Living in a constant state of comparison is a very real issue for Millennials and Gen Z, and it can show up in relationships, body image, home life, and even in career. According to a 2021 study in the Journal of Personality & Social Psychology, social comparison can motivate us to work harder – but this can have a downside.
Career “Milestone FOMO,” fueled by pandemic career setbacks or pivots, a seemingly endless stream of startup success stories, and social media posts of living that perfect entrepreneur life can lead people to feel triggered and feel like they’re failing and falling behind if they’re not constantly going above and beyond. This hustling to keep up can lead to burnout, which has far-reaching mental and physical health consequences.
Here, Dr. Anisha Patel-Dunn, DO, psychiatrist and Chief Medical Officer at LifeStance Health, a provider of outpatient in-person and virtual healthcare, shares some tips for recognizing and working through these feelings.
First Things First: Acknowledge The Feelings
“If you’re insecure or not feeling your best,” says Dr. Patel-Dunn, it’s not uncommon to fill gaps with your fears. These fears can be substantial and reality-based, or maybe just parts are based on reality, but there is a nugget of truth in your fear and it may spiral.”
She adds, “That’s where the trap is—if you have deep concerns about your career, your mind may spiral into worst case scenarios. It could even be a very brief interaction that kicks this off—maybe you received a negative comment from a supervisor at work, and then you’re sitting at home on a Sunday night and the brain goes back to that moment and starts spiraling.”
Another way this can show up: You might also notice you feel triggered as you scroll through social media and see your peers’ posts about career milestones.
When you start going down that fear and FOMO rabbit hole, it can impact your mental health. Some people may find their feelings of self-worth are greatly impacted, or that they feel increasingly anxious about their careers. Your sleep may be impacted, or you may drink or use substances to self-medicate. Your physical health may be impacted too, with some people experiencing more muscle tension, headaches, GI symptoms, sleep disturbances or finding themselves turning to unhealthy coping mechanisms like alcohol and substances to cope.
If you catch yourself falling into the career comparison trap, it’s time to shift your focus.
Focus On Your Own Career Goals
It’s important to remind yourself that we are each on our own path and there is room for everyone. think about what your career goals are and make a plan to help you work towards them. Dr. Patel-Dunn recommends, “Create a list of actionable next steps to give you a road map. You don’t need to look at it 24/7—maybe just once a week or once a month. Or, maybe it looks like spending X number of months talking to others in your field of choice to see what other options are out there if it’s time to make a career move.”
If you start to catch yourself getting sucked into the comparison spiral, Dr. Patel-Dunn encourages mindfulness to bring yourself back into the moment and identify automatic thoughts. And if you need a reality check, she adds, “If you have a mentor, or have ever been connected to a mentor in your career, reach out to them.” If you don’t have a mentor, reach out to a colleague or friend who can talk you back to reality.
Practice Self-Care During Your Work Day
“There is such a benefit to structure,” says Dr. Patel-Dunn.” During the pandemic when many of us moved to fully remote work, this structure went awry. Bringing that back (although it doesn’t have to be a 9 to 5 schedule) can be extremely beneficial for our mental health. It’s important to put some structure around how you’re going to divide your days and hours of work vs. self care vs. time devoted to other people who may be dependent on you. Also, don’t forget about self-care basics like exercise, taking a break and getting some fresh air, going to bed and waking up at the same time every day, limiting alcohol and substance use and incorporating healthy meals.”
Set Boundaries With Your Time And Energy
Burning yourself out trying to pound through your to-do list? Dr. Patel-Dunn recommends taking a break. “Many people don’t realize this, but you’re going to be so much more productive when they step away from your work. Whether it’s 15 minutes or 30 minutes, just do it! In those moments, think about how you can take time to decompress—meditate, go for a walk around the block or in your building, make a phone call to a friend or loved one, whatever it is just try to remove yourself from work. ” The recharge time will benefit your energy, focus, and your mindset.