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Milestone FOMO Is A Thing — Here’s How To Overcome It

Hint: It involves social media.

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There are many life milestones society tells us we "should" achieve to live a good life: go to college, graduate, get married, buy a house, have children, etc., and usually in that order. The reality is that everyone's life doesn't always follow those neatly laid out milestones, nor do some people actually want to achieve those goals. Still, it can be tricky to ignore societal pressures and expectations, especially when other people your age are hitting said milestones. This is often referred to as milestone FOMO (fear of missing out), which may make you feel like you're behind in life or have failed in some way, which isn't the case.

Whether arriving at those traditional life milestones are things you desire or not, it can be challenging not to feel pressured to get there, like yesterday. Why? According to Dr. Anisha Patel-Dunn, a psychiatrist and chief medical officer at LifeStance Health, a virtual healthcare provider, the reason is that, as a society, we directly correlate "success" to those milestones. "We've created a folklore around these milestones that tells us that marriage equals happiness or baby equals fulfillment," adds licensed therapist Tess Brigham.

Dr. Patel-Dunn says the pressure can come from different sources, including expectations from family members, comparison with others, or your internal perception. And social media also plays a big role. "Social media can also lead to unfair comparisons and exacerbate feelings of not being good enough or achieving enough," she says.

Society then reinforces these notions by constantly asking people who they're dating, when they'll get married or have a baby or a second baby, etc. "Even if none of these things matter to you, you're still fielding these kinds of questions which slowly reinforces the belief: 'There is more, and I don't have it.'" Brigham says. "Even the healthiest, most secure person in the world is going to eventually start to feel like they're missing out on something." In other words, no one is immune to milestone FOMO, regardless if they’re happy and have chosen not to have those things.

To help navigate and cope with these milestone FOMO feelings, mental health experts share their top tips below.

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Shift Your Perspective

These societal pressures and expectations have been around forever and may never go away, which is beyond our control to an extent. However, what Brigham explains is within our control is how we think and feel about these pressures. To help shift your perspective, Brigham encourages appreciating where you are in life now and not looking at it as something that needs fixing. Instead, focus on the positives and joys of being where you are. For instance, if you're single but want to be in a relationship, the positives can include having the bed all to yourself or the ability to do whatever you want.

Get Clear On What You Want

Life milestones will look different for everyone, so Dr. Patel-Dunn recommends clarifying which ones are important to you and what brings you joy. She adds that this may be challenging, especially when dealing with external pressures (i.e., family members), so consider working with a licensed therapist if you need support. Coaching, journaling, or starting a meditation or mindfulness practice are also tools Brigham suggests trying, which can help you slow down, look at your life in a new way, and gain clarity about what you want and don't want.

Celebrate Your Milestones

You don't have to achieve the traditional milestones to celebrate yourself. Brigham encourages viewing your achievements — big and small — whatever they may be (i.e., paying off student loans, starting a business, saving up for your emergency fund, leaving the toxic relationship, etc.) as important milestones too and celebrating them. She says take time to reflect on your progress and allow yourself to feel really good about it.

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Get Off Social Media

To deal with milestone FOMO, Dr. Patel-Dunn and Brigham also suggest taking a break from social media, especially if it's a trigger for you and you have the tendency to compare your life to other people’s lives. A break can look like deleting the apps off your phone completely, unfollowing or muting specific accounts that bring up those feelings of FOMO and affect your mental wellbeing, or cutting back how much time a day you spend on social media.

Spend Time With People Who Support Your Choices

Another way to mitigate the FOMO feelings is by distancing yourself from people who don't approve of your life choices or make you feel pressured. "Make sure to only spend time with people who support you and your choices in life, avoid the people who make you feel bad about yourself and your choices," Brigham says. "For the people you can't avoid (co-worker, mother, sibling), remind yourself you are your own person, and you get to make your own choices. Just because they made the choice doesn't mean it's right for you."

Be Kind To Yourself

And lastly, "it's also important to be kind to yourself," Dr. Patel-Dunn says. "Having confidence in your life decisions—even if they don't mirror what your family has done before you or the timeline that your friends are on — takes practice, but ultimately, making your decisions for your own mental wellbeing, not for milestone FOMO will make you the happiest."