FOMO Isn’t Just A Hashtag: Here’s How To Overcome It And Find Joy In Missing Out Instead

Strategies for turning that frown upside down, 21st-century style.

June 27, 2018
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Confession: I’m responsible for FOMO. I carefully curate my social posts to show postcard-worthy pics of my adventures around the world, share only 100-percent positive status updates about my career, and make my relationship with my boyfriend look as romantic as Jack and Rose. My IRL friends tell me that they wish their lives were more like mine.

While I strive to live my best life with sincerity, the show I put on social media is far from reality. My followers aren’t seeing me scrimp for months to save up for travel, regularly spend 12 hours or more each day working in front of my computer, or have a yet another argument with my partner about who’s on dish duty. Posting about that very real side of my life would definitely not induce a fear of missing out—but it’s just not the image I, or most people on social media, want to share publicly. And the fact is, I experience FOMO just as much as my followers do, and it sucks.

What is FOMO?

FOMO is a real thing—not just some funny millennial acronym we throw around behind a hashtag. It makes you feel left behind, like everyone else is on vacation while you’re stuck at the office, or getting a diamond ring on their finger while you’re still playing the online dating game, or buying beautiful homes while you’re struggling to pay rent. And the result isn’t just feeling sorta down in the dumps—FOMO drains happiness and can kill your own self-image.

“FOMO is something that’s very real,” explains Colleen Mullen, PsyD, LMFT, at Coaching Through Chaos. “It’s not a diagnosis, but it’s the anxiety people get about missing out on some exciting, interesting event, and it locks people into their social media.”

Social media isn’t going away anytime soon—leaving you vulnerable to scrolling through FOMO-inducing posts and pics at the worst possible moments. However, there are ways to turn FOMO into JOMO (the joy of missing out, of course), allowing you to find joy—bliss, even!—in the experiences you aren’t having, and gaining a newfound appreciation for your life. Think of it as the modern-day equivalent of turning that frown upside-down.

Here’s why you should start acknowledging this consequence of social media, and how to get over it—STAT!

Here’s how to know if you’re feeling FOMO.

FOMO can be an elusive state. One minute, you’re happily scrolling through Instagram, double-tapping on pics of kittens and beaches, and the next, you’re questioning every choice you’ve ever made in your life. WTF just happened?

You’re probably experiencing anxiety about what you’re missing out on and finding it difficult or impossible to see the beauty of your own life, says Mullen.

“FOMO is something that’s very real. It’s not a diagnosis, but it’s the anxiety people get about missing out on some exciting, interesting event.”

—Colleen Mullen, PsyD, LMFT

Signs you’ve been struck with a nasty case of FOMO include constantly checking your social media, an inability to focus, feeling bad as you scroll through your feed, and always wishing you were somewhere else.

“When you have FOMO, you might notice that you’re doing things just to keep up with everyone else, rather than pursuing activities you’re genuinely interested in,” she adds.

At worst, you might even start to feel like you’re missing out on some of the low points of life. Worried that your #saddesklunch just isn’t as sad as the others on the ‘gram? Blame FOMO!

This is your brain on FOMO.

Do a Google image search of, say, weddings, and you probably won’t feel like you’re missing out. These stock images don’t elicit the same deep feelings of missing out that you might experience if you see a series of photos of your friends and acquaintances in their bridal best.

What’s at the root of FOMO?

Of this example, Mullen explains, “We know that weddings take place in a general sense, so if you see stock photos with models, you don’t have that same longing. You might be able to look at 100 bridal magazines and not get FOMO, but seeing two or three girlfriends posting pictures of their wedding dresses might cause you to collapse. FOMO relates back to that personal connection.”.

FOMO hits everyone a bit differently. You might be feeling really down when you see pics of a friend from college on yet another vacation, whereas your bestie is cheering her on.

How often we experience FOMO has to do with how susceptible we are to these negative feelings.

“If you’re confident, you probably won’t have a lot of FOMO, but if you’re insecure, seeing fun things continue on without you can make you feel like you’re not good enough,” explains Mullen.

FOMO can impact your health.

Seeing #FOMO on status updates makes it seem like some trivial issue that’s as easy to write off as #YOLO. But fear of missing out can have a big impact on our mental health and increase the likelihood of being addicted to social media (another very real thing).

FOMO has a dual nature: It’s both ubiquitous and tough to pin down with exact science. Researchers have found that FOMO affects as many as 70 percent of adult millennials. FOMO is prevalent before adulthood too: Adolescents who feel an intense desire to be popular spend more time on Facebook, which in turn increases their feelings of FOMO and stress.

Researchers have found that FOMO affects as many as 70 percent of adult millennials.

Fear of missing out also has a negative impact on our emotional wellbeing. People with high levels of FOMO are more likely to experience worse moods, feel less competent and autonomous, and experience overall lower levels of life satisfaction.

Worse yet, the more FOMO we feel from social media, the more time we tend to spend scrolling.

“It can have serious repercussions on mental health, leaving you with feelings of shame, low self-esteem, and anxiety,” Mullen says of FOMO.

While more research has yet to be done, one thing’s clear: The relationship between social media and FOMO is not doing us any favors.

FOMO can even affect your career.

Careers already cause anxiety—we’re all worried about our next promotion, accomplishing everything on our to-do lists, making great impressions with our bosses and colleagues, and achieving our work-related dreams. But add in the fact that FOMO happens when you see your friends and other connections crushing it at the office, and career anxiety starts to compound.

“FOMO can cause a person to jump around a lot, career-wise,” says Mullen.

You might notice your LinkedIn contacts racking up more positions to add to their digital resumes, so you start to believe you should be job-hopping, as well. The result might mean a shiny new position—or an unfortunate break-up with a job that actually had a lot of promise. Or, it could make you question your decision to go into your field altogether.

“Fear of missing out can make you feel like you’re not good enough, especially if you’re seeing people climb up the corporate ladder and you haven’t yet made those strides,” she says.

The inability to pay attention to what’s going well in your own career could make you miss out on opportunities that are right under your nose.

FOMO can be your bank account’s biggest enemy.

Keeping up with the digital Joneses gets expensive. Just take a look at one 20-something woman who went into financial ruin trying to become Insta-famous. Even small, photogenic luxuries, like fancy coffees and pedicures, add up quickly.

“Trying to buy expensive handbags and other items you see on social media causes some people to spend money they don’t have and go into debt they can’t afford,” says Mullen.

“You’ll see improvements within 48 hours of avoiding social media. You’ll notice you’re not as edgy, and that you can begin to make decisions based on what you really want in life.”

—Colleen Mullen, PsyD, LMFT

If you think your wallet’s resistant to FOMO, you might be in for a surprise. A survey from CreditKarma found that 40 percent of millennials have gone into debt trying to keep up with their pals. Fear of missing out makes around 1 in 4 people uncomfortable turning down costly events, meals out, and other activities. And nearly 73 percent hide the FOMO-related spending they can’t afford from their friends.

And guess what? That money you’re spending out of fear of missing out on a music festival, luxurious vacation, or designer outfit is cash you can’t spend on hobbies or activities that actually interest you. You end up missing out on your own life, and that’s legitimately scary.

FOMO stresses relationships.

FOMO can creep into your face-to-face relationships in ways you might not expect. In striving to achieve perfection in your family relationships, friendships, and romantic life, you miss out on the joy of the present moment and building deep connections with others.

“In your intimate relationships, you might feel like the grass is always greener somewhere else,” says Mullen. “You end up picking at small things in a decent relationship, especially when all you’re seeing online is the best parts of everyone else’s relationships, not the realities.”

FOMO can also take a toll on your friendships. It might make you feel the need to pursue entry into “cooler” groups, neglecting your existing pals in the process.

“You can get catty when you have FOMO, and it can cause people to use each other to get into certain circles,” says Mullen.

As for your family life, FOMO can make you feel like you’re not a good enough sibling, mom, daughter, aunt, and so on. You might stop sharing your home life online altogether if you don’t feel like it looks as put together as others’, potentially causing isolation, warns Mullen.

“You end up carrying shame about the life you’re living, even though it’s probably a fine life,” she says.

How to Overcome FOMO: Turn your FOMO into JOMO.

Ever experience that feeling of relief (and maybe some guilt) when you bail on what sounds like a fun event just because you needed some alone time? There are ways to experience that JOMO (that is, joy of missing out) every time you start to feel a pang of FOMO.

The best thing you can do to give FOMO the boot is to take a break from social media, says Mullen. “A 30-day social media fast is actually a very trendy thing to do anyway, so no one will be shocked if you announce that you’re taking a break,” she says. “The time away will help you learn that it doesn’t have to control you, and you’ll experience less anxiety.”

Can’t bear to stop posting status updates for a full month? We get it—even just two days away from social screen time can give you a recharge, says Mullen.

“You’ll see improvements within 48 hours of avoiding social media. You’ll notice you’re not as edgy, and that you can begin to make decisions based on what you really want in life,” she says.

When your fast is over, rebuild your relationship with your smartphone in a healthy way. Don’t let the urge to post every little thing you’re doing (or scope out what everyone else is up to) interrupt meaningful moments in your life.

“When you go to events—whether that’s a sports game, a party, a charity event, whatever—leave your mobile phone in your pocket or your purse. Everyone’s so concerned with taking the perfect picture, but what really matters is experiencing life as it happens,” Mullen advises.

If certain topics, like fashion or travel, induce your FOMO, limit the time you spend following that content.

You might find that the content posted by one or two people on your friends list is responsible for triggering the majority of your FOMO. Mute them or unfollow them to maintain otherwise good vibes you might have when you’re scrolling through your feed. If certain topics, like fashion or travel, induce your FOMO, limit the time you spend following that content.

Finally, practicing gratitude can go a long way toward helping you appreciate the life you have right now. Researchers have found that people who regularly journal about things for which they’re grateful or write a letter of gratitude to a loved one experience surges in happiness and optimism.

Try jotting down five small things you appreciate each day—they can include anything from a tasty lunch and sunshine to a major achievement or relationship milestone. That will work wonders to keep your FOMO at bay.

And, if those woes about missing out on some big event start to creep back into your mind, you’ll have a record of the even more amazing things you were up to in the meantime—and see your own life as the covetable adventure that it already is.

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