Do you ever find yourself agreeing to plans you didn’t really want to be a part of for the sake of just being there? Or maybe going to a place you absolutely can’t stand because you know all your friends are going? More often than not when you push yourself to go out you don’t end up having a good time. Perhaps the only thing scarier than having a bad time is missing out.
You’re not alone. Many people experience anxiety when they think about missing certain events (no matter how lame the spot). Psychologists call this phenomenon the Fear of Missing Out – now more commonly known as FOMO.
FOMO is a huge part of our social lives and is continually perpetuated by social media. Each post, each tweet, each snap posted on any social media platform contributes heavily to the anxiety we feel. The more we browse, the more we feel left out.
The FOMO phenomenon is not necessarily something new. Even before the rise of social media, it was human nature to want to belong and to be included.
As early as 1996 research of the phenomenon of FOMO had been explored. Dr. Dan Herman, a marketing strategist, had a paper on our need to be included published in The Journal of Brand Management by 2000. It was Patrick J. McGinnis who first used the term FOMO in 2004 when he published an op-ed in the Harvard Business School magazine The Harbus. The term was developed for businesses as a way to describe managers that take on too many potential paths out of “fear of missing opportunities.” Despite its original intent, it has made its way to our vernacular to describe what many of us feel on a social level.
According to Anita Sanz, a clinical psychologist, FOMO is historically linked to our survival. Missing out on a food or water source, for example, could be the difference between life and death. The information we now crave isn’t vital but it still triggers a negative mental response.
Present day FOMO is the anxiety you experience when fun or interesting things are happening without you. When you have FOMO you generally will begin to compare your life to the lives that others are portraying. This is dangerous as it can lead to self-doubt and loneliness.
Social media has fed into these feelings and turned it into an epidemic. It certainly doesn’t help your anxiety when you’re constantly being presented with proof that things are constantly happening even when you’re not around. Suddenly you’re desperate to take a beach holiday with all your friends (completely unrelated to your third cousin’s new girlfriend’s post from the Bahamas, of course.)
Here are some examples and ways to identify the feeling of FOMO:
You can use FOMO to your advantage actually. If done healthily it can actually motivate you to get out and socialize. This is productive only if you cut out the term “fear.” Fear is involuntary. This means we cannot control this response – we can simply hope to overcome it.
Here are some ways to overcome FOMO:
If only there were more than 24 hours in a day, then we’d never have to put anything off. There would be enough time for work and enough time left over to socialize with family and friends. This isn’t always the case (as we all painfully know.)
The reality is we spend a big portion of that doing things we have to do, i.e. work, chores, sleep. We need to accept that putting these important things first means that we simply don’t have the bandwidth to say yes to everything. No matter how hard we try to stay on top of everything we’re bound to miss out on certain things, and this is totally reasonable. The key is to find the right balance.
Things aren’t always what they seem. In fact, most people exaggerate on social media so it helps to remind ourselves of that. We choose what to share and what not to on our platforms.
For instance, you see a picture of your friend atop a beautiful mountain with a spectacular view. While others may get frustrated about missing out on that wonderful view they haven’t considered the sweaty 12-hour hike you need to endure just to get to it.
Consider this: are you frustrated over missing out on the event or is it a sign of something more complex?
In some cases, our FOMO isn’t worth overthinking, but often it stems from deeper insecurities. You feel frustrated you weren’t able to attend last night’s rager because you had to get some important work done. You probably did the right thing but regardless you’re plagued with anxious questions. Did my friends meet someone else they might like more than me? Did they really have fun without me? Are they mad at me for not being there?
Consider what it is you’re really feeling and whether or not it’s a sign of general unhappiness or insecurity. Take the time to analyze your emotions and figure out what it is you’re really feeling, and how to address it.
FOMO is something relatively involuntary. We cannot control when it happens but we can try to understand the why behind it. Diving into your emotions and understanding why you’re feeling negative about your friends having a good time without you can help you get to the bottom of your anxiety. Furthermore avoiding social media stalking will help you immensely. Obsessively watching a story on Instagram while you’re friends are out and you’re home may get you to question your decisions to stay in. Even worse — it may make you feel inadequate. The best way to avoid FOMO is to take control of it and make choices for your happiness rather than going places to satiate your fears.