The Psychology of FOMO: 4 Powerful Ways Social Butterflies Can Get Over Their Fear of Missing Out.

We live in a world where, thanks to social media, we can stay connected with family and friends from across the globe like no other time in history. Social media allows us to keep up to date on who is getting married and having babies and whose kids are graduating from which school. We can chat with our grandparents and like photos from our third-grade teacher.

Person experiencing FOMO while looking at social media.  Photo by Oladimeji Ajegbile

Social media has done so many wonderful things, but it has also brought about its own set of challenges. We see our friends from college going on vacation to the Caribbean. We watch videos of awesome concerts our coworkers went to over the weekend. We see the amazing loaf of sourdough bread that our cousin made with their husband. And we feel like we are missing out.

We sit on our couch, living our boring lives, watching others have lots of fun on social media.

The FOMO is real, and it’s making us miserable.

What is FOMO?

FOMO, also known as Fear Of Missing Out, is a feeling of anxiety, envy, or even sadness some social media users experience when they see some group, event, or activity that others are posting about online.  

Symptoms of FOMO include:

  • Feelings of anxiety when we see other people posting about having fun and doing exciting things.
  • Feeling sad whenever we think we aren’t part of the activity
  • Constant worrying that other people’s versions of activities (vacations, parties, etc.) are better than our version.
  • Feeling lonely or isolated because we feel like we are left out of the group.
  • Constantly checking social media to see what others are doing.
  • Feeling worthless because what other people have is ‘better’ than what you have.

These feelings can affect people of all ages and from all backgrounds, and can lead to serious psychological issues in extreme cases.

Person seeing others and feeling FOMO  Photo by Andrea Piacquadio

There is nothing wrong with seeing a luxury vacation and wishing you could take a holiday to Europe or the Bahamas, in fact, that is quite a normal reaction. But it is important to remember that our FOMO can become a problem if we begin obsessing over social media, constantly trying to out-do or one-up our connections and followers.

Why Do We Experience Fear Of Missing Out?

The feeling of wanting what others have goes back to the beginning of time, but the idea of FOMO has really taken off over the past decade. Part of the reason for this is the rise in the prevalence of social media and what Time magazine refers to as “The Facebook Illusion.” People post only the best, more curated version of their life to social networks. They edit out the boring and photoshop the ugly and leave behind only a beautiful, enviable, hollow version of their lives.

The Psychology of FOMO: 4 Powerful Ways Social Butterflies Can Get Over Their Fear of Missing Out.
Table 1: Google Search Trends for FOMO, 2004-Present

When we look at our own lives—with all of the boring bits so readily apparent—and try to compare our life to the experiences we see online, it can be challenging to see the value in what we have.

It’s hard to be happy with enough when everyone else has so much more.

What Are Some Healthy Ways to Deal With FOMO?

But don’t worry, there are plenty of simple solutions to overcome your FOMO and learn to be happy with what you do have:

  • Practice Gratitude – At its core, FOMO is about wanting more than what we have. By making an effort to be grateful for what we have, to focus on the positives, and to remind ourselves that what we have is enough, we can learn to overcome FOMO.
  • Remember that Not Everything Online is Real – One of the most significant factors in how we experience FOMO is the fact that we are often comparing our own life to the idealized, ultra-edited versions of other people’s lives. If we can take a step back, and realize that that wonderful trip to Rome probably included long waits in the airport, some lost luggage, and all the other usual headaches that likely got edited out before posting the fantastic video of Italian villas and mouthwatering pizza, we can build a more healthy view of our friends’ lives.
  • Try to Focus on What Makes You Happy, Not Other People – One of the quickest ways to make ourselves miserable is to focus on trying to have the things we think other people want. If we can avoid focusing on what we think makes other people happy, and instead focus on the things that actually make us happy, we can prevent a lot of anxiety and stress. Maybe everyone else does want to go to that big concert or visit that fantastic tropical paradise. Still, if the thing that makes you happy is spending time with friends and family at home, you’re only inviting stress by trying to do those other things—and missing out on what truly makes you happy in the process.
  • Limit Social Media Time – There is nothing inherently wrong with social media. In fact, it can be one of the greatest tools for building connection and belonging. But if you feel anxiety, sadness, loneliness, or a sense of isolation every time you pick up your phone and open your social network apps, then maybe it’s time to rethink your relationship with these tools. If the goal is to keep up with friends and family, social media isn’t the only answer. We can always pick up the phone and call or send them an email and work on building more meaningful connections.

Conclusion

If you or someone you know is having trouble dealing with FOMO, anxiety, depression, or any other mental issues, please take the time to speak to a mental health professional, and reach out to family and friends for help. We also offer a range of tools to assist in coping with a wide range of issues. Take a look at our tools here.