Buried under a pile of blankets, with the light of the phone as it reflects the darkroom, you endlessly scroll through your Instagram feed. You stumble upon pictures of all your friends, and their broad smiles glare back at you through the screen. Your first thought; I wish I was there, why am I getting so much FOMO?
FOMO refers to the ‘fear of missing out’. It is the feeling that one gets when others live better lives or experience better things than them, as viewed on social media. However, the term is popular and trending by today’s youth. But is ‘FOMO’ a socially constructed idea used merely as ‘millennial lingo’ or does it have an absolute truth behind it?
Social media portrays over-glorified representations of one’s life with plastered smiles and seemingly ‘candid’ moments. This results in making it easy for these young adults to catch envy and competition feelings. Teenagers may often get consumed by FOMO, leaving them feeling anxious and socially excluded. This can take over ones self-esteem and confidence, thereby permeating through other walks of life and relationships, making one feel isolated.
Psychology and research in the field suggest that FOMO harms social media users’ mental health. A study conducted by the University of Glasgow examined social media’s consequences on high school students’ mental health. The study reported that students feel pressured to be always available and showed lowered self-esteem due to FOMO. To further explain this, psychologists refer to the ‘Cybernetic Process Model’ that evaluates one’s current position and desired goals to allow them to be in track and achieve the goals. Once FOMO feelings arise, this model goes out-of-sync since one’s goals now depend on external validation rather than internal satisfaction. Having a distorted assessment of the current situation and goals leads to anxiety-causing FOMO.
Secondly, according to Psychology, FOMO also leads to ‘social exclusion’ which refers to feelings of isolation physically or emotionally, causing the individual a certain degree of pain. Social media acts as a trigger to social pain, which activates the brain’s dorsal anterior cingulate cortex (dACC) region, affecting one’s mind, brain, and behaviour. Lastly, FOMO also causes ‘social anxiety’ or ‘social phobia’. This refers to the intense fear and anxiety of being negatively judged or perceived and rejected in social situations. Social anxiety symptoms include physical symptoms such as nausea and increased heart rate and psychological symptoms like intense worry about social situations, embarrassment, and fear of being evaluated. These symptoms are often triggered by social media. In this way, FOMO is essentially social anxiety stemming from the belief that others may be living a better life. However, rather than just another internet slang popularized by today’s youth.
Although FOMO may take over and often clouds one’s judgement, there are specific ways one can overcome FOMO. Some of these solutions include:
Take a break from social media. Regiment time spent on social media can be done by utilizing ‘downtime’ on your smartphone. This will allow you to set specific hours for individual apps. It may often sound easier said than done. Still, it is essential to take a step back from social media’s fast-paced world to focus on your current situation and goals.
Cultivate mindfulness. To reduce the fear of missing out, practice living in the present by focusing more on the here-and-now. Non-judgmental awareness can also be practised through meditation to let go of the things that aren’t in one’s control.
Focus on yourself and what makes you happy. Focusing on others will cause anxiety and take away from your own experiences. Don’t allow negative thoughts of jealousy or competition ruin your enjoyment.
Manifest your goals. Manifest your own goals and priorities. Maintain a gratitude journal to remind yourself and bring your attention back to achieving your own goals.
Scrolling through your Facebook feed or Snapchat stories can be overwhelming, it may be difficult to discern your feelings of FOMO from social anxiety. At the end of the day, each one is on their own journey. It is essential to recognize and appreciate the life-enhancing experiences you face rather than regret the opportunities missed.