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How to Deal With FOMO in Your Life

By Olivia Guy-Evans, published March 30, 2022

by Saul Mcleod, PhD


What is FOMO?

The fear of missing out (FOMO) is the feeling or idea that you are missing out on something important or enjoyable that others are experiencing.

It is the perceptions that others are having more fun, living better lives, or experiencing better things than you.

FOMO can be experienced in many situations such as missing out on a party or other social gatherings, missing out on work promotions, missing out on travelling to exciting places, missing out on a good sale, or missing out on social media.

FOMO can involve a deep sense of envy of others or feeling unhappy about your own life. It may also make you feel anxious about not progressing or living a life that is not as exciting as it could be.

When experiencing FOMO, you have the urge to be connected to what other people are doing and compare yourself with them. This may lead to feelings of lower self-worth or self-esteem if other people are seemingly having better life experiences than ourselves.

FOMO is thought to include two processes. The first being the perception of missing out, followed by compulsive behaviour to ensure one is not missing out.

This could involve going to as many social events as possible or constantly checking social networking sites. People may become overwhelmed with the number of options they have and may not know what the best option for them is, that would mean they miss out the least.

For instance, someone may be invited to a few parties, and they may not know which party to attend without feeling the FOMO of missing out on the other parties. 

Researchers have applied self-determination theory (SDT) to FOMO. SDT postulates that humans have three innate basic needs that they strive for: competence, autonomy, and relatedness.

Przybylski et al., (2013) suggested that FOMO is a negative emotional state resulting from the unmet social relatedness needs. The social aspect of FOMO could be thought as the basic need of relatedness which refers to the need to belong.

Thus, we have feelings of FOMO when our relatedness needs are not being met. 

History of FOMO

Whilst the term ‘FOMO’ is a relatively new term, it is not a new phenomenon. FOMO is thought to have been around for centuries.

It is not until 1996 when the term ‘fear of missing out’ was coined by marketing strategist Dr Dan Harman.

In 2014, the term FOMO, which was previously used in marketing, was formally adapted to be applied to other settings, specifically observable with the rise of social networking sites.

FOMO is still a relatively new phenomenon which has grown increasingly popular alongside social media. Since it is quite new, more research into this and what may cause FOMO may arise in the years to come. 

The term FOMO may have been coined in the age of social media, but it is not a new concept. Regardless of generation, people have had experiences of feelings as if they are missing out, as illustrated in the old phrase ‘the grass is always greener’ meaning that people often assume that there are better things in other places. 

Usually if there are channels of communication between people, FOMO has always found a way of being present. Any communication channels that would allow individuals to gain knowledge of their friends, family, or even stranger’s lives can result in feelings of FOMO.

This can include communications such as newspapers, letters, pictures, and verbal interactions. Improvements in technology mean that now more than ever, we have easier access to receiving information about others.

We are often able to know details about people’s lives that we may not have known decades ago, which is probably now why the FOMO phenomenon is more recognisable than ever. 

Causes

Loss aversion

Loss aversion suggests that people are more likely to be affected by losses than they are by equal gains.

If they perceive that they are losing or missing out on something, this can cause greater negative feelings than the positive feelings that come with not missing out. 

Regret

Regret is thought to be the strongest trigger for why people experience FOMO. The fear of missing out can go hand in hand with feelings of regret for missing out.

Regret can also be broadcasted into the future through what is known as ‘affective forecasting’. This means that people try to predict how they might feel based on events that haven’t happened yet.

So, people may feel regret before something has happened and this can trigger FOMO.

Too much choice

Another potential cause for FOMO could be that we have too many options. Whilst too many options may feel like a positive thing, there comes a point where there are too many things to choose from and this can become overwhelming.

For instance, someone may not know what career to get in to if they are bombarded by many choices and they cannot predict which will be the best option for them.

Often, learning to choose well in a world of unlimited possibilities is harder than learning to choose.

We will usually want to pick what is right for us which can prove difficult if there are too many options and we fear missing out if we choose the wrong option.

Lower mood

FOMO may originate from feelings of unhappiness. Low levels of satisfaction of the basic needs for competence, autonomy, and relatedness may tend towards higher levels of FOMO than those who have their needs met.

Those who feel socially excluded may also have higher levels of FOMO.

Humans are social beings who desire group interactions so perceived exclusion may make people unhappier which means they are more likely to experience FOMO. 

Is FOMO related to social media?

With the rise of social networking sites becoming ever popular, we can be more connected to others than ever. We have easier access to seeing what other people have in their lives as well as being able to post about our own lives.

Social networking can provide a new channel for communication, knowledge, entertainment, and self-expression. 

FOMO has been linked to intensive social media use. We have almost instant access to being aware of what we are missing out on such as seeing photos of friends at a party or on their travels.

People have the tendency to cherry pick what they share on social media, often the most perfected version of their lives as sharing mundane life tasks may not be considered interesting to others.

Therefore, seeing all the best parts of someone’s life online can give others the impression that that person has an exciting and more interesting life.

Social networking sites can thus cause FOMO through promoting unrealistic expectations of what our lives should look like. 

For many, social media is habitual and arguably addictive. Because of FOMO, people may check their social media accounts multiple times throughout the day to keep up with what is going on.

FOMO could cause people to check social media right after they wake up, before they go to bed, and during mealtimes. Users of social media have ‘always on’ communication with others and may find it hard to switch off or be away from their phones for fear of missing out on something important.

Receiving messages or notifications from social networking sites can compel users to stay continually engaged and up to date. 

Social media can be a cause and effect of FOMO. Users of social media often have a higher chance of experiencing FOMO, but FOMO is also a mechanism that can lead that person to use social media.

This can result in a vicious cycle where users keep comparing themselves and feel that they are missing out.

Now that any individual has the ability to see other’s updates of their lives, social media enables the users to have constant access to what they are missing out on, making it difficult to go more than a few hours without hearing from friends and others talk about their lives.

People and even companies can use social media to promote products or experiences and ask people to ‘follow’ them on social media platforms so that they don’t miss out on content. 

Although social media may give us greater access to FOMO, one study found that hearing about a missed opportunity from a friend produced the same amount of FOMO as viewing it on social media (Milyavskaya et al., 2018).

So, one form of communication doesn’t necessarily cause more FOMO, it is just that social media is more accessible.

Impact of FOMO

Mental health

FOMO is suggested to have a negative impact on an individual's mental health. Frequently checking and refreshing social networking sites for alerts and notifications can heighten levels of anxiety.

Receiving certain types of notifications can produce a rewarding feeling and when a new notification comes through, we may often anticipate this rewarding feeling.

If the rewarding feeling does not come, this can instead cause frustration and anxiety for people. 

Social networking sites can be compensatory for those who struggle to communicate face-to-face, such as those with social anxiety.

Whilst this may be beneficial for these individuals to express themselves through other means of communication, it can become problematic when the use of social media reinforces avoidance for face-to-face interactions, which could increase social anxiety further. 

FOMO has also been found to have a relationship with the amount of time spent on social networking sites as a predictor of emotional distress (Weinstein et al., 2015).

The constant social comparisons and unreasonable expectations can adversely impact people’s self-esteem. FOMO has also been associated with the emergence of depressive symptoms in some (Steers et al., 2014).

These symptoms may be further intensified by the perceptions that an individual can avoid these negative emotions by using social media. 

Through social media, there is a continuous awareness of what an individual may be missing out on. Social media can create distorted perceptions of the edited lives of others and people may be constantly comparing themselves to others.

This can lead them to feel inadequate, lonely or that they are not doing enough with their lives. 

Sleep

FOMO has been associated with insomnia (Adams et al., 2020). As well as this, students who used smartphones at night were at risk of reduced sleep quality and overall psychological health (Shoval, Tal, & Tzischinsky, 2020). 

It is well established in research that the blue light emitting from the screen of electronic devices affects sleep.

The reason behind this is the suppression of the hormone melatonin, resulting in a state of neuropsychological arousal.

Therefore, if people are checking their phones before trying to sleep due to FOMO, it makes sense that they may find it harder to sleep or have poorer sleep. 

Productivity 

FOMO is thought to have negative effects on academic performance. If people are responding to frequent notifications, this uses repeated task switching which is believed to affect attention span, interrupts work and impairs overall productivity (Azizi, Soroush & Khatony, 2019).

Repeated task switching results in more multitasking. Multitaskers are often more likely to make mistakes and take longer to complete tasks.

The constant connection to smart phones due to FOMO may be associated with decreased academic performance and cause more distractions.

According to Altuwairiqi, Jiang, and Ali (2019) FOMO has also been associated with a range of negative life experiences and feelings:

  • Reduced life competency

  • Emotional tension

  • Negative effects on physical well-being

  • Lack of emotional control

FOMO may also prevent us from being present in the current moment.

If we are constantly checking social media for a fear of missing something important, this limits the amount of time we take to reflect or enjoy quiet time with no distractions.

We may become more out of touch with what we are feeling internally if we are constantly thinking about external ideas. 

How to minimise FOMO

To combat FOMO, Kristen Fuller (2018) suggested that social media users embrace JOMO (joy of missing out).

Vector illustration of fomo vs jomo, two conditions in which a person can reside

JOMO is the ‘emotionally intelligent antidote to FOMO and is essentially about being present and being content with where you are in life’. This can enable people to:

  • Escape the fast-paced world of social media

  • Remain more mindful of important human relationships

  • Reclaim the time otherwise spent on social media

  • Embrace time away from social media

  • Find solace in their own lives

Below are some of the ways in which to minimise FOMO and find more joy in missing out:

Change focus

Rather than focusing on what you do not have, try to notice everything you do have. On social media, it may be useful to remove people who appear to brag too much or elevate your FOMO.

Instead, you can try following people who are realistic or spread positive and uplifting messages. This all depends on what triggers the FOMO in each person. Find people or accounts that make you feel good about yourself. 

Keeping a journal

Writing about things which bring you joy in a journal can shift from focusing on public approval to private appreciation.

This may help you from focusing too much on what other people have and break the cycle of seeking validation from others. 

Focus on gratitude

It can be really beneficial to try to appreciate what you already have in life, such as a home, health, or family for instance.

It can be good for mental health to be thankful for everything you have already accomplished in life and the people in your life. With gratitude, you may be less tempted to seek out what other people have on social media.

Slow down

When experiencing FOMO, we may move at a faster pace than we really need to and this may not always benefit us. It might be helpful to practice taking your time with activities to allow yourself to appreciate the experience.

This could be as simple as taking the time to make a cup of tea or eating slowly to appreciate the taste and texture of food.

When feeling FOMO, stopping to take a few deep breaths before carrying on with your day can help calm the mind down and think clearly. 

Eliminating unhelpful things

This can involve removing some of the things from life that bring no joy or add no meaning or quality to life. Having more does not necessarily mean that this is better than having fewer, but higher quality things and experiences.

Sometimes, learning to say no to more things can provide you with more time to devote to experiences that are more deeply rewarding to you. 

Experience over symbol or status

It can be useful to think about the reason why you do certain things: is it to appear impressive to others or for your own enjoyment?

Focusing on the experience and the feelings of accomplishment, connection, or fun that comes with it, rather than focusing on things that may only bring temporary pleasure. 

Be willing to not have it all

The problem is that we may think we have all we have ever wanted but then find something else we may want anyway. Desires can be endless, and it is sometimes better to accept that you cannot have everything.

Indulging in all our impulses for instant gratification may only lead to wanting more and never being satisfied. 

One thing at a time

Although we may believe we are good at multitasking, it is better to focus on one thing at a time until completion than trying to complete many things at once.

It can become overwhelming to try completing many tasks at once and they may not be of great quality rather than putting all your effort into completing one thing at a time.

When focused on a single task, will full attention given, you are more likely to succeed and produce higher quality results.

Practice mindfulness

Mindfulness is the practice of being present in yourself and giving non-judgemental awareness to our moments and experiences.

This is another method which is useful to help slow down and focus on internal feelings rather than seeking external pleasure.

Fact Checking
Simply Psychology content is rigorously reviewed by a team of qualified and experienced fact checkers. Fact checkers review articles for factual accuracy, relevance, and timeliness. We rely on the most current and reputable sources, which are cited in the text and listed at the bottom of each article. Content is fact checked after it has been edited and before publication.

About the Author

Olivia Guy-Evans obtained her undergraduate degree in Educational Psychology at Edge Hill University in 2015. She then received her master’s degree in Psychology of Education from the University of Bristol in 2019. Olivia has been working as a support worker for adults with learning disabilities in Bristol for the last four years.

Sources

Abel, J. P., Buff, C. L., & Burr, S. A. (2016). Social media and the fear of missing out: Scale development and assessment. Journal of Business & Economics Research (JBER), 14(1), 33-44.

Adams, S. K., Murdock, K. K., Daly-Cano, M., & Rose, M. (2020). Sleep in the social world of college students: Bridging interpersonal stress and fear of missing out with mental health. Behavioral sciences, 10(2), 54.

Azizi, S. M., Soroush, A., & Khatony, A. (2019). The relationship between social networking addiction and academic performance in Iranian students of medical sciences: a cross-sectional study. BMC psychology, 7(1), 1-8.

Fuller, K. (2018, July 26). JOMO: The Joy of Missing Out. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/happiness-is-state-mind/201807/jomo-the-joy-missing-out

Gupta, M., & Sharma, A. (2021). Fear of missing out: A brief overview of origin, theoretical underpinnings and relationship with mental health. World Journal of Clinical Cases, 9(19), 4881.

Milyavskaya, M., Saffran, M., Hope, N., & Koestner, R. (2018). Fear of missing out: prevalence, dynamics, and consequences of experiencing FOMO. Motivation and Emotion, 42(5), 725-737.

Przybylski, A. K., Murayama, K., DeHaan, C. R., & Gladwell, V. (2013). Motivational, emotional, and behavioral correlates of fear of missing out. Computers in human behavior, 29(4), 1841-1848. 

Shoval, D., Tal, N., & Tzischinsky, O. (2020). Relationship of smartphone use at night with sleep quality and psychological well-being among healthy students: A pilot study. Sleep health, 6(4), 495-497. 

Steers, M. L. N., Wickham, R. E., & Acitelli, L. K. (2014). Seeing everyone else's highlight reels: How Facebook usage is linked to depressive symptoms. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 33(8), 701-731. 

Weinstein, A., Dorani, D., Elhadif, R., Bukovza, Y., Yarmulnik, A., & Dannon, P. (2015). Internet addiction is associated with social anxiety in young adults. Annals of clinical psychiatry, 27(1), 4-9.

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