This quote by Etty Hillesum, who was a Dutch Jewish thinker and writer who conveyed a message of hope during difficult times, briefly depicts how the Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) affects our lives. Although the circumstances and the time when it was written differ greatly from this era, the essence behind this quote remains the same.
When it comes to this technological age, how could we have imagined a few decades ago that a small device that fits right into our hands could connect us with so many people and provide access to information, ideas, images, and places, among other things? And how could we have predicted that this same technological breakthrough would also become a double-edged sword for some of us, utilizing phenomena such as FOMO as its ally?
There are numerous perks when we talk about technology advancements, of course. However, we’re also witnessing that its unconscious use can lead to a downhill route when syndromes like the Fear of Missing Out get people by surprise, especially young adults, negatively affecting their lives.
In this article, you’ll understand what FOMO is, how it can hold us back in life, and different approaches to overcoming it.
What Is the Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) Syndrome?
FOMO is an acronym for “Fear of Missing Out”, which refers to the feelings of anxiety, uneasiness, or concern that people may experience when they believe that there are rewarding experiences out there that they are not fully participating in. It’s important to emphasize that this syndrome can manifest in various ways. Here are some examples:
- the feeling of pressure to check our smartphones or social media all the time;
- the sensation of being physically and mentally exhausted after checking social media;
- the feeling of inadequacy for not being able to participate in certain experiences or attend specific social events;
- the need and/or desire to be present everywhere and involved in everything;
- the manifestation of sadness, anxiety, and/or depression.
Social media platforms like Twitter, TikTok, and Instagram play a significant role in fostering FOMO. Their content, often carefully curated, presents only a limited perspective of others’ lives, which may or may not be true. However, these texts, images, and videos create expectations that are often unrealistic for the majority of people, triggering a sense of dissatisfaction and resulting in the FOMO phenomenon.
How Does the Fear of Missing Out Hold Us Back in Life?
According to the “Digital 2023 Global Overview Report”, produced in collaboration with Meltwater and We Are Social, the average amount of time spent on social media by users worldwide is 2 hours and 31 minutes, or 151 minutes, per day.
It’s no wonder that nowadays there is extensive documentation related to almost every single thing we do in our everyday lives. People post daily content related to:
- friends and family;
- concerts and parties attended;
- mourning walks;
- trips to the park;
- things they bought;
- their homes;
- the books they’re reading.
You get the picture, don’t you?
In the wake of this huge amount of content, FOMO silently yells at us: “You’re missing out on amazing, marvelous, out-of-this-world opportunities!” But is this really true? People often convey a false message through social media, and their own problems might be masked as a happy face or a trip to the Maldives.
Therefore, we wrongly perceive that everyone is having fun or living fulfilling experiences simply based on their status updates and social media posts, which can result in us feeling left out. Consequently, it leads to the FOMO phenomenon, arousing the desire to belong and fit in. This, in turn, may give rise to negative feelings such as envy, sadness, and regret, eventually leading to depressive states.
The need for validation from others is also detrimental to the way we feel about ourselves, posing risks to our self-esteem and self-worth. Social media is directly connected to immediate gratification, tricking our brains into seeking more likes rather than seeking real and fulfilling long-term experiences.
In short, FOMO can hold us back when it makes us feel like we are not making the most of life. In other words, when we believe that valuable experiences are passing us by and that we are not living up to our full potential.
Is There a Way To Overcome FOMO?
As optimistic as it may seem, I believe there’s a way to overcome pretty much anything in life, no matter how challenging it may be.
First and foremost, it’s important to understand that social connections are vital for a healthy life. The sense of belonging to a group is intrinsic to our human nature: we crave bonds with others, and we want to fit in.
Secondly, it’s beneficial to view technology as an ally since it’s all around us and there’s no reason to escape it. There’s always a way to use technology to our advantage rather than allowing it to control us.
As human beings, our paths may be filled with missed opportunities, changed behaviors, forgotten dreams, and various things that didn’t turn out as we initially planned. There will always be a path that we didn’t walk for several reasons, and somehow we have to make peace with this unlived life. After all, our actions and decisions shape our destinies day by day, and it’s up to us to change the course of our own lives and achieve the balance that our bodies and minds appreciate.
However, you may be asking: “How do we maintain balance when digital screens entice us to constantly check what is happening in our neighborhoods, cities, countries, or the world?”
That’s the challenging part: learning to control ourselves, setting boundaries, and staying above the allure of trends, app notifications, messages, or social media likes. Below, you’ll find a few tips that may be helpful.
Limit your daily exposure to social media
Does constantly checking Instagram cause feelings of anxiety? Does being unable to attend a party or social event that everyone is tweeting about make you feel bad, uncomfortable, or stressed? One of the initial steps in addressing FOMO is understanding its triggers, and limiting your exposure to social media can be helpful.
Finding joy in the present moment instead of constantly seeking new adventures is a tough task for many of us, I know. However, by managing external influences, we can prioritize our goals and align our actions with them. Therefore, it’s important to set boundaries for your daily exposure to social media and approach its usage with intention and mindfulness.
Try mindfulness or another meditative practice
Different people ask for different methods.
One approach is to practice mindfulness, which involves achieving a state of self-awareness and being able to understand and accept your emotions without judgment. In general, you can explore meditation to enhance various aspects of your life and gain insights into the sources of your feelings of sadness and/or anxiety.
By doing so, you have the advantage of understanding your triggers and developing healthier coping mechanisms to deal with them.
Develop Meaningful Connections
The fear of missing out on social events and interactions is a pretty common experience for individuals affected by FOMO. One way to address this issue is to build and nurture meaningful connections with people who share the same values and interests as you do.
There are various options for finding such connections:
- attending in-person or online courses;
- participating in social gatherings related to your interests;
- engaging in forums on the Internet;
- joining professional conferences.
There are alternatives available for both introverted and extroverted individuals to engage in activities and conversations that help to develop genuine and authentic relationships. This way, you’ll feel more fulfilled and less prone to feeling sad or anxious about others’ experiences.
Make Way for the Joy of Missing Out (JOMO)
JOMO is the greatest ally when it comes to FOMO.
The Joy of Missing Out is the opposite of the Fear of Missing Out. Instead of being plugged in all the time, JOMO encourages individuals to find contentment in being disconnected and saying no to events or activities that don’t align with their values, personality, or priorities. In today’s fast-paced and digitally connected world, JOMO invites people to consciously choose to miss out on situations that don’t matter to them and to find joy in this process.
So how can we do it, exactly? Well, a starting point could be setting priorities and goals. The Fear of Missing Out can stem from a feeling of not being included in everything or not doing enough to enjoy life. For this reason, setting priorities and goals can help you focus on the things that truly matter to you, besides giving you a sense of purpose. This way, it becomes easier to reduce FOMO when it comes to activities or events that aren’t aligned with what brings fulfillment to your life.
By getting your priorities straight, you enable yourself to be purposeful with your time. When you direct your energy toward what truly matters to you, you become more satisfied with the way you spend your time. Consequently, you become less concerned about other people’s lives.
It’s also important to understand that not everything is displayed on social media. After all, most people typically only post the good aspects of their lives. Their routine may seem exciting at first glance, but what about the ordinary aspects of their daily lives, such as cleaning, running errands, and working on monotonous projects? We all face difficulties, so it’s good to remember that excitement can’t be present in our lives all the time, every single day.
Also, remember that each experience related to FOMO is unique, and individuals may require different approaches and strategies. While some may benefit from the tips mentioned above, others may need to seek the assistance of a therapist to break unhealthy habits, regain a sense of control, and find contentment in their own paths.
Therapy can help to analyze one’s emotions and actions, offering a refreshing perspective aligned with balance and self-care. In general, professional help is advised when an individual can’t stop overusing social media or is experiencing high levels of anxiety and depression due to this phenomenon.
If you are struggling with this syndrome, know that you’re not alone. It’s possible to regain control of your situation and find more fulfillment in life by understanding exactly what FOMO is, recognizing its effects on your mind and body, and exploring different approaches to overcome it.