Do you struggle with the “fear of missing out,” or FOMO? If so, you could be…well…missing out.
Scientists define FOMO as “a pervasive apprehension that others might be having rewarding experiences from which one is absent”—in other words, the feeling that everyone’s having fun without us. Nobody likes to feel left out, and this fear can lead people to seek constant connection to what others are doing so they don’t miss anything. But FOMO comes with a cost. According to a growing number of research studies, higher levels of FOMO are linked to:
- Lower mood and higher levels of anxiety and neuroticism
- Lower life satisfaction and security in close relationships
- Lower satisfaction of our psychological needs (e.g., feeling connected to others)
- More problems with alcohol consumption
- Greater need for approval from others
The most pronounced effect of FOMO is a greater use of social media, including social media addiction, and no wonder—the world of social media offers countless opportunities to see people we know at events we didn’t attend.
If you often find yourself worried about what you’re missing, consider these antidotes:
1. Focus on what’s in front of you. FOMO can lead us to check social media while doing other things, like attending class or hanging out with friends. If you’re fully engaged in your own life, you’re less liable to worry about what you’re missing. Accordingly, our own research found a strong correlation between mindfulness (which emphasizes a present-focus) and lower FOMO.
2. Remember that social media is a carefully curated space. Social media posts usually paint a rosier picture than reality. For example, you’ll see beautiful shots of your friends on vacation but not of their baby screaming on the flight there. Keep this filter in mind.
3. Identify and fulfill your needs. Ironically, FOMO leads to ignoring our real needs. For example, we need to feel connected to others, yet excessive social media use gets in the way of our flesh-and-blood relationships. We have found that the more you’re in touch with your true needs, the less you’ll be afraid of missing out.
4. Take a social media vacation. FOMO leads to compulsive social media use, and as we see others having fun we become even more anxious about not missing out. This self-perpetuating process explains why FOMO is linked to social media addiction. As with other addictions, we have to break the cycle. Consider turning off your phone notifications so you’re not being continually prompted to use social media. You might even take a temporary break altogether and practice being immersed in your day-to-day life, and then see how you feel after a few days.
The sad truth is that FOMO is a paradox, as the fear of missing out causes us to enjoy our life less. What’s one step you can take today to focus on what’s real and embrace life?
Seth J. Gillihan, PhD, is a licensed psychologist and clinical assistant professor of psychology in the Psychiatry Department at the University of Pennsylvania. He is co-author with Janet Singer of Overcoming OCD: A Journey to Recovery and author of Retrain Your Brain: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy in 7 Weeks. Dr. Gillihan maintains a private practice in Haverford, PA, where he specializes in treating OCD, depression, anxiety, and insomnia.