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25 June 2017Last updated
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Are you suffering from FOMU?

We all know social media is to blame for FOMO (fear of missing out), but it’s also sparked another anxiety-inducing social trend: fear of majorly underachieving. Here’s how to cope with social media guilt when everyone else is busy #winning

By Aoife Stuart Madge
12 Jun 2016 | 11:41 am
  • Source:Shutterstock

Ever scroll through your online news feed and feel like your life doesn’t quite measure up? Whether it’s relationships, health, career, money… it can often feel like everyone else seems to have modern life nailed while you are left flailing at the starter blocks. We’re talking about that yoga bunny on your newsfeed who has whipped up a healthy goji berry juice for breakfast before you’ve even hauled yourself out of bed. Not only that, but she’s also found the time to blog about it with expertly lit pics and a handy link to her recipe so you can try it for yourself (Ha! – like you’d ever have time for that). Or that friend who’s been training for the marathon and tracking her progress online. Props to her for doing her bit for charity but her smug #morningrun posts only serve to remind you that you haven’t made it to the gym in, like, a reeaaally long time. Then there’s that supermum with her parenting blog and her Pinterest-perfect birthday parties (she made all the bunting herself, using recycled baby clothes, you know); or that colleague whose been exchanging tweets with the CEO on an industry news story that passed you by.

How is it that other people can use social media as a weapon to conquer at life, while for you, it’s just another stick to beat yourself with?

If this sounds like you, then you could be suffering from FOMU: the fear of majorly underachieving. FOMU is that guilty knot of anxiety that forms in your stomach when you see everyone else around you #winning while your big plans to start a blog/write a novel/eat/clean/launch a start-up are filed under “things I still haven’t got round to”.

The good news is you are not alone: according to a recent survey by Opinium – commissioned this year by Privilege Home Insurance – 20 per cent of people feel depressed when they see friends’ lives on social media. One in five people quizzed admitted feelings of sadness and exclusion when playing what researchers termed the online ‘game of life’ – constantly comparing yourself to other people’s posts, and presenting your own life in frequent updates. Ten per cent of people said they felt unhappy when they saw friends doing ‘better’ than them in terms of career, family or wealth.

Psychologist Niels Eék, co-founder for the personal development and mental wellbeing app, Remente (www.remente.com) explains, “Constantly comparing yourself to the lives of others can contribute to feelings of under-achievement. We all have a critical voice that tells us to improve, to strive for better things and to achieve more. While this voice in itself is normal and even healthy, when fuelled by social media it can spiral out of control.”

Here, we present our expert-approved tips for breaking the FOMU cycle…

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Focus on your own goals

Is everyone on your newsfeed really living your dream life or are you subconsciously filtering? Life coach Dr Lavina Ahuja from LifeWorks Dubai (see www.counsellingdubai.com) says we all have a tendency to do the latter. “Often the very thing that we think is missing in our lives, we’ll notice in others, and we ignore those who have achieved what we already have. When we do this, it’s quite easy to feel like you aren’t good enough, or your achievements are not good enough.”

Dr Ahuja suggests this coping strategy: “Take stock of your achievements and evaluate your goals. Don’t aspire to achieve something just because someone else has. Set your own goals. Focus on yourself and your accomplishments. Try to be grateful for what you have and what you have already achieved.”

If braggy online posts are not your style, try Post-it notes with reminders of things you did well dotted around the house or journaling your achievements to give you a much-needed confidence boost.

Remember, Facebook is a highlight reel

It’s worth remembering, says Dubai-based psychologist Dr Annie Crookes, that what you are seeing on someone’s online profile is the highlight reel of their life. “One of the ways we build our self-image and self-esteem is through comparisons with those around us. The problem comes when all we see from others are the perfect moments posted in bright, powerful visual imagery. Our own lives cannot compare to these images. But the edited versions we see of others is a montage of the highlights, not the hours and days of work or uninteresting factors that went into [an achievement]. It makes their achievements appear effortless and the achiever appear somehow superhuman for it. We feel guilty that we aren’t able to immediately achieve goals in the same way.”

Dr Crookes suggests using social media to be inspired by others, not shamed. “The flipside is that through social media, we have access to inspiration, ideas and possibilities. If your idol is posting, not just the results, but the path to get where you want to be; if they are providing realistic advice about how to do more in life, then this can provide you with information and opportunity you would not have had access to before social media.”

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Stop watching, start doing

“Browsing websites like Facebook and Instagram and observing other people’s lives can prompt questions like ‘Why am I not doing this? ‘Why am I not achieving the same things?’ All of which can then lead to a negative perception of your life and unnecessary feelings of guilt,” says psychologist Eék. “The first and most effective coping mechanism is limiting the amount of time that you spend on social media. Instead of checking social media and comparing your life to those of others, try taking control.” This means going out and tackling those things on your to-do list instead of watching other people do it. If you envy someone who has started their own blog for example, ask yourself if you really want to do it, then figure out what steps you’d have to take to make that happen. “Use social media on a reward basis, only posting something once you’ve achieved all of your tasks for the day,” adds Eék. “You will become much more productive and able to live in the immediate moment.”

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Savour the happy moments

Despite what Instagram would have you believe, we can’t all be happy all of the time. “Social media is a quantitative game – how many people like your post, how many friends do you reach, etc,” explains Dr Crookes. “But life satisfaction and wellbeing come from quality not quantity – even happiness is not about being in a state of pleasure every single moment. It is about having an overall quality of life, surrounded by family and contentment. Think about last time you were happy: was it when you successfully replicated the kale smoothie you saw on Instagram, or was it when you were with someone you love, or catching up with an old friend? Just because people on social media appear happy, we associate it with creating happiness. This is, of course, false. Be mindful of the things that really get you smiling and do them instead. If you are happy with your life and yourself then you are less likely to be affected by the comparisons of others on social media. So develop your wellbeing – have goals, make sure you are pursing things you enjoy, moving forward at work, spending time with family… whatever it is, these things build confidence and self-esteem that decreases the feelings of not being ‘in’ with the Insta-gang.”

By Aoife Stuart Madge

By Aoife Stuart Madge