FOMO – it’s short for the fear of missing out. This acronym describes a feeling most of us have experienced at some point. Feeling left out can cause FOMO, which might happen when people don’t invite you to an event, when you don’t understand an inside joke, you don’t participate in the latest trends, or if you are not picked for a team. Experiencing FOMO may make you feel like you aren’t as connected to society’s latest happenings as you “should” be. This social phenomenon goes hand in hand with the digitalization of our everyday lives. I will get into what the fear of missing out is and how it can actually get in the way of living your best life.
What is FOMO?
One definition of FOMO is the “uneasy and sometimes all-consuming feeling that you’re missing out, that your peers are doing something or are in possession of more or something better than you”. It’s the fear of missing out on information, events, experiences, or decisions that could potentially improve your life. FOMO is not an official diagnosis but correlates with several psychological conditions such as depression, anxiety, and higher stress levels. FOMO symptoms may include irritability, anxiety, inadequacy, restlessness, and sadness. Such feelings are normal to a certain extent and can promote a sense of belonging in a group and have been with humanity since the beginning.
Psychology behind FOMO
FOMO is closely related to the fear of social exclusion, which existed long before social media. Humans want to feel like they’re included and belong to a group. The cause for FOMO lies in our nature: we are social animals. We fear social exclusion because losing one’s social group could mean death for nomad humans. When we experience FOMO the same brain regions are active as when we feel physical pain. Because connecting with others makes you feel less stressed, which supports your nervous and immune systems. Conversely, like other anxiety conditions, the feeling of FOMO affects the brain by triggering a “fight or flight” response.
FOMO is not a new phenomenon. It’s something that humans have always dealt with. However, the latest technological developments in social media allow us simple access to unlimited information. We are being bombarded with suggestions of things we could do, and we are more aware than ever of how other people spend their time. The modern world makes sure we always know what is going on out there. We over-connect with strangers on the internet. We know everything they do, even if we barely know them. Social networks create many opportunities for FOMO because, on the one hand, they extend opportunities for social participation and on the other hand, provide insight into an infinite stream of activities in which you are not involved. Overuse of social media correlates to higher levels of stress and anxiety.
A sense of belonging is a fundamental human need. When people feel they lack connections, it can cause emotional and physical distress. Recent countertrends on social media are ROMO and JOMO – the relief/joy of missing out. Thousands of posts were published where people explained how their mood shifted from feeling bad, they couldn’t attend a certain event to actually feeling relieved they didn’t have to go, feeling content with staying in as a form of self-care.
What can we do about it?
The bad news is, we will never be able to overcome our fear of missing out. The good news is that recognising and acknowledging this feeling can help guide us to a more fulfilling life. It can show us what we really value and what we might lack in life. We cannot escape FOMO completely, but there are a few things we can do to reduce the negative effects. First, we must remember what we are not seeing on social media. When we feel bad comparing ourselves to the life of other people online, we must remember that what they share is only a fraction of their life. Feeling the pressure of always experiencing life to the fullest and making sure you always have stories to tell can be overwhelming. As much as social media helps to connect people, taking a break by reducing your screen time or deleting social media apps overall for a while might help with your FOMO. You could also try talking to other people about it and sharing your feelings or seek help from professionals. After all, the fear of missing out is a widespread human experience.
Abel, Buff, C. L., & Burr, S. A. (2016). Social Media and the Fear of Missing Out: Scale Development and Assessment. Journal of Business & Economics Research (Littleton, Colo.), 14(1), 33–44.
JWT Marketing Communications. (2012). Fear Of Missing Out. Retrieved from JWT Intelligence: http://www.jwtintelligence.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/F_JWT_FOMO-update_3.21.12.pdf.