Do you fear you are missing out on the fun activities, events, and enjoyable experiences other people are having? Are you anxiously preoccupied with what your friends are doing, fear that others have not included you in their enjoyable activities, or are convinced that others are having more fun than you are?
If so, then you are familiar with the phenomenon of fear of missing out (FOMO). While fear of missing out is nothing new, it has changed over the years: FOMO used to be triggered only by “newspaper society pages, party pictures, and annual holiday letters.” These days, in this world of social media, “instead of receiving occasional polite updates, we get reminders around the clock.”
An important question is whether there are individual differences in FOMO, or if FOMO is purely a generational phenomenon (e.g., older people are less affected by it). An article published in the December 2020 issue of Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, and written by Barry and Wong of Washington State University, provides some answers to these questions.
Methods and Results
The sample consisted of 419 individuals (98 males) between the ages of 14 and 47 years. The majority (73 percent) were White.
Measures included the following (sample items are in parentheses):
- Self-compassion scale: Measuring self-kindness, mindfulness, self-judgment, etc.
- Sleep condition indicator: Measuring sleep quality and sleep problems.
- Social media engagement: Determined by use frequency, number of accounts, etc.
- UCLA Loneliness Scale-3: (“How often do you feel left out?”)
- Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale: (“At times I think I am no good at all.”)
- Satisfaction With Life Scale: (“I am satisfied with my life.”)
Also included was the Fear of Missing Out Survey (FOMOS)—the standard version, plus two versions modified to emphasize the fear of missing out concerning relationships either with friends or with family.
The data showed fear of missing out was associated with loneliness, lower self-esteem, and lower self-compassion. Fear of missing out was not related to age.
So, compared to average people, those who had a greater fear of missing out were often more lonely and isolated, had a more negative view of themselves, and showed less self-acceptance and self-kindness.
How Do We Overcome the Fear of Missing Out?
So, how do we cope with the fear of missing out? One approach is cultivating self-compassion. Cultivating self-compassion means learning how to relate to ourselves with an attitude of care, kindness, and acceptance.
Self-compassion can help us counteract our preoccupation with what others are doing—such as constant upward social comparisons with those who have a strong social media presence.
Another approach is to make sure we have regular interactions with others (beyond online activities). Meeting face-to-face allows for interactions that are more real, rich, complex, and consequential, and thus more likely to reduce feelings of isolation and loneliness.
Last, it may be a good idea to stop using social media, as much as possible, during daily activities. Indeed, in the present study, fear of missing out was quite high in lonely participants or those low in self-esteem, both of whom routinely used social media in the middle of daily activities (e.g., while eating or getting ready to go to bed). FOMO was additionally related to sleep difficulties, and post hoc analyses suggested this might have been due to social media use before going to bed.
To overcome the fear of missing out, consider the following suggestions:
- Make a note of the type of social media you regularly use (e.g., Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, WhatsApp, Snapchat, Reddit, Pinterest, YouTube), and length and frequency of use. Do you see a pattern?
- Be mindful of your goals. Ask yourself, “Why am I on social media right now?”
- Be aware of how social media affects you emotionally. Do you feel better or worse after using social media?
- Limit your time on social media, especially during daily activities (e.g., while eating, getting ready to sleep).
- Try to meet people face-to-face on a regular basis and work on building richer real-life relationships. This will likely reduce your feelings of loneliness and isolation.
- Practice self-compassion regularly. To learn more about self-compassion, see this interview with Kristin Neff, below.