Per, Dr. Patel-Dunn, milestone FOMO is a new term for a phenomenon that has been around for many years. “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,” she explains. “For example, if starting a family is important to you, you might experience this during the holidays when you are around your siblings who all have children, but you do not yet.” Another example she gives is seeing others progressing in their careers and receiving promotions or making large purchases (like a house), but you’re feeling stuck or less successful in comparison.
Though Dr. Patel-Dunn assures us that milestone FOMO can happen to anyone, she notes that it tends to impact those with low self-image or self-worth—people whose confidence is reliant upon how they think others will perceive them—in particular. “It can also impact those who are naturally competitive and make them feel like they are being left behind because they aren’t achieving the same milestones at the same cadence or timeline as someone else,” she adds.
Though there are no quick fixes for milestone FOMO (you’re not going to propose to the next person you see on the street just because everyone in your group chat has gotten engaged in the last year, you know?), Dr. Patel-Dunn does have a few suggestions for reframing these feelings. First, she notes that especially after living through the pandemic, it’s important to be kind with ourselves and not be unrealistic about the impact the last three years had on our collective experience. “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 stresses.
Unsurprisingly, social media plays a huge role in how often—and how severely—milestone FOMO can hit. “In my experience, social media can also trigger these feelings of comparison and low self-worth,” Dr. Patel-Dunn tells us. “Whether it’s seeing engagement announcements, baby showers or just comparing your lifestyle to others and assuming they must be excelling much more than you in their careers, it can give the unrealistic impression that others have the ‘perfect’ life.” Though by now we know social media is not reality, she explains that it can be helpful to limit your time interacting with accounts that bring up challenging emotions—or your time on social media in general.
Finally, Dr. Patel-Dunn helpfully reminds that there’s no one “right” reason to celebrate a life milestone—no matter how seemingly insignificant. “Take time to appreciate any milestone in your life that you are proud of, even if it doesn’t feel like the same scale as other milestones that your friends and family are celebrating,” she says. “Take pride in celebrating a positive review you received at work, or a solo vacation you enjoyed so that they can share in your positive updates as well.” Hell, even if you finally got the dog you’re fostering to stop peeing in every shoe in your closet, treat yourself to a nice bottle of wine—an achievement is an achievement.