By Nikki Eskenasi, PsyD
Throughout the past few years, the phenomenon of FOMO, or the fear of missing out, has plagued many of us at one time or another. In the age of social media, and particularly around the holiday season, we may find ourselves making comparisons to others such as friends, family, influencers, or celebrities. We may start to notice what others have or what they’re doing that we’re not, and this may make us feel negatively about ourselves. This can lead to anxiety, sadness, jealousy, or anger. We might also notice that stress and anxiety increase even more over time if we start saying “yes” to everything to avoid FOMO, such as saying yes to a party when we really need to study for a final or complete a work report). Here are four things we can do about FOMO:
1: Recognize FOMO
To work on reducing FOMO, it is important to first identify when, where, and how we experience it. Do we browse Instagram or Facebook for extended periods of time, looking at influencers? Do we repeatedly think that others have many things that we don’t or “could never” have, or that others go on more vacations than we do? Or maybe we begin feeling anxious when we hear that a group of friends went to a concert and we weren’t invited. Or even worse: that we WERE invited but said no because we had other plans. Personally, I’ve had friends tell me that they say “yes” to every plan they’re invited to because they’re afraid they’ll stop being invited if they say “no.” Does any of this sound familiar? The first step is to start noticing FOMO when it arises, and to label it and be aware. Only through awareness can we start to make changes.
2: Make Better Social Comparisons
If our FOMO is worse when we make social comparisons, we might challenge ourselves to stay off social media at certain times, such as at least one hour prior to going to bed. Another good challenge is to limit the amount of time spent scrolling each day to no more than a half-hour or hour at most. In reality, people tend to present only the most positive aspects of their lives online, and that is just not reality.
Dr. Laurie Santos on The Happiness Lab podcast (which is a lovely listen, for all you commuters out there) discusses research suggesting that during the Olympics, silver medalists tend to be the least happy because instead of celebrating that they won a silver medal, they are comparing themselves to the gold medalist, and unlike the Bronze medalist they didn’t “just make the cut.” In other words: Social reference points can have a huge negative impact on our happiness. When we constantly compare ourselves to others who seem to have things we don’t have, it’s no surprise that we feel worse about what we do have, even when the images we see are not realistic.
So, here’s another challenge: When we compare what we have to that which we see online, we can practice noticing and changing our reference points. Instead of focusing on people who have more (gold medalists) focus on those who have less (bronze medalists), and practice gratitude for all that we have.
3 . Say Yes, and No.
In order to deal with FOMO, it’s very important to learn when to say yes, and when and how to say no. It may help us to reflect on what we value, and then invest more of our time and energy into people, places, or things that are in line with our values. Consider: What’s important to us? Are we only saying “yes” because we are afraid of missing out, or because this activity is something we truly value? Would participating in this activity be at the expense of something else that we value more? When we spend more time engaged in what truly matters to us, FOMO may even reduce on its own.
4. Be Mindful
Perhaps the best strategy to combatting FOMO, however, is to be mindful. Mindfulness involves fully throwing ourselves into the present moment, limiting multi-tasking, and focusing on just one thing at a time. When we notice our thoughts or behaviors shifting and start to feel that we’re missing out on something else, we can gently redirect ourselves back to where we are and what we’re doing right now.