It was a Thursday night on campus and Mina’s roommates were getting ready to go out. Mina had a class early the next morning and was unable to join them. After they left, she could not escape the nagging feeling that she was missing out on a fun night with her roommates. She found it hard to complete tasks because she could not resist tapping through Snapchat stories, checking for new updates whenever she got the chance. Watching the highlights of their night through her phone screen made her feel awful, yet she felt anxious when she did not check.
What is FOMO?
Fear Of Missing Out, or FOMO, is the feeling you get when you think that others may be having rewarding experiences that you are missing out on. FOMO can cause you to doubt yourself, your connections, and your happiness in the present moment. According to a 2016 study by Baker and colleagues, FOMO is associated with many negative health outcomes, including depression, anxiety, fatigue, physical symptoms, and decreased sleep. For Mina, it turned a relaxing night of solitude into an anguish-filled scrolling session which left her feeling miserable.
Why does FOMO happen?
The fear of missing out can largely be attributed to the human craving for connection and experience. When FOMO is present, it is often due to a perception that these needs are not being met. This perception can be accurate or inaccurate; either way, it affects the wellbeing of the person experiencing it.
What about social media?
As new ways for people to get connected and peek into parts of others’ lives develop, opportunities for FOMO proliferate. Social media gives users great control over which parts of their experiences they wish to share. People tend to share the highlights of their experiences, while the less enjoyable or neutral parts are hidden from other users. This leads the anxious FOMO mind to fill in the blanks with imagined scenarios.
So how can mindfulness help against feelings of FOMO?
Mindfulness is the practice of paying attention to the present moment on purpose and without judgement. It is choosing direct experience over the virtual reality of our thoughts. There are many well-studied benefits of mindfulness.
According to a study performed in 2018 by Milyavskaya and colleagues, mindfulness is the antithesis to FOMO. Created by looking outwardly and focusing on what one is missing out on, FOMO is a mindless, anxious reality--devoid of direct experience. By using mindfulness to “be where your feet are,” you can avoid focusing on imagined alternatives and instead experience deep engagement with your current activity.
Other ways to deal with FOMO
Challenge your thoughts
We tend to spend so much time with our brains on autopilot, leaving our irrational thoughts free to multiply and take control of our emotions. When you get a negative thought, write it down and look at it. Analyze how it is serving you. If you see no benefit, try replacing it with a positive thought. If you see some truth in the thought but it still distresses you, try using milder language or re-framing it in a positive way. For example, “Everyone is doing something fun with friends tonight and I am stuck studying,” could be turned into “I am focusing on my work right now so that I can be fully present when the time is right to be with my friends.”
Expand your view
An important skill to develop is discerning which events are important or vital to your life experience and which ones are merely fun additions. Think of it like the choice between eating your vegetables or eating candy--it’s fine to have both, as long as you are being mindful of how it affects you.
Realize that social media is different than real life
The party was probably not as much fun as it looked.
On the other hand, any event is more fun than scrolling through Instagram and lamenting your perceived missed opportunities. Get a hobby, cultivate your interests, or do that assignment you’ve been putting off. You will be better for it.
A final word from Taking Charge
While it can at times feel all-consuming, it’s important to remember that FOMO is an emotion like any other. We can choose to grow its power with unchecked thoughts and mindless habits, or we can choose to be curious, present, and mindful with it.
The Student Corner provides resources specific to college students and their wellbeing, especially around issues like stress, mental health, addiction, financial obstacles, and other barriers that prevent them from achieving wellbeing and academic success.
Baker, Z. G., Krieger, H., & LeRoy, A. S. (2016). Fear of missing out: Relationships with depression, mindfulness, and physical symptoms. Translational Issues in Psychological Science, 2(3), 275-282. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/tps0000075
Milyavskaya, M., Saffran, M., Hope, N. et al. Motiv Emot (2018) 42: 725. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11031-018-9683-5
Texas A&M University. (2016, March 30). FOMO: It's your life you're missing out on. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 6, 2019 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/03/160330135623.htm