FOMO sucks. Honestly, it is probably one of the most annoying yet subtle phenomenon to have gained a name during the past decade or so (it was added into the Oxford Dictionary in 2013) (1). Just in case you do not know what this is all about, FOMO stands for “fear of missing out.” It describes this vague sense of anxiety that comes when you think you may be missing out on interesting experiences that other people are having (2). They’re all having fun – which is nice and good for them – but they’re having fun without you.
To give a clearer idea of what FOMO is, imagine this:
You’ve got a big test coming up in about a week, an anatomy and physiology exam that you feel unprepared for no matter how much you study. So, you’ve been stressed to say the least – why do you keep forgetting where the pudendal nerve originates? In addition, your mind keeps wandering back to the party that you were invited to earlier in the day. Your friends are out having fun at the party while you’re stuck inside studying. You feel like you are missing out on something, and it sucks.
I’m sure a lot of people can relate to the situation above, or some variation of it. Well, whatever situation it was, you probably remember the feelings you had the most. You might have felt anxious, uncomfortable, maybe even a bit jealous, and some feelings you can’t quite express. In a study by Eventbrite, almost 70 percent of the millennials polled stated that they felt FOMO when they were unable to go to events that their family or friends were attending (3). This reaction isn’t a surprise though. As human beings, we crave interpersonal attachments and feeling like we belong to a social group. If people take that connection away, whether knowingly or not, we feel anxious. Social exclusion makes a person feel a loss of belongingness to their group (3).
In addition, FOMO often gets related back to social media and how social media use can intensify the sentiment. Research has revealed that the two variables are positively associated. Because of FOMO, some people feel compelled to constantly check what other people are doing through social media and other methods. In a study about Flemish adolescents, it was shown that FOMO positively predicted the use of the 4 most popular social media platforms: Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, and YouTube. It also showed that FOMO was a better predictor of social media use for the platforms that are considered more private (Facebook and Snapchat) than the ones that were not.
Despite how pervasive the fear of missing out has become in modern culture, it is possible to minimize and basically rid yourself of it. The first step is to be real with yourself. Essentially, FOMO arises from the indirect realization that you are lacking something – whether that is social connection, the ability to travel somewhere, or money to do certain activities. If you catch yourself feeling FOMO, pause and think about why it is that you feel that way. Also, ask yourself if the thing that is giving you FOMO is really all that worth it. A lot of what we see on social media is just a highlight reel of what others want us to see. We don’t see the uncomfortable 5-hour bus drive to Vegas or the flight out east that induced a panic attack – what we see is the flashing lights or aesthetic coffee shop.
Instead, think about what it is that you are doing in the moment. Like I’ve mentioned before, being mindful of what you are doing and what you say can really have a positive effect on your mindset. You can choose to go to that party, choose to stay home and read, or choose to go to that restaurant with your friends. In the end, what really matters is that you made a choice that you’ll be happy with.
1. Kleinman, Alexis. “Oxford English Dictionary Adds Selfie, Derp, FOMO, and More Words We Use Online.” com, 28 August 2013. HuffPost News. https://www.huffpost.com/entry/new-words-dictionary_n_3829770
2. Franchina, V., Vanden Abeele, M., van Rooij, A. J., Lo Coco, G., & De Marez, L. (2018). Fear of Missing out as a predictor of problematic social media use and phubbing behavior among Flemish adolescents. International journal of environmental research and public health, 15(10), 2319. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6211134/
3. Taylor, Kate. “The ‘FOMO Epidemic’ and Why It Matters to Millennial-Hungry Businesses.” com, 17 September 2014. https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/237566
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