FOMO: What Does it Mean and How to Overcome it?

FoMO (Fear of Missing Out) is a social anxiety that has been named in 2004. It refers to the fear of not being part of something important that others are experiencing and includes two processes: the feeling of missing out, followed by a compulsive action to keep these social relationships.

What does FOMO Mean, An illustration of a student feeling the fear of missing out, StudySmarter Magazine

Understanding the Fear of Missing Out

FOMO, or Fear of missing out, is a phenomenon that many of us are affected by, but how to know if you are suffering from FOMO?

Before we dive into the psychological research and the symptoms of FOMO, let’s have a look at an example:

A person who fears missing out may get worried and anxious when their friends are planning a fun event they can’t attend. Or it can be something related to missing an opportunity, such as career planning or choosing a skill to learn, thinking they will miss all the other possible opportunities when they choose a specific path.

Checking out what others are doing has been with us throughout human history but FOMO has increased dramatically with the proliferation of social media, smartphones, and the overall age of instant connections.

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The Psychology Behind the Fear of Missing Out

Psychologists put their heads together to define FOMO in 2004. While spying on your neighbours is not new, the fear of missing out has become a definable psychological phenomenon in recent years, mostly owing to social media.

Think of all those food pictures, beaches, adventures, and, yes, supremely clever cats. It either makes you want to do the same, or it makes you feel bad because you can’t do it.

So, how much relation is there between FOMO and social media?

This research conducted in 2021 on 481 Italian adults shows that the people with problematic social networking service use, mostly have FOMO.

FOMO Symptoms: How to know if you’re suffering from the Fear of Missing Out

Everyone gets those FOMO tingles every now and then. But it is beneficial to know if you are truly suffering from the fear of missing out. Here are the most common symptoms of FOMO:

#1 – Being Obsessed With Your Phone

Do you find yourself picking up your phone, scrolling, messaging, pinging, DMing, and checking what others are doing, without realizing that it has been hours? This can commonly come in the form of wanting to feel involved in other people’s lives and can be a sign of feeling the fear of missing out.

#2 – Overcrowded and Fast-paced Social Life

We are not talking about your everyday extrovert behaviour here; FOMO affects both extroverts and introverts. If you make plans upon plans because you’re worried something extraordinary may happen at any point, or you feel the constant urge to feel involved, you may have a good case of FOMO.

#3 – Always Pursuing New Things

This may sound positive, but no, we are not talking about the “Fortune favours the brave” kind of pursuit here, rather we are talking about the pursuit of things that don’t really matter to you, or in other words, doing it just to “be in on the trend”. This also comes with not being able to focus and spend the right amount of time on a particular activity and trying to move to the next big thing. Which is a great sign of FOMO.

#4 – Not Saying “No”

No is a funny little word – only two letters but so hard to say sometimes, especially when you are experiencing FOMO. People who experience FOMO only ever say no to saying no because who knows what they’ll miss out on if they do.

#5 – Thinking Too Much About What Other People Think of You

Time to be honest: did you ever find yourself overthinking about what others will say about your:

  • Clothing
  • Life Choices
  • Profession
  • Hair/Makeup
  • Overall Fitness

or another thing that makes you, you?

If so, this can be a clear symptom of FOMO because you want to feel accepted by others when you are perfect the way you are!

#6 – Never Missing an Event, Even When You Don’t Feel Like It

Do you attend events even when you are sick, tired, or don’t feel like it? If so, you should consider the possibility of the reason behind it being one of the following:

  • You may have the urge to be around people all the time
  • You may get the feeling of being excluded when you miss any single event

Which are recognized as clear symptoms of FOMO.

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Causes of FOMO

Now, you have understood what it is and what it looks like, but what exactly causes FOMO? Let’s dive deeper:

  • Social Media: The false reality of perfect lives social media presents, all the highlight reels, make it seem like everyone is having an amazing, fun-filled, joyful life all the time except you. This can affect your perception of time and reality, lowering your self-esteem and causing the fear of missing out.

What Does FOMO Mean, A smart phone screen with social media apps on it, StudySmarter Magazine

  • Comparing Yourself to Others All the Time: With or without social media, if you are constantly comparing yourself to others around you, this may (and probably will) cause FOMO. Because it is important to remember that no one can have everything at once, and comparing yourself to others will make you want to have what everyone else has.
  • Not Being Thankful for What You Have: Similar to our last point, you should always feel grateful for all the things and opportunities you have already. But whenever you pay more attention to what other people have, it will go down the road of FOMO, which can lead you to a depressed state. Whenever you don’t feel thankful for the things you got, remember the saying by Confucius:

A healthy man wants a thousand things, a sick man only wants one.” – Confucius

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How to get over FOMO?

Yes, FOMO is bad, but it is not inevitable because there are many ways to get over it and make sure you reduce the risk of feeling it again. Let’s look at the ways how you can get over FOMO:

  1. Be mindful of your social media usage. Try and limit the amount of time you spend scrolling through social media by using the screen time setting on your phone and setting up time boundaries.
  2. Try Digital Detox for a day. If you are uncomfortable with not checking your phone every 5 minutes, doing a digital detox for a day can help you reduce this urge in the following days.
  3. Practice JOMO (the joy of missing out). Try and focus on the present and the present only without thinking about what everyone else is doing. And implement thinking about what you have instead of what everyone else has into your daily life.
  4. Set personal goals. Focusing on self-improvement and self-motivation can help you feel more secure in yourself and less inclined to compare your life to others.

What Does FOMO Mean, An illustration of a woman meditating, StudySmarter Magazine

In conclusion, FOMO is a common feeling that can hold us back from truly enjoying our lives. By understanding the root causes and symptoms of FOMO, and taking steps to overcome it, we can break free from the fear of missing out and live our best lives. Remember, FOMO is not the real deal, it’s just a feeling!

About the Author
Oğulcan Tezcan is a writer, translator, editor, and an accomplished engineer. Oğulcan is also a keen researcher and digital market analyst, with a particular interest in self-development, productivity, and human behaviour.

Fact checked by Sarah Thomas.

Sarah holds degrees in Psychology and International Business from both the UK and Germany and has over 11 years of experience in the education industry. Her particular areas of research interest are Social Psychology and Personality Differences in the workplace. She is passionate about Mental Health Advocacy and cuddling her dog.

Frequently Asked Questions About FOMO

How to deal with FOMO?

Experiencing FOMO can be overwhelming and cause anxiety and sadness. One way to deal with it is to recognize the triggers that cause it, which can help you better understand the feelings and take steps to avoid or manage them. Additionally, limiting your exposure to social media can reduce FOMO, as it often makes us feel like we're missing out. You can also try a digital detox for a day to lessen your tendency to constantly check your phone. Finally, try practising JOMO, or the joy of missing out, which involves focusing on the moment and what you have rather than what others have.

Is FOMO a disorder?

FOMO is not considered a disorder in and of itself, but it is often associated with other mental health conditions, such as anxiety and depression.

Can FOMO cause depression?

FOMO can cause depression. Studies have shown that social comparison, which is a common aspect of FOMO, can lead to feelings of inadequacy and low self-esteem, which in turn can lead to depression. Also, keep in mind that FOMO can cause feelings of anxiety and stress, which can also contribute to depression.

How does FOMO affect mental health?

FOMO can have a negative impact on mental health. It can cause feelings of anxiety, stress, sadness or even depression in some cases. FOMO can also contribute to social isolation and make it difficult for people to enjoy the present moment.

What does FOMO mean?

FOMO stands for the fear of missing out, i.e. a type of social anxiety that you might be missing out on more rewarding experiences in life. It is often caused and enhanced by the frequent use of social media.