Whether you’re one of the 27% of people who check social media first thing or (like me) you frequently find yourself at functions you have no business being at because you simply can’t resist the invitation, the fear of missing out is a feeling that most of us are familiar with. In fact, it’s one of the fastest growing forms of social anxiety that people experience. It’s easy to overlook because it shows up in ways that are seemingly inconsequential. Late nights spent scrolling the TL, the odd impulse purchase or forced outing are mostly harmless but FOMO can also have a very limiting effect on the way we live our lives.
Though it manifests in lots of different ways, at its core FOMO is underpinned by the concern that something fun/interesting/exciting is going on without us. That and the compulsion to stay connected to the people in our social networks. It’s no surprise that FOMO has become more common since the pandemic, as general levels of anxiety are on the rise and most of us have experienced some degree of social isolation during lockdowns and beyond. Increased worry and stress caused by COVID increases the need to alleviate that stress (or distract ourselves) with some social interaction, most of which takes place online.
FOMO-driven phenomena of recent months include viral TV trends like Squid Game and Love Island, every Tik Tok craze and tired TL ‘discourse’ ever and the post-lockdown rush to sit in overcrowded beer gardens in hopes of restoring some sense of normalcy. At face value these things are all fairly innocent, fun and even community-building at best and annoying at worst. For the most part, they are but at it’s ugliest, FOMO results in thousands of kids traumatised by Squid Game’s violence, 40% of millenials going into debt trying to keep up with their friends and an overstretched healthcare system, aggravated by millions of rising COVID cases.
It’s also becoming an important tool in digital marketing, with more and more corporations figuring out how to exploit our FOMO to sell us things we don’t really want or need. It’s links with smartphone and social media addiction mean FOMO encourages us to choose the promise of digital fulfillment over the tangible joy that can be found in our physical realities. As individuals there isn’t much we can do about any wide-scale societal damage FOMO causes but we can look at the ways it impacts us day to day. In developing self-awareness of how we process FOMO we can avoid a lot of undue chaos.
It’s important to remember that FOMO affects us all differently and that certain demographics are more susceptible to feeling it intensely. For example, the younger a person is, the more likely they are to succumb to FOMO. It also correlates with tendencies towards compulsive thinking, a need for escapism and a predisposition to boredom, making it more common in people with mental health conditions like bipolar, BPD, anxiety and/or depression and neurodivergent people such as those with ADHD.
If that sounds like you, or if you’re generally just sick of FOMO interfering with your life, there are multiple ways to overcome it. Psychologist Dr. Aarti Gupta says the first step is to confront the insecurity about passing up on social events or missing out on discourse. She says that “acknowledging the insecurity” equips you with the appropriate strategy to accept the problem. Be intentional and ask yourself what you serve to gain from the experience that your FOMO compels you towards, will there be satisfaction and will it be sustaining? It may help to talk to a friend for perspective or make a pros and cons list etc.
In an ideal world, we’d all take Michaela Coel’s advice and disappear from socials from time to time, but that’s much easier said than done. For those of us who can’t go cold turkey, Dr. Gupta suggests regulated social media use. I have a two hour daily time-limit for Twitter and Instagram use and even though I’m always overriding it, the days I stick to it are the days I feel my best. Less time online means more time for mindfulness, which incidentally, is another powerful tool for getting over FOMO. Making an effort to be present in the moment with mindfulness immersion exercises, allows us to practice gratitude and cultivate contentment, which in turn limits our fear of missing out.
With no end to COVID in sight, we can expect to experience more of the isolation-fuelled FOMO that typified the last two years. What we’re not doing in 2022 is beating ourselves up when we find ourselves envious of other people’s enjoyment. When we recognise our envy as natural (if uncomfortable), we can take the necessary steps to detach when things start to feel overwhelming.