No FOMO: how ‘fear of missing out’ affects our mental health

FOMO, or fear of missing out, is the sense that you need to be involved in the social events and activities that other people are perceived to be having. While this has a new and trendy name, the idea is not modern – for our parents and grandparents, this feeling was commonly known as  “keeping up with the Joneses”. 

Social media has undoubtedly exacerbated feelings of FOMO. At any time of the day, we can log in and see visual proof of what everyone is doing with their lives, and this can lead to feelings of self-doubt and regret that our lives don’t compare favourably to others. “Why am I not doing these cool things as well?” is a common thing to think when we’re in the midst of FOMO.  

While it’s normal to have feelings of FOMO every now and then, for some people, FOMO can have a more intense and negative effect on their emotional wellbeing.

Too much FOMO

The idea that you’re missing out on events or experiences can impact your self-esteem, trigger anxiety, and fuel even greater social media use. FOMO can compel you to bring up your social media feed every few minutes to check for updates, or compulsively respond to every single notification—even if that means taking risks while you’re driving, missing out on sleep at night, or to the detriment of your real-world relationships. 

Take the fear out of it

While you may not be able to remove FOMO from your life altogether, there are things you can do to reduce its impact on your emotional wellbeing. 

  • Take scheduled breaks from social media. Deactivating your accounts is the most effective way, but this may not be a viable option for some. If not, learn to limit your activity to certain times of the day. It can be hard to break the habit initially, as sometimes we reach for our phone without even realising we are doing it. If that’s the case, try leaving your phone at home when you go out to dinner, or head to the gym.  
  • Instead of fixating aimlessly over what other people are doing, it can be helpful to write down your feelings in a journal. Keeping a journal can help get us into the habit of processing and overcoming overwhelming emotions and thoughts. It’s also a great way to keep written reminders of what we are most grateful for in our lives.  
  • Get active. Exercising can release those feel-good brain chemicals of endorphins and serotonin which can boost our mood and outlook. Exercising is also a block of time that we can go without checking our phones – freeing ourselves from reminders of what we may have FOMO about.  
  • Practice mindfulness. When you’re overcome by feelings of FOMO, instead of being fully engaged in the present, you’re comparing yourself to what’s been portrayed on social media and  focused on the “what ifs” and “why nots”. By practicing mindfulness, you can learn to live more in the present moment, lessen the impact of FOMO, and improve your overall mental wellbeing.