Grow Through Your FOMO (Fear of Missing Out)

Passengers Using Mobile Devices On Bus JourneyFOMO. If you’ve ever checked your Facebook on a Friday night, you’ve probably felt it, even if you’ve never heard of it. It’s an acronym that makes for a handy textspeak shortcut for Fear Of Missing Out.

Think back to a moment when you missed out on something. That time you were sick and missed the big music festival. Or the time you had to meet an assignment deadline and couldn’t meet your friends at that party. Or (gulp) that time you just weren’t invited to the event where everyone else would be.

The first word in FOMO is fear, but its meaning has grown to include a constellation of painful feelings that come with the fantasy that everyone else is doing something “better” than what you’re doing right now. It can be any combination of fear, longing, sadness, insecurity, envy, and anger. Intense FOMO can be miserable.

It’s insidious: people who are so desperate to be a part of everything fun happening within a 20-mile radius are doing anything to relieve their FOMO. They’re going out despite being exhausted, sleeping with their cell phones on their pillows next to their ears, and ignoring their friends to check their Vines and Instagrams.

But doing all of the exhausting acrobatics that it takes to avoid FOMO is unsustainable. You can burn out from social events just as you can from anything else. And keeping yourself busy to avoid FOMO might look impressive on Facebook, but it can easily interfere with your relationships. First you start looking over the shoulder of your friend in front of you, trying to find someone hipper or better-connected. It won’t be long until you find yourself texting other people during the entirety of someone’s birthday dinner.

And how could you ever react happily for your friends when they do great things, if the only things those moments trigger in you are sadness and envy? The irony of FOMO is that it can lead to missing out on the important things in life: fulfilling, intimate moments with important loved ones right in front of you.

Andrew Przybylski, a psychologist at the University of Essex in England, performed a study on FOMO and found that high levels of FOMO correlate to lower levels of life satisfaction, worse moods, and a greater sense that one’s needs aren’t being met (Pappas, 2013).

FOMO is not only uncomfortable—Przybylski’s findings suggest that it can be dangerous: people who engage in distracted driving (e.g., texting and checking social media while driving) report high levels of FOMO (Przybylski, 2014). So for your health and everyone’s safety, here are some tips on how to combat the power of FOMO in your life:

Recognize What It Is

If you suspect that FOMO is a central part of your world, pay attention to what it feels like for you. If you’re not sure whether you are prone to FOMO or have experienced it, you can take this quiz based on Przybylski’s study.

Learn the signs of your own subjective experience of FOMO so that you can begin to recognize it as it’s happening. It might be a heavy pit in your stomach, a burning in your face, or a thick knot in your throat. Once you’re familiar with it, start identifying it for yourself when it’s happening. When it comes to feelings, there is something powerful about the simple “name it to tame it” approach. Giving your feeling a label calms some of the overwhelm that comes with it.

It’s also important to become more aware of the thoughts connected to your FOMO. Many people find that their thoughts are self-defeating (“I’m just a loser”) and catastrophic (“no one cares about me at all”). I don’t know anyone who could hear messages like that and be unaffected, but for many people this thought pattern has been going on for so long that it goes unnoticed. Notice it! It’s mean and critical, and it’s the last thing you need when you’re already feeling lonely.

Challenge Yourself

Once you are aware of the feelings and thoughts that you’re experiencing, try to challenge yourself. Challenge the critical thoughts by gently introducing new thoughts (“staying home on a Friday night doesn’t make someone a loser”; “I feel lonely today, but I know I have friends who love me”). And challenge your ability to be present in the moment.

If you’re at dinner with a few loved ones, stretch your ability to resist checking social media for what other people might be doing. Breathe through your discomfort and try instead to pay closer attention to what you’re doing and to any company you’re with.

Build Relationships That Matter

Przybylski’s research found that people who felt less autonomous, less competent, and less connected to other people also experienced the most FOMO. This suggests an important way to get to the root of your FOMO: the more secure you feel, the more satisfied you feel; and the more connected you feel to others, the less you will be haunted by the fear of missing out.

So spend more of your energy building that foundation. Focus on growing fulfilling, satisfying relationships with other people. And when you’re alone and lonely, take some time and grab a journal. That’s the perfect time to grow your relationship with yourself.

References:

  1. Pappas, Stephanie. (2013). No More FOMO: Fear of Missing Out Linked to Dissatisfaction. LiveSciencehttp://www.livescience.com/31985-fear-missing-out-dissatisfaction.html
  2. Przybylski, A. K., Murayama, K., DeHaan, C. R., & Gladwell, V. (2013). Motivational, emotional, and behavioral correlates of fear of missing out. Computers in Human Behavior, 29, 1841-1848.
  3. Przybylski, A. K. (2014). About FOMO. http://www.andrewprzybylski.me/FoMO/

© Copyright 2014 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Cristalle Y. Sese, PsyD, therapist in Glendale, California

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Sienna

    Sienna

    February 25th, 2014 at 10:41 AM

    Been there done that!
    I used to be the perpetual facebook checker, desperate to see who was doing what and when and wondering why I wasn’t being invited to be a part of it.
    Never really realizing that it was probably because I was too busy at home stalking them online to ever be a part of anything real.
    I forced my self to give all of that up because after a while it becomes pretty depressing to see what others are doing when you are home surfing the web.
    I have made some new friends and have a life, not fearful of missing out anymore but more focused on making new things actually happen instead of trying to live vicariously through the lives of others.

  • janz

    janz

    February 25th, 2014 at 2:01 PM

    FOMO haha that’s a new one!

  • Lola

    Lola

    February 25th, 2014 at 4:01 PM

    I just can’t imagine being so wrapped up in others that I have that fear of missing out on something. Why not go out and make your own life instead?

  • joanne w

    joanne w

    February 26th, 2014 at 3:42 AM

    Let us remember that we have all probably been in this type of situation at one point in time if not more in our own lives, but perhaps it was a little easier then before the advent of social media made it so glaringly apparent that we were somewhere where everyone else was not. I have real symapthy for those who feel as if life is passing them by, but I don’t find them to be sad, I find them to be incredibly lonely and in need of a real friend. Why shouldn’t I, or you, step up and be that friend to this person who so desperately needs this in their life? You may not be BFFs forever, but it is noce to know that someone cares even when it feels like the rest of the world doesn’t.

  • HoLLy

    HoLLy

    February 27th, 2014 at 3:47 AM

    For me the fear of being left out probably started from being an only child and never really knowing that type of inclusion that big families had. I always had to entertain myself but was also yearning to have friends and cousins or anyone who could help fill the void that I felt by being alone so much. I have carried that with me into adulthood too, I know not a good thing, but I am always searching for a way to get out and be doing something, in the middle of something because I have just never really enjoyed that alone time too much that other people seem to crave. I think that this is where my fear of being left out comes from, because I know that there is always a lot going on and I just want to be a part of it and not go back to those years where I never felt a trie part of anything.

  • PG

    PG

    February 28th, 2014 at 3:50 AM

    Reading this, I thought, this is me.
    I do this, sit and read others’ status updates and look at their photos and never think anything good, only sitting around feeling pretty sorry for myself and wondering why I wasn’t invited to be a part of that.
    Even when I was
    I typically will make the choice to sit back and watch for a distance but then feel bad about not being there.
    I think that I always assume that if I was there I would still feel left out and so I choose to do this from afar.
    I know, there are clearly issues at play here, but I don’t even know how to get started to make it right.

  • meg

    meg

    March 1st, 2014 at 5:50 AM

    How about disconnecting from social media for a while to you start thinking clearly? it might be too much of a temptation to still check up on others while you are actively trying to recover from this habitual behavior

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