Fear of missing out article

Fear of missing out: A brief overview of origin, theoretical underpinnings and relationship with mental health

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The Psychology Behind The Fear of Missing Out – Forbes Health

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Table of Contents

  • What Is the Fear of Missing Out (FOMO)?
  • The History of FOMO
  • Symptoms of FOMO
  • Causes of FOMO
  • The Psychology of FOMO
  • Social Media and The Fear of Missing Out
  • How to Resist the Fear of Missing Out 

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The average person spends 147 minutes a day on social media[1]Daily time spent on social networking by internet users worldwide from 2012 to 2022. Statistics. Accessed 8/31/2022. . Because of this, we’re more aware than ever of how others are spending their time. Every party, vacation and even meal out seems to be documented for the world to see.

For some, this constant stream of documentation can lead to experiencing FOMO, or fear of missing out. Though FOMO isn’t a diagnosable psychological condition—at least not yet—this phenomenon can directly impact both mental and physical health. While social media can be a big cause of FOMO, it certainly isn’t the only culprit. The feeling of wanting to fit in and belong far outdates the Internet. If you are experiencing FOMO regularly, there are ways to overcome it.

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What Is the Fear of Missing Out (FOMO)?

According to the World Journal of Clinical Cases, the term “fear of missing out” gained traction in 2004[2]Fear of missing out: A brief overview of origin, theoretical underpinnings and relationship on mental health. World Journal of Clinical Cases. 2021;9(19):4881-4889. . This was the year Facebook launched, one of the first large online spaces (except for perhaps MySpace) where people were able to publicly display their friendships and what they were doing through status updates and photos.

“Psychologists began using the term FOMO in the early 2000s to describe a phenomenon associated with the use of social networking sites. It has gained greater attention over the years as our social media presence has increased,” says Natalie Christine Dattilo, Ph.D, the founder of Priority Wellness Group and an instructor of psychology at Harvard. “FOMO includes both the perception of missing out, which triggers anxiety, and compulsive behaviors, like checking and refreshing sites, to maintain social connections,” she says. “It is closely related to the fear of social exclusion or ostracism, which existed long before social media.”

The History of FOMO

FOMO may have entered our lexicon during the advent of social media, but Erin Vogel, Ph.D., a social psychologist and an associate professor at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, emphasizes that the feeling of missing out has existed much longer. “Humans want to feel like we’re included like we belong to a group,” she says.

Another way that psychologists have studied FOMO is by focusing on how a feeling of “belonging” can influence our self-esteem, continues Dr. Vogel. “When we feel as if we’re part of a community and others approve of us, we feel better about ourselves. When we don’t get that sense of community approval, we feel worse about ourselves,” she says.

When it comes to the first use of the acronym FOMO, the credit is often given to Patrick McGinnis, a writer who used it in an article he wrote for the Harvard Business School magazine, The Harbus, in 2004 (McGinnis is now a venture capitalist, best-selling author and has a podcast called FOMO Sapiens.) In his article, McGinnis used “fear of missing out” to describe why people often overschedule themselves.

Symptoms of FOMO

Even though FOMO is not currently a diagnosable condition, it can have specific symptoms, according to a 2021 report in Technological Forecasting and Social Change. Some of these symptoms include:

  • Obsessively checking social media to see what others are doing
  • Experiencing negative feelings when comparing one’s life to what others seem to be doing on social media
  • Feeling mentally exhausted from social media

Other symptoms of FOMO, according to Erin Vogel, Ph. D, a social psychologist and an associate professor at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, can include:

  • Overscheduling (trying to be everywhere at all times)
  • Withdrawing from others
  • Feeling physically tired
  • Feeling sad, anxious or depressed
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Having trouble sleeping

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Causes of FOMO

“Social media is not the only thing that causes FOMO. For example, you might get an invitation to a weekend party that you don’t necessarily want to attend, but go anyway because you don’t want to feel left out when your friends talk about it on Monday. Social media facilitates FOMO, but people have always experienced it,” explains Dr. Vogel. While anything that makes someone feel left out can be a cause of FOMO, agrees Dr. Dattilo, a few of the more common causes include:

  • Not understanding an inside joke others are laughing at
  • Not being picked for a team
  • Not being invited to an event
  • Missing out on a good deal, such as a sale at a store you like

The Psychology of FOMO

A sense of belonging is a fundamental human need. One study focusing on adolescent girls referred to this need as “social hunger[3]Tanton A, Dhir A, Talwar S, et al. Dark consequences of social media-induced fear of missing out (FOMO): Social media stalking, comparisons, and fatigue. Technological Forecasting and Social Change. 2021;171:120931. .” This language underscores how important the need of belonging can be for some and why experiencing FOMO can affect certain people so negatively. Feeling socially connected (the opposite of FOMO) has even been linked to living a longer, healthier life.

How can feeling connected impact our health in such an important way? Researchers say that it’s because feeling bonded with others leads to feeling less stressed, which supports both the nervous system and the immune system. Conversely, the feeling of FOMO affects the brain similar to other anxiety conditions by activating a “fight or flight” response, says Dr. Dattilo. “The brain perceives a threat, a social threat in this case, and puts us on high alert. Our nervous system gets agitated and then we become uncomfortable and motivated to find relief,” she continues.

This need for relief often leads people straight to their favorite social media apps. “Unfortunately, by seeking relief in this way, we only maintain or even strengthen the anxiety that triggered it in the first place,” says Dr. Dattilo.

FOMO has also been linked to mental health issues. Experiencing FOMO can be associated with depression, feeling more stressed out and decreased life satisfaction.

Who Is Most Affected by FOMO?

When it comes to an actual age range, teens and youth are more at risk for experiencing FOMO. “Younger people are considerably more at risk due to the increased amount of time spent online coupled with a heightened sensitivity to and need for social approval and belongingness,” says Dr. Dattilo

However, young people aren’t the only ones who may experience FOMO. Since the fear of missing out is often connected to social media, Dr. Vogel explains that any avid social media user is more at risk of experiencing FOMO than individuals who do not use social media very much. “It’s likely that social media use can cause us to experience FOMO because we’re seeing the ‘highlight reels’ of other people’s lives,” she says. “It’s also likely that people who are very invested in their social relationships are more drawn to social media and more prone to experiencing FOMO.” To this point, a smaller study from 2017 found that extroverts may be more likely to use social media excessively than introverts[4]Social Theory at HBS: McGinnis’ Two FOs. The Harbus. Accessed 08/31/2022.

Individuals living with social anxiety are also at risk, notes Dr. Dattilo. This is because, she explains, they are more likely to avoid social situations and rely more heavily on social media for connection and to decrease feelings of loneliness.

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Social Media and The Fear of Missing Out

It’s clear that feeling a sense of belonging is important for both physical and mental health. It’s also likely that FOMO negatively impacts health. But why is social media such a powerful driver of FOMO? To understand this, it’s important to know just how powerful apps like Instagram, Facebook and TikTok can be. When we see posts that make us happy on social media (or when someone “likes” our posts), it increases the hormone dopamine in the brain, lighting up the brain’s reward system, explains Dr. Dattilo.

“Posting on social media and receiving positive feedback through comments, likes and follows is highly rewarding to the brain so we seek that again and again,” says Dr. Dattilo. In this way, using social media can quite literally be addictive.

How to Resist the Fear of Missing Out 

If you find yourself experiencing FOMO, both Dr. Vogel and Dr. Dattilo have some advice on how to deal with it:

  • Remember what you’re not seeing on social media: “Especially in the age of social media, it’s important to remind ourselves that other people’s lives aren’t as exciting or perfect as they may seem,” says Dr. Vogel. Remember that people aren’t typically posting the more ordinary aspects of their day, such as working at their computer or cleaning. Not everyone’s day is jam-packed with excitement 24/7.
  • Be purposeful with your time: “Focus your energy on relationships and activities that are fulfilling to you,” suggests Dr. Vogel. When you’re content with how you’re spending your time, you’ll be less concerned with how others are spending theirs.
  • Know your triggers: Often, it can be helpful to figure out exactly what is causing you to experience FOMO, explains Dr. Dattilo. “Much like any behavioral addiction, understanding and minimizing triggers is important,” she says. If you find that the cause of your FOMO is your phone, she suggests putting it in a different room unless you need to use it to avoid the temptation of going on social media. If a certain person is regularly causing you to experience FOMO, you may want to consider limiting your time around them.
  • See a therapist: Dr. Dattilo says that cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can help break habits that are leading to FOMO, such as overusing social media. This type of therapy involves working with a therapist to examine your emotions, thoughts and actions to help regain a sense of control.

Constantly experiencing FOMO may negatively impact mental and physical health—but it’s also very possible to enjoy social media without letting FOMO overtake you. Remembering that social media is only half of the story, as well as enlisting some coping mechanisms, can help you push back against FOMO. Cultivating a personal sense of belonging may also help you feel more in control and secure.

“When it comes to treating FOMO, the main goal should be control rather than abstinence,” Dr. Dattilo says. “Be intentional and mindful about your social media usage. Notice which accounts or apps tend to make you feel worse and unfollow or delete.”

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  • Daily time spent on social networking by internet users worldwide from 2012 to 2022. Statistics. Accessed 8/31/2022.
  • Fear of missing out: A brief overview of origin, theoretical underpinnings and relationship on mental health. World Journal of Clinical Cases. 2021;9(19):4881-4889.
  • Tanton A, Dhir A, Talwar S, et al. Dark consequences of social media-induced fear of missing out (FOMO): Social media stalking, comparisons, and fatigue. Technological Forecasting and Social Change. 2021;171:120931.
  • Social Theory at HBS: McGinnis’ Two FOs. The Harbus. Accessed 08/31/2022.


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  • Hayran C, Anik L, Gürhan-Canli Z. A threat to loyalty: Fear of missing out (FOMO) leads to reluctance to repeat current experiences. PLOS One. 2020;15(4):e023238.
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"I missed everything": how to deal with FOMO syndrome

FOMO effect something interesting. In fact, this is another face of anxiety, although today it is not recognized as a disorder or illness. In other words, experiencing FOMO is normal, but it is possible to understand its causes and not waste time on experiencing sadness and regret.

The simplest recommendation is to limit the flow of information. If you are prone to "sticking" in social networks, regulate the time you watch the tape, for example, 3 times for 15 minutes or two for 30 minutes a day. As a reminder, you can put a screensaver on your phone with text like: "If I don't get distracted, I'll feel better / finish the project faster." Or like this: “I think I have FOMO, do I want to support it?” Or any other text that seems to work for you personally. Be sure to write what good things will happen if you manage not to waste time scrolling your smartphone.

To avoid piling up tabs or lists of "very important" articles you need to read, clean up this "graveyard" of links once a month. If you stumble upon something really interesting, give yourself a deadline to study the material, for example, the same month. If during it you did not devote time to the article, did you really need it?

Now let's pay attention to thoughts that support the fear of missing something. The cognitive-behavioral approach in psychology suggests that it is not the situation itself that affects us, but our attitude towards it. Every day, between 2,000 and 5,000 evaluative thoughts run through our heads and shape our mood. You see a post: your colleague is having breakfast in a beautiful coffee shop. What did you think? “I will never have that much time and/or money to spend my mornings like this, but I would love to!”, “Why does she have the opportunity to live like this, but I don’t? It’s unfair!”, “Oh, this is the place, everyone has already been there, but I haven’t, I’m behind the times, I urgently need to go there!” Such thoughts easily plunge you into anxiety, sadness, anger, or make you urgently run to where you were not going to go 10 minutes ago.

An important step in overcoming FOMO is to develop the skill to monitor such assessments and learn to respond constructively, for example: “It seems that I just envied her and got upset, but in fact I can plan one trip a week to some nice place, and more often, to be honest, I don’t feel like it. And if I don't go there right now, most likely I won't miss anything" .

Advanced Suggestion: Use JOMO (from the English Joy Of Missing Out - "joy of missed opportunity") - enjoying what you are doing in the moment without worrying about what others are doing. This technique combines work with thoughts and behavior. For example, you are very tired during the working week and plan to spend the day at home watching a series. And suddenly in the feed you see that your friend is going to the exhibition, which is running on the last day. Tell yourself: "Yes, I will not see the exhibition, but I will relax and enjoy the series" . And stay at home, emphasizing for yourself the pleasure of such a decision. Feel it in your body, concentrate on it.

Many studies indicate that the older a person gets, the less susceptible to FOMO. But the sooner you turn to the correction of the symptom, the less time you spend on anxiety and the more resources you have left for what is really important to you.

The opinion of the authors and experts may not coincide with the position of the editors of hh.ru

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What is FOMO syndrome and how to deal with it? — Offtop on vc.ru

Now we often hear the term “FOMO” (fear of missing out): “fear of missing something” or “lost profit syndrome”. The expression was added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 2013, and the phenomenon itself is gaining momentum. I’ll tell you what is behind the obsessive fear that others live a more interesting life than you, and what’s more social networks.


What is FOMO?

A 2013 study defines FOMO as “an unsettling, sometimes overwhelming feeling that you are missing out on a lot. And peers have something more than you, they do and know more.” Polls show that 3/4 of young people have ever experienced this feeling. Hence the constant desire to check social networks in order to “be in the know”, not to feel left out. Sometimes this helps relieve anxiety, but more often than not, you're just spinning the "digital wheel" like a hamster, updating the feed over and over again.

Is it just a feature of modern life, and there is nothing wrong with such sensations? Is it possible to break the vicious circle? In fact, everything is much worse than it seems at first glance, but the “missed opportunity syndrome” can be dealt with.

FOMO and lack of happiness

If you are caught in the FOMO network, you may not feel happy deep down, and in general you do not like life very much. The researchers put it this way: “The results show that people with low levels of fulfillment of fundamental needs for competence, autonomy, and kinship tend to have higher levels of fear of missing out. As well as people who often have a bad mood and problems with overall satisfaction with their own lives.”

As a result, many people check social networks right after waking up, during lunch and before going to bed, because they think: “Someone is having fun without me”. And they seem to feel better about turning the Internet into an addiction. But it's not that simple.

Instagram and Facebook illusion

We know that social networks do not give a complete picture of a person's life and offer only carefully selected facts. It often seems that if bragging is banned, some people won't be able to post anything at all. But scientists convince us that we cannot help but compare our achievements with the achievements of other people. However, passive consumption of content on Facebook increases depression, we feel more alone if we not only communicate with friends, but also follow their pages on social networks. It is detrimental to our sense of happiness and well-being to watch how “others” live. As the philosopher Montesquieu said, “If we simply wanted to be happy, it would be easy to achieve; but we want to be happier than others, which is almost impossible.”

The problem of awareness

In addition, the most common reaction to FOMO is the desire to also publish something, as if broadcasting: “Look, I'm cool, no worse than you.” It turns out that a vicious circle of the spread of the virus: your posts can also cause sadness and anxiety in a person.

What conclusion can we draw: “Searching for happiness in social networks is a bad idea. You won't find it there." It sounds trite, but research shows that FOMO occurs when you look outward rather than inward. When you are tuned in to “different”, “better”, you lose yourself. The constant fear of missing something shows that a person feels bad, uncomfortable in his reality. After all, real life does not go on social networks. For example, students who prefer text, video, and email lectures are not able to be “in the moment. ” Be alone for a long time.

The key to change lies in awareness. British scientist Paul Dolan in his book “Happiness by Design: Finding Pleasure and Purpose in Everyday Life” says that our feeling of happiness is determined by how we distribute our attention: “Attention is the glue that holds your life together ... Change behaviors and increased levels of happiness is about shifting focus from negative to positive.” The question remains, how to deal with the fact that life can be boring, sad or uninteresting.

Try to be grateful

The inevitable comparisons to the “fake” lives on Facebook make you feel like you have less than what others have. Realizing that you have a lot helps to understand that you have a lot more than you think.