FOMO may cause us to feel dissatisfaction with out lives and impact physical and mental health.

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Recent research reveals that the average person spends nearly 147 minutes daily on social media platforms. We all tend to spend a lot of time online, and this engagement makes us acutely conscious of others’ activities.  Due to this online exposure, many social media users suffer from FOMO – the Fear of Missing Out. But what is the meaning of FOMO?

At its core, FOMO is the anxiety that arises when we believe others might be having rewarding experiences from which we are absent.

The digital age exacerbates this angst. Every ping from our devices can trigger a rush of anxiety. A nagging thought that perhaps we are missing something important or exciting.

However, it might come as a surprise to many to know that FOMO is not a modern-day phenomenon. People have been experiencing it forever.

FOMO can lead to excessive reliance on external validation, reduced self-esteem, and even feelings of loneliness. Hence, in this article, we will write in detail about the history of FOMO, its causes, and how to overcome the feeling efficiently.

What Is the Fear of Missing Out (FOMO)?

The fear of missing out (FOMO) is a type of anxiety where we tend to overthink or become anxious thinking that we’re missing out on something important or fun that others are experiencing.

Don’t you always think the grass is greener on the other side? That is FOMO. 

FOMO can take several forms, such as:

  • Missing out on a party
  • Career decisions
  • Choosing a field that everyone prefers (eg science)
  • Food choices (eg “Everyone likes fast food, so I’ll have fast food”)

For example, if you doomscrool on Instagram and find out that your friend is on a vacation or eating out in a Japanese restaurant, you might feel left out. 

Your current experience of eating at home may feel less interesting than your friend’s post. Hence, the comparison could lead to anxious thoughts. 

When you have anxiety about various aspects of life, it is known as generalised anxiety disorder (GAD).  

The Underlying Psychology of FOMO

The psychology of FOMO is quite interesting. 

Human beings have an intrinsic need to belong to a community or a person. We seek hope, love, and meaning in communities and social interactions. 

Our social needs are the main reason why we celebrate friendship days, Valentine day, and other social events. 

However, when these social needs are not met, we may develop FOMO, social anxiety, and loneliness. 

More interestingly, our need for a community actually has a history – where belonging to a huge group meant survival. 

Similarly, when we feel lonely, our brain thinks of our sadness as a potential threat. The human brain constantly works to prevent us from getting into ‘trouble’. 

Hence, isolation or simply feeling left out could trigger our ‘fight or flight’ response. (ie controlling the situation or running away from the situation). 

Moreover, feeling left out at times is totally normal and a common experience. The problem comes up when you consistently feel FOMO for a long period of time. 

Persistent FOMO could lead to:

  • Low self-esteem
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Loneliness
  • Social isolation
  • Chronic stress
  • Less life satisfaction

The History of FOMO

While the term “fear of missing out” or FOMO might seem like a modern invention, its roots are deeply embedded in human nature.

The acronym FOMO first appeared in 2004, coinciding with the advancement of online platforms such as Facebook. These platforms allowed individuals to showcase their lives.

Inadvertently, with increased usage over time, it amplified feelings of exclusion for those not involved in the community.

But the essence of FOMO is not exclusive to the digital age. At its core, it is about the innate human desire for social inclusion. We have always yearned to be part of a group, to feel connected and accepted.

This drive for belongingness is so powerful that it can significantly influence our self-worth. When we sense community approval, our self-esteem gets a boost. Conversely, feeling excluded can lead to a dip in our self-worth.

The acronym’s origin is often attributed to Patrick McGinnis, who penned it in a 2004 article for the Harvard Business School magazine, The Harbus. He highlighted the tendency of individuals to overschedule themselves, driven by this pervasive fear of missing out.

Who Is Most Affected by FOMO?

FOMO predominantly affects teenagers and young adults. People in this age group often spend significant time online. Their immersion in the digital world makes them more susceptible to the anxieties of missing out on experiences their peers are having.

But age is not the sole determinant. Regular social media users, regardless of age, are also prone to FOMO.  Social platforms showcase the best moments of people’s lives, making others feel like they are missing out. Those deeply invested in their social circles tend to gravitate towards these platforms.

Additionally, individuals with social anxiety are also vulnerable. They might sidestep face-to-face interactions, leaning on social media for connection. This reliance can increase their FOMO, as they constantly compare their offline lives to the online highlights of others. This also puts them in a state of conflict, where they find it hard to reach out to people in real life yet start developing desires for connection due to what they observe online.

While FOMO typically affects teenagers and young adults, it can happen to individuals of all ages too.

Symptoms of FOMO

FOMO can manifest in completely different ways. While one person may have FOMO of missing out on a party, someone else could have FOMO due to choosing a less famous career path (eg chefs, poets).

However, recently, a lot of people have FOMO due to social media. We now spend almost the maximum amount of time daily on social media. 

Hence, when we scroll through posts and see that people our age are spending their time on exotic vacations or freelancing, it is common to feel left out and anxious. 

See: Social Media & Mental Health: How Is It Connected?

If you find that one or more of the symptoms below are relatable, you may have FOMO. However, a therapist can help you identify and replace your negative thinking patterns. 

Some of the common signs of FOMO are:

  • You constantly check social media to stay updated, watch how everyone else is living their lives, or feel scared that you might miss out on something fun. 
  • You check your phone multiple times a day. In fact, if you have FOMO, you become so anxious that you check your phone twice in under a minute. 
  • You say ‘yes’ to every invitation, party, or offer to hang out, even if you are busy with something else or have no interest in going out. 
  • You feel jealous or upset when you see or hear about other people’s experiences.
  • You worry or feel anxious that you might miss out on something when you are already trying to enjoy a party or vacation.
  • You find it hard to make decisions because of your fear of ‘choosing the wrong thing’.
  • You feel mentally exhausted after hours and hours of scrolling on social media (ie doom scrolling). Yet, you continue to do the same every single day. 

What Causes the Fear of Missing Out?

Is FOMO a Mental Health Disorder?

FOMO is not a mental health disorder. The DSM-5, which is the primary diagnostic tool used by professionals, does not mention FOMO as an official disorder. 

However, FOMO can affect a person’s mental wellness and cause several other mental health issues. 

For example, if you have FOMO, you may have a higher risk of developing:

  • Chronic anxiety
  • Depression
  • Low self-esteem
  • Loneliness
  • Chronic stress
  • Anger
  • Lack of self-awareness

Moreover, having FOMO can also affect other aspects of your life, such as:

If you find it hard to differentiate between FOMO and any symptoms of mental health issues, a therapist or a psychologist can help you. 

How Does FOMO Affect Mental Health?

If you have FOMO, it can affect your mental health in several ways. However, the symptoms of FOMO affect everyone differently. 

For example, some people can overcome FOMO and may only suffer from mild anxiety. In contrast, others can develop a mental health condition called generalised anxiety disorder. 

Constantly comparing your life and yourself on social media can lead to several issues, such as:

  • Low self-esteem
  • Feelings of inadequacy
  • Anxiety and depression

If you are preoccupied with other people’s way of living – you may spend hours on your mobile every night. Hence, FOMO can also affect your sleep cycle and cause issues like irritation, lack of concentration, or a lack of appetite. 

Lastly, FOMO can also affect how you interact with your loved ones. You may often ignore your real-life friends or family members and instead feel left out seeing online posts and stories. 

Hence, if you find that FOMO is negatively affecting your life, please seek professional support. 

Managing FOMO

Experiencing FOMO is not uncommon. Often, underlying dissatisfaction with life can lead us to seek comfort in social media. However, increased engagement online can paradoxically intensify these feelings.

Here are some strategies to help you deal with the fear of missing out:

Shifting focus

Therapists may use therapeutic approaches such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) or dialectical behavioural therapy (DBT) to help you shift your focus from what you’re missing out on to what you already have. 

For example, you can use tools such as cognitive reframing. 

If you think, “My friend is on vacation, and I’m missing out”, -> Try changing your thoughts to, “I’m with my family right now, and I’m enjoying spending time watching movies and being cosy.” 

You can replace the before and after dialogues with the specific situation you are going through. The idea is to replace your anxious thoughts with facts. 

You can try to arrange and filter your online environment. To do so, unfollow all the accounts that trigger you and stick to accounts that provide information or awareness. The shaft in your online pace can help you relax more. 

Maintain a gratitude journal. Focusing on what you have can help you shift your perspective. However, sometimes, it can be hard to think about what we have when we can see what we’re missing. 

Hence, allot a time daily to write one thing you’re grateful for in your life. Your entries can help you when you are feeling left out or overwhelmed. 

Getting a digital detox

Digital detox is a technique where you take a complete break from spending time online. A digital detox could include:

  • Uninstalling apps
  • Setting screen time and limites
  • Locking your apps
  • Avoiding screens all-day
  • Removing all the apps you don’t use anymore

Taking a digital detox can depend on your preferences and outcomes. If you prefer to spend all day without any screen time, uninstalling apps can be more helpful. 

On the other hand, if you simply want to declutter and make your online space more comfortable, you can remove all the apps you don’t need and organise your space. 

Below are some tips that can help you during digital detox:

  • Try to invite your friends over to your place or visit their home during your online detox. 
  • If this is your first time taking a break, set specific times to allow yourself to check your socials. 
  • Turn off all your notifications. If it is a workday, you can keep the notifications for your work apps. However, if it’s a weekend, try to avoid any ringtones or texts. 
  • When you take breaks during the detox to check your apps, try to be mindful of how much time you spend and what you do online. For example, spending your break replying to your friends would make more sense than checking your socials. 
  • During the detox, try to pick up new hobbies or catch up on the ones you are already into. 

Taking a successful digital detox depends on balance. Try not to cut everything off if it’s your first time. Take it slow, and you will eventually feel more relaxed and even look forward to your detox days!

Journaling

Journalling can be a form of self-care, for you to reconnect and better understand yourself.

Journaling is a very common hobby that a lot of people engage in. Journal can take several forms, such as:

  • Writing your thoughts
  • Planning for the day
  • Drawing
  • Bullet journaling
  • Sticking pictures
  • Creating a photo collage

When you start journaling, you will begin to spend less time on special media and spend more time:

  • Reflecting on your experiences
  • Changing your negative thought patterns
  • Become more grateful for what you have

Writing down your thoughts can also help you confront and acknowledge them. If you have FOMO about something, write it down. Research shows that giving your thoughts a physical form (ie words) can help overcome anxious thoughts. 

Over time, you will also learn to identify your triggers and find ways to overcome FOMO. 

Practising gratitude

You can practise gratitude even when you journal or take digital detox days. 

Firstly, you can start this technique by identifying and acknowledging your thoughts and feelings of FOMO. Tell yourself it is okay to want to hang out with everyone or go on vacation. Validate your need to socialise. 

Secondly, write down what you’re grateful for daily. Sipy listing just one small thing can be extremely helpful. For example, you can write that you are grateful to be with your family, you are grateful that you have friends who understand you, and so on. 

You can also call a friend, spend time with yourself, do self-care activities, and practise self-compassion during this method.



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