Social Media & FOMO
Have you ever decided to spend a night in to engage in some much-needed self-care but then ended up scrolling on Instagram or Snapchat and wondering to yourself if you should have gone out instead? Do you ever look at people’s Instagram pages and wonder: “Why can’t I have that life?” If you can relate to what I just said, you’re definitely not alone, and you have likely found yourself experiencing a phenomen
on that we all feel at some point or another in our life: FOMO.
FOMO is an acronym for the “fear of missing out” and it refers to the feelings of anxiety that stem from realizing you may be missing out on a rewarding experience that other people are having (Franchina et al., 2018). While the term has been popularized the last few years and was added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 2013, the feelings of anxiety that come from FOMO are not a new concept within human history (Good Therapy, 2016). It is in our very human nature to ponder about what others are thinking about and doing with their lives, and this desire is rooted in an innate and fundamental motivation that we all have: we just want to belong (Franchina et al, 2018).
It’s no secret that social media and our phones have become such a profound and important part of our lives. I mean... We hear about it everywhere! From the release of widely discussed and popular documentaries to people who grew up without phones constantly saying “When I was your age, I would just play outside,” the notion that our phones aren’t good for us is not something we haven’t heard before. However, the tie between FOMO and the abundant room for social comparison that our phones have elicited is a phenomenon very new to human existence.
In an effort to fulfil our natural human need of wanting to belong, we seek acceptance from our social groups. In the past, humans would fulfill their desires to belong to social groups when they attended school, work and social events. Then, they could go home and recharge. However, now, for the first time in human history, our desire to belong does not solely exist in physical settings but is more prevalent than ever on virtual platforms. Through the use of social media, we now have constant access to what our social groups are doing. Scholars have even argued that the digital world has become an extension of ourselves and a mechanism for us to always stay connected to our social groups, therefore ensuring that our desire to belong is being fulfilled (Franchina et al., 2018). Social media platforms have become “digital portals” to the groups we affiliate ourselves with, and the virtual circles we belong to, such as group chats, feel just as real and important as real-life friend groups (Franchina et al., 2018). We have become so entrenched with our affiliated groups on social media that not being able to connect with them can even cause feelings of being out of touch with “real life,” eliciting emotions of loss and grief as if a part of our self-image had been damaged (Franchina et al, 2018).
Many of us experience such a fear of missing out and being excluded from our social groups can elicit feelings of worthlessness which lead us to compare ourselves to others on social media, and which is entirely counterproductive (Franchina et al., 2018). Instagram specifically serves as a platform that allows us to constantly be updated with what our peers are doing, and thus this gives us frequent opportunities to compare ourselves to others and see what we are missing out on.
This may seem like a pessimistic perspective, but don’t get me wrong: I love my Snapchat group chat with my roommates and the memes that my mom sends me on Instagram. There are, of course, positive aspects to the emergence of social media in our lives. It allows us to stay connected to our loved ones from all around the globe and, when used correctly, it can serve as a great distraction from life’s problems. However, it is crucial that people become more aware of how social media has shaped our perception of ourselves and given us 24/7 access to our social groups and constant opportunities for self-comparison. While social media has the beautiful power to make us all feel closer to others, in many ways, it can sometimes make people feel more disconnected than ever and create deep feelings of inferiority and discontent with our own lives (Good Therapy, 2016).
So, we’ve established that social media has the power of being an extension of ourselves and that it provides us with constant opportunities to enhance our feelings of FOMO, but what are we supposed to do about it? Entrepreneur Anil Dash created a counter-term to FOMO, meant to explore the “Joy of Missing Out,” thus acronymed JOMO (Good Therapy, 2016). Rather than second guessing the choices you’ve made and wondering if you could be having a more fulfilling time somewhere else, JOMO entails trying to find joy in the present situation you are in and embracing the decision you have made (Good Therapy, 2016). After all, you made it for a reason! It may sound simple, but it is easy to forget that millions of incredible events are occurring in the world at every moment, and it would be literally impossible to attend everything at once (Good Therapy, 2016). What else can you do about FOMO? Well, we often hear that we should be spending less time on our phones, and we roll our eyes, but it can actually be very beneficial to limit social media time when it adds fuel to the FOMO fire. There are even apps you can download, like StayFocused, Anti-Social and Self-Control, which can help you block or limit your social media time (Good Therapy, 2016).
On a more personal note: a few years ago, I deleted the Instagram app from my phone and now I only go on it on my laptop a few times a week. I’ve noticed a profound impact on my mental health from doing this: not only do I feel like I live more in the present and don’t feel the need to share every moment I experience, but it also reduces my chances of experiencing FOMO! Out of sight, out of mind, right?
Lastly, it’s so important to remember, especially for the younger generations, that social media is a highlight reel. It can be an amazing platform to connect with others, document your meaningful memories and stay up to date, but it is essential to remember that people don’t typically post their entire life story on social media, the same way that pictures in magazines are often airbrushed (Good Therapy, 2016). Try to keep this in mind the next time you find yourself scrolling and experiencing the inevitable feelings of FOMO! We may all feel it at some point, but trying to stay in the present moment and reminding ourselves that social media is a mere sliver of most people’s actual lives can make a profound impact.
Franchina, V., Abeele, M. V., van Rooij, A. J., Lo Coco, G., & De Marez, L. (2018). Fear
of Missing Out as a predictor of problematic social media use and phubbing behavior
among Flemish adolescents. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 15 (10). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6211134/
GoodTherapy Staff (2016, April 18). Overcoming FOMO: What Fuels Your Fear of Missing
Out? Good Therapy.
Cover Photo credit:
visuals (Carlos PX). (2020). Misinformation on the web [Digital illustration]. Unsplash. https://unsplash.com/photos/2TS23o0-pUc