FOMO: It’s your life you’re missing out on
“You missed out.” Is there another sentence that could strike such anxiety in the hearts of young people? Other than “We need to talk,” of course. It’s true, though, and we need to talk about fear of missing out. Known as FOMO in millennial-speak, fear of missing out is quickly taking a toll on Generation Y—and it’s probably causing damage to your own life.
Do you have trouble sitting through a movie without obsessively checking your phone? Does your family complain about your constant social media habit? If you panic at the thought of not having a window to the world, you may be experiencing FOMO—which was added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 2013. Living our lives through this virtual filter isn’t really living at all—it only fuels an anxious mindset that we must be ‘missing out.’
With at least 24 percent of teenagers online ‘almost constantly,’ it’s no surprise that fear of missing out is an epidemic among millennials. “FOMO is especially rampant in the millennial community because they see a peer achieving something they want, and somehow in their mind, that achievement means something is being ‘taken away’ from them,” said Darlene McLaughlin, M.D., assistant professor at the Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine and a psychiatry and behavioral health specialist with Texas A&M Physicians.
It’s easy to define our lives based on the virtual crowd watching, critiquing, and applauding our every move. It’s even easier to conform to the crowd’s mold—constantly measuring our lives against a celebrity’s Instagram post or a friend’s life event.
This ‘give me more’ and ‘I want that’ attitude can be detrimental to us both physically and mentally. In fact, recent studies have shown that FOMO is linked to feelings of dissatisfaction. “The problem with FOMO is the individuals it impacts are looking outward instead of inward,” McLaughlin said. “When you’re so tuned in to the ‘other,’ or the ‘better’ (in your mind), you lose your authentic sense of self. This constant fear of missing out means you are not participating as a real person in your own world.”
The average college student spends eight to 10 hours killing time on their cellphone each day, and when we consistently believe we are ‘missing out,’ anxiety and depression may set in. It’s no surprise then that anti-depressant use is very high and grows each year.
“FOMO certainly instills anxiety and depression, but, we need to push back against framing this ‘fear of missing out’ as a mental health condition,” McLaughlin said. “FOMO is an emotion—driven by thoughts—that can create the fear and anxiety which leads to a mental health diagnosis. It’s a symptom of a larger problem at hand.”
According to McLaughlin, at least three to 13 percent of the population are diagnosed with a condition called social anxiety. “Part of social anxiety is the fear of being judged by others or embarrassing oneself in social interactions,” she said. “FOMO is very damaging to someone suffering from this anxiety disorder because it fuels a lack of self-confidence and social avoidance.”
While we may not all experience severe social anxiety, sadly, many of us have pretty bad cases of FOMO—even if we’re unwilling to admit it. And, this incessant worrying about what everyone else is doing only causes us to miss out on our own lives even more. So, how do we fix FOMO? Maybe with a large dose of YOLO (you only live once).
The mental exercise of re-framing is extremely helpful to combat FOMO and there are many common negative thought patterns you may not notice. Building your arsenal against these patterns is key. The next time you feel stressed out about that friend who’s travelling the world while you’re stuck at a desk, try these techniques:
- Track your negative thoughts: Keeping a thought journal will allow you to observe just how often negativity rears its ugly head. Anytime you have a negative thought, write it down and analyze why or how this thought may be limiting you.
- Replace negative thoughts with more reasonable ones: Use milder wording during your thought process, ask yourself “what can I learn from this,” and challenge your assumptions to determine what the frame behind your thought is. It’s possible you have a limiting belief that could be holding you back.
“Use your thoughts and feelings to propel and harness the intrinsic motivation to achieve your own goals,” McLaughlin said. “It’s also beneficial to realize you can’t judge a book by its cover. The outward image people project on social media isn’t necessarily truthful—you’re never getting the entire story.”
If the stress and anxiety behind FOMO begin to take a significant toll on your life and health, it’s always best to contact your health care provider. “It’s important to get ahead of negative thought patterns before they begin to cause havoc,” McLaughlin said.