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Analyzing FOMO: Fear of Missing Out

Many overtired parents joke their kids have FOMO (fear of missing out) because their children refuse to go to bed—they want to stay up late with their parents because to babies, children, and teens, why go to bed when they can stay up and engage in all the fun their parents are having at night? (Although they’re not exactly having all that much fun when exhausted!)

Experiencing FOMO is extremely common, especially in young adults, especially those who use social media. It’s a legit fear of missing out; anxiety that everyone is having “fun” and enjoying life without you, even if you don’t know the person personally.

FOMO is becoming increasingly common among adults of all ages. Let’s explore more about FOMO as a human behavior and ways you can combat FOMO without feeling lonely.

The psychology of FOMO

FOMO, experts explain, is a term coined in 2002 by marketing strategist Dan Herman, and was included in the Oxford Dictionary in 2013, with this official definition: “Anxiety that an exciting or interesting event may currently be happening elsewhere, often aroused by posts seen on social media.”

Don’t let FOMO stand in the way of your personal happiness. Just because on social media it may seem like friends, celebs, or total strangers look like they’re enjoying life and having wonderful experiences—and it’s making you envious—doesn’t mean they’re really happy. Not everything you see online is real. 

How do you know if you have FOMO? Let’s say, for example, money is tight, you’re extremely busy at work, you’re not eating well, feeling like your life is at a standstill, and you’re unsure of what to do “next” in your own life that’s exciting. You check Facebook or Instagram and notice two friends (and are they really your “friends” or people you just know socially?) are clinking margarita glasses together on a fancy boat. They’re smiling wide, they LOOK great with their dewey skin and sparkly eyes, and their lives seems amazing. Suddenly, you’re jealous. Why do they get to have a fun day on the water, carefree, while you’re home stressed out, as usual?  Don’t they have any problems? Suddenly, their lives look pretty darn awesome, and yours….just doesn’t.

That’s FOMO. It’s sometimes described, says TIME.com, as not just the sense that you could be doing more with your life; but also feeling like “life is short” and you’re missing out on important moments others are currently experiencing. You may ponder things such as, why did I gain 15 lbs in 3 months, why am I working overtime, why did I have to cancel my tropical vacation, and why am I single? And these overwhelming feelings are compounded oftentimes by “happy” pictures of others on social media. 

How to deal with FOMO

Why do people experience FOMO? Because they’re unhappy in their own lives and/or craving connections—and that’s normal. We all have moments when we’re not happy or super stressed out, or wondering why we don’t have anything “exciting” going on. 

According to experts, not shockingly, adolescents use social networking sites at a high rate and as a result, may experience FOMO as a result. However, on the flip side of that, FOMO acts as a mechanism that triggers higher social networking usage.

fomo meaning
(Manuel Breva Colmeiro / Getty)

Meaning, if you’re feeling unfulfilled, chances are you’ll spend more time on social media sites—and basically, you become addicted to your computer or cell phone hoping to alleviate boredom…but instead, experience FOMO.

Getting over FOMO

If you’re experiencing FOMO, here are some ways to combat it:

Cancel social media: Sick and tired of seeing all these happy, shiny people on your social media feed? Unfollow them, or temporarily suspend your account. It goes without saying, the less time you spend on these “interactive” sites, the better you’ll most likely feel. Easier said than done, but see how much more accomplished you feel without the time—and soul—suck of social media sites. 

Count your blessings: Fine, even for a brief moment, you may not have what others have, but be grateful for what you do have. A roof over your head? A best friend? A puppy? To some, you’ve got what they want. Appreciate the little—and big—things you have in life instead of what’s missing. (And remember what’s missing could be temporary.)

Journal or scrapbook: If you’re experiencing FOMO, considering keeping a journal and write down all your feelings. Not only will this be therapeutic for the body, mind and soul, and give you some clarity, but putting the pen to paper will keep you away from falling down the social media “rabbit hole.” Also, take some time to look over photos from a great memory in your life—from a tropical trip or a day with your best friends—as reminders you’ve had special moments that indeed made you feel warm and fuzzy.

See people in person: Rather than seeking connections online, which can just enhance feelings of loneliness, catch up with a good friend or family member in-person. Not only will it keep your mind busy and off social media, but loneliness is actually a healthy reminder about the importance of person-to-person bonds. Plus, if you make lunch or dinner plans with a friend outside the home, chances are you’ll have such a good time you’ll feel much better about yourself—and stay off social media. Keeping busy can be great—it lifts your spirits.

Help others: If you’re feeling blue, and experiencing FOMO, help others. Of course, it will keep you busy, but also make others feel good—and that’s the secret sauce of fighting off FOMO. Offer to babysit for a neighbor or spend a day volunteering at a shelter or collecting canned goods for a food bank. When you feel good, your heart soars—and again, you’re too busy to feel triggered by online FOMO. 

Remember not everything you see is real: Basically, remind yourself these online images you see of people enjoying life to the fullest is almost always a façade—it’s not always real. Chances are, you have no clue what’s really going on in their lives—the good, the bad, and the ugly. Remind yourself everyone is going through something. No one’s life is all peaches and cream. Social media can be fun, but it’s also great to take breaks from it for your mental health. 

Additionally, comparing yourself to others is self-destructive. Combat FOMO before it starts by reminding yourself of all the good you have in your own life—it’s cliched, but true—focus on the positive. Be grateful for what—and who—you have. If you’re truly feeling pangs of jealousy, consider chatting with a therapist because FOMO is a real condition that can even negatively your sleeping and eating habit. It can even trigger depression—be aware of that.

Change your perspective

A change in outlook can also help prevent and fight off FOMO. Kristen Fuller, M.D. of Psychology Today discussed the acronym JOMO: Joy of missing out.

She described JOMO as “the emotionally intelligent antidote to FOMO and is essentially about being present and being content with where you are at in life.” JOMO, she adds, helps people not only escape the world of social media—which can be toxic—but find their inner peace while zeroing in on person-to-person relationships.

So, shut down your phone or laptop, spend some time enjoying the great outdoors and don’t allow FOMO to consume your life. Focus on you, remember that the lives of others is often an illusion, and remember that life is short—are you going to look back on it and wish you spent more time on your computer?

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