How Does the Fear of Missing Out Affect Our Mental Health?
Have you ever felt like you needed to buy something newly released because you were convinced you would be unhappier without it? And, on at least a few occasions, have you ended up putting that thing away and forgotten you even had it shortly after? If you can relate to the first part, that’s called the fear of missing out. The second part is a consequence of the urgency of FOMO.
The fear of missing out, or FOMO, is a psychological phenomenon that can affect pretty much anyone of any age. It’s the feeling of anxiety we get when we see something that appeals to us, but is not in our grasp. Our minds tell us that, if we don’t have this item or experience, we’re missing out on potential joy.
This doesn’t only apply to material things, like limited edition items. It can also apply to events you’re not part of. Being at home and seeing your friends’ Instagram stories or Facebook posts about outings or new adventures can also invoke FOMO.
What causes FOMO?
People are different, so some are more prone to FOMO than others. For example, children are generally prone to FOMO, like when they see that all the other kids at school have a hot new toy of the week or month and beg their parents to get it for them too. It doesn’t really matter what the toy is, just that all the other kids have it.
When it comes to adults, it can widely differ. You might experience FOMO while looking at your friend’s story of the new restaurant they tried that evening, while your other friend might not. Since FOMO is psychological, its intensity depends on your self-esteem.
For example, your friend who doesn’t experience FOMO while watching your mutual friend’s Instagram story probably knows they’ve participated in their fair share of fun outings, themselves. Alternatively, they know they can just make plans to visit this restaurant some other time, so they feel they’re not really missing out on anything.
Meanwhile, if you haven’t seen your friends or generally gone out in a while, seeing your friends having fun on social media can definitely bring out FOMO. Insecurity in general about relationships (e.g. “they’re having fun without me”) or your financial state (e.g. “everyone else can get this new thing but me”) is one of the main factors for FOMO as well.
What makes FOMO worse?
The core issue lies in self-esteem, but outside factors can make FOMO more frequent, making you miserable more often than not.
According to this recent research study, social media is a major contributor to FOMO. Social media posts are only one snippet of our lives, but we tend to forget that when we see post after post of people having fun and supposedly living their best lives. In truth, many of these people could very well be unhappy behind these posts, but that’s not what we see. Thus, we feel a sense of anxiety, because we think, “why am I stuck at home/work while everyone else is out there doing whatever they want?”
Also, beyond fun, social media is a medium through which we share good news, like graduations, engagements, getting hired or promoted, buying a new house, etc. We often see such things as successful feats. Therefore, when you’re continuously exposed to posts by different people–especially those around your age–about their life accomplishments, it can make you feel like what you’re doing isn’t enough. This leads to more FOMO, and that FOMO can even lead to depression.
The same thing can be applied to material objects. Seeing everyone review a new makeup palette or video game on Youtube, for example, or bragging about the limited card they pulled out of a 3% chance in a gacha game causes us to feel like we’re not invited to the “cool kids’ table.”
How can we minimize FOMO?
- Reassure ourselves. Once again, this issue is rooted in our self-esteem. So, if we work on our self-esteem, FOMO won’t affect us as much. When that familiar feeling of anxiety crops up, it’s important to remind ourselves that, if the product or outing is really that important to us, we’ll be able to join in when the time is right. Also, even if we don’t join in, it doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with us. We’ll probably forget about it a week later, anyway.
- Reconfigure our social media. We can always reduce our social media use, or temporarily mute people who give us the most FOMO, so we won’t have to see their posts until we’re more secure with ourselves. It’s nothing against them; we’re the curators of the content we want to see, and we should try to keep it as positive as possible.
- Be realistic. There’s a reason we aren’t able to participate in the newest trendy thing right now. Whatever that reason is, we should remember it and be realistic about how much time or money we can spend right now. Besides, when we buy or participate in things based on FOMO, it rarely ends up being worth it. Especially when the next shiny new thing comes out a month later, and the cycle begins again.
FOMO can make us feel inadequate. But remember, that’s only a feeling, not a fact. Doing things based on what everyone else is doing will make you much less happy than going at your own pace and doing what you want to do. You know yourself best, after all.