

Being kind to yourself really does go a long way. Training the voice you use to talk to yourself to be one of encouragement instead of criticism is one small step you can take to combat milestone FOMO, per inews. When you see or hear of someone in your life who has reached a particular milestone you have not yet reached, you can begin by reassessing the emotions that arise within you, according to psychiatrist Dr. Anisha Patel-Dunn, who thinks the COVID-19 pandemic needs to be taken into account as well. "It's important to understand that your life had a different trajectory when the pandemic began, and it's OK to adjust your goals and practice empathy with yourself," she tells PureWow. 

It's also important to understand that much of what we envisioned as milestones when we were young — going to school, graduating, getting a job, getting married — don't always bring happiness. Everyone is different and wants different things in life. Accomplishment and fulfillment are not one-size-fits-all. What works for you may not work for the next person, and vice versa. In this sense, comparison really is the thief of joy, as you may be envious of something you don't even want.

The best course forward is to celebrate milestones that are unique to your own life, even if they don't match up to what others might be celebrating.

Limiting or restricting social media use helps too

Comparing your life to the lives of those around you is not a concept that's new to the social media age. In fact, the social-comparison theory of 1954 by social psychologist Leon Festinger discussed how humans value themselves by comparing themselves to others. That being said, seeing people's greatest accomplishments pop up on your feed whenever you scroll through Facebook or Instagram can get to you. Despite logically knowing that social media only shows people's highlights and skips the more mundane aspects of their lives, you can start feeling the need to keep up with what everyone else appears to be doing.  

Psychiatrist Dr. Anisha Patel-Dunn tells PureWow that spending time on social media looking at other people's posts — pregnancy announcements, luxurious vacation shots, career celebrations, etc. — can make you believe they've got something ideal that you don't. In order to regain some perspective, you might want to consider limiting your time on social media, unfollowing certain accounts, or even trying a digital detox for a while. 

Just as there are exercises to combat anxiety and depression, there are also mindful ways to avoid placing yourself in situations where experiencing milestone FOMO becomes easy. Try and take back control of what you're directing your attention toward each day, and that should start to help.