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


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)?

Imagine scrolling through your Instagram or Facebook feed and seeing friends on a lavish holiday, attending a popular event, or trying out a trendy restaurant. Even if you are content with your current situation, you might feel a pang of envy or regret. That is FOMO in action.

To delve a little deeper, FOMO is a psychological phenomenon where individuals feel acute anxiety about missing out on rewarding experiences others might be having. It is similar to thinking the grass is always greener elsewhere.

Yet, FOMO is not just limited to social scenarios. It can manifest in professional settings too. For instance, you might fear missing out on a career opportunity or a training session that could benefit you.

The Underlying Psychology of FOMO

Humans, by nature, have an intrinsic desire to belong. This innate craving can be likened to hunger, not for food but for social connection. When this need is not met, it can manifest as FOMO (Fear of Missing Out).

This is not just about missing a party or an event; it is a deeper anxiety rooted in our generational past, where being part of a group meant survival. When we feel disconnected, our brain interprets it as a potential threat. This triggers an ancient “fight or flight” response, putting our nervous system on edge.

Moreover, the fear of missing out is not just an uncomfortable feeling. It has tangible effects on our well-being. Persistent FOMO can lead to heightened stress levels, reduced life satisfaction, and even mental health challenges like depression.

In essence, while our modern world has evolved rapidly, our brains still hold onto age-old instincts. Recognising the roots of FOMO can be the first step in addressing it and seeking healthier ways to fulfil our inherent need for connection.

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

Recently, FOMO has been primarily driven by the digital age. It is that nagging feeling that others might be having rewarding experiences from which you are absent. The main symptoms of FOMO are:

  • Anxiety over social media: Constantly checking social media platforms, fearing you might miss an update or event.

  • Compulsive phone checking: Feeling the need to be constantly connected. This often leads to disrupted sleep or reduced productivity.
  • Overcommitting: Saying ‘yes’ to every invitation or opportunity, even when it is not feasible or in your best interest.
  • Jealousy: Feeling envious when seeing others’ experiences, achievements, or possessions.

  • Inability to be present: Even when you are at an event, the worry that something better might be happening elsewhere can overshadow your current experience.
  • Decision paralysis: Difficulty making choices because of the fear that you will make the wrong one and miss out.

  • Mental and physical exhaustion: Feeling mentally exhausted after scrolling and spending time on social media. Sometimes, the feeling can also manifest as headaches or muscle soreness.

Related Terms

FOMO describes the anxiety of not being part of a social event or trend. But did you know there are other related terms?

  • FOBO: “Fear Of Better Options” is the worry that there might be a better choice out there, often leading to indecision.

  • ROMO: “Regret Of Missing Out” is the feeling of remorse after missing an event or opportunity.
  • JOMO: “Joy Of Missing Out” is quite the opposite of FOMO, JOMO celebrates the contentment of solitude and disconnecting.

Each term captures a unique aspect of our modern, hyper-connected world. Recognising them can help us navigate our emotions more effectively.

What Causes the Fear of Missing Out?

While many attribute FOMO primarily to social media’s influence, it is essential to recognise that this phenomenon is not solely a digital age creation. At its core, FOMO is a manifestation of our innate desire to belong and be part of social groups.

  • Evolutionary Roots: Historically, being part of a group meant safety and survival. Missing out could have dire consequences, so our brains are wired to seek inclusion.

  • Personal Insecurities: A lack of self-esteem or feeling unfulfilled in one’s life can cause FOMO. For instance, someone unsure about their career might feel heightened FOMO when peers discuss promotions or new job opportunities.
  • Cultural Pressures: In societies that value achievements and milestones, missing a trend or event can feel like falling behind. Think about the rush to buy the latest tech gadget or attend the famous festival.

While social media amplifies FOMO, the causes are deeply rooted in our psychology and societal constructs.

Is FOMO a Mental Health Disorder?

FOMO is not classified as a standalone mental health disorder in the DSM-5, the primary diagnostic tool for psychiatric conditions.

However, it is closely linked to modern societal pressures. Experiencing FOMO can exacerbate anxiety, depression, and feelings of inadequacy. While it is common to feel left out occasionally, persistent FOMO can negatively impact one’s well-being.

If you find FOMO affecting your daily life, it is essential to seek professional advice. It can be helpful to differentiate between occasional feelings of FOMO and chronic symptoms that interfere with daily functioning.

How Does FOMO Affect Mental Health?

The constant comparison on social media platforms can erode self-esteem. When we perceive others as having more fun, achieving more, or simply living better lives, it can lead to feelings of inadequacy. Over time, this can spiral into anxiety and depression, as individuals may feel they cannot keep up or are not living life to the fullest.

Moreover, FOMO can disrupt sleep patterns. The urge to check social media or messages, fearing we might miss something, can lead to late nights and interrupted sleep. This further affects mental health.

Lastly, FOMO can hinder real-life connections. Instead of being present at the moment, individuals might be preoccupied with what they are missing elsewhere. This often leads to weakened relationships and feelings of isolation.

While FOMO might seem trivial, its effects on mental health are significant and worth addressing.

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

Shifting your focus is key to resisting the fear of missing out. In a world where digital platforms constantly showcase others’ achievements, anchoring yourself in your own journey is essential.

Begin by curating your online environment. Prioritise accounts that uplift and inspire rather than those that fuel envy. Remember, everyone’s journey is unique. Instead of being swayed by others’ highlights, celebrate your own milestones, no matter how small.

Moreover, practise gratitude daily. It is a powerful tool that helps ground you in the present. Lastly, confide in trusted friends about your feelings. Talking about it with other people can help you shift your focus from feeling all alone in this situation.

Getting a digital detox

Trying a digital detox is an excellent step towards avoiding FOMO. Here are some tips to help you navigate this journey:

  • Prioritise in-person interactions: Engage in face-to-face conversations. These genuine interactions often remind us of the depth and richness of offline relationships.

  • Scheduled breaks: Allocate specific times in the day for checking social media. This reduces impulsive scrolling and makes you more present in your daily activities.
  • Notifications off: Try to silence non-essential notifications. This minimises distractions and reduces the urge to check your device constantly.
  • Mindful consumption: When you do engage online, be selective. Follow accounts that inspire positivity and growth rather than envy or comparisons.

  • Offline hobbies: Rediscover passions that do not require a screen. Whether it is reading, gardening, or painting – immersing in these activities can be deeply fulfilling.

Remember, it is about balance. Enjoy your time in the digital world, but try not to let it overshadow the tangible joys around you.


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

Journaling lets you reflect on your experiences, making you appreciate them more. Instead of constantly seeking the next big thing, you will start to find joy in the small moments. It is often like having a chat with yourself, reminding you of what truly matters.

Secondly, when you pen down your feelings, you confront them. If you are feeling the pangs of FOMO, write about it. By acknowledging it, you diminish its hold on you.

Lastly, through journaling, you create a personal narrative. Over time, you will see patterns, understand your triggers, and learn to navigate them.

Practising gratitude

Start by acknowledging your feelings without judgement. It is okay to want experiences or things, but it is essential to differentiate between genuine desires and fleeting urges.

Next, take a moment each day to reflect on what you are thankful for. This could be a warm cup of tea, a chat with a friend, or simply the sun shining. By focusing on these moments, you shift your perspective from what you lack to what you possess.

Engage in gratitude exercises, like maintaining a daily journal. Over time, this practice can rewire your brain to notice the positives more readily, reducing the grip of FOMO.

Key Takeaways

The “Fear of Missing Out” is not just a trendy term; it is a genuine sentiment many of us grapple with in this digital age. It is that nagging feeling that somewhere, someone is having a better time, a richer experience, or a more rewarding life than you.

It is essential to recognise that FOMO is not about missing out on genuine opportunities but rather the perception of them. With its endless stream of curated highlights, our digital world can amplify these feelings and make us believe everyone else’s life is a non-stop party. But remember, what we see online is often selective, not the whole story.

Everyone, at some point, feels left out or behind. It is a shared human experience. Instead of letting FOMO dictate our choices, let us focus on what genuinely matters to us. Our journeys are unique; comparing them to others can cause more harm than good.

Ultimately, it is about finding contentment in our own narrative, cherishing our moments, and understanding that life’s value is not determined by what we might be missing but by what we have truly experienced and loved.

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