The Fear of Missing Out is a very real — and very stressful — condition that affects many adults around the world. Managing that stress can take a lot of patience and discipline.
Though the term may have started that way, FOMO is no joke: Fear Of Missing Out and its associated conditions (including loneliness, anxiety, and depression) have serious health implications for young and old alike, especially in a world of constant digital connection. Not succumbing to FOMO takes self-awareness, discipline, and a little help from your friends.
What Is FOMO?
This relatively new acronym (it was officially added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 2013) has very ancient roots in human psychology, according to Forbes. Way back in time when our primary social organizations were small tribes or groups, as Slate explains, we were all very much dependent upon knowing what everyone else was up to, where the next meal would come from, and where the nearest danger was. To be unaware was, quite literally, a matter of life and death, which means that much of our success as a species can be attributed to early human FOMO.
In the limbic system of the brain, the amygdala is responsible for recognizing and regulating our stress responses (think “fight or flight” responses). For some of us, that system kicks into gear when we see our friends having fun through Facebook and other media platforms. The physiological symptoms we feel in response, such as anxiety, push us to take action — this anxiety tends to push us to constantly refresh our social media feeds. Ironically, this vigilance does little to quell our anxiety, and in many cases makes the problem worse.
A Serious Matter
While it may be easy to write off FOMO simply as a social media obsession, the condition has serious health implications. As the phenomenon takes the world in near epidemic fashion (affecting up to 70% of adults), more and more studies have been conducted investigating its impacts, as Lifehacker reports.
The Boston Globe explains how, in one such study, published in the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, found that regularly combing Facebook can lead to depressive feelings, a consequence of “social comparison.” We make these comparisons automatically regarding abilities or attributes we feel are important, and continuously scrolling through Facebook is a highly effective way to make those judgements.
Another study found that feelings of incompetence, dependence, and disconnection occur much more frequently in those who experience FOMO than those who do not, according to Huffington Post. Still other studies have shown that loneliness actually harms the immune system, as Live Science explains; lonelier people experience more stress during daily life, and their bodies produce more inflammatory compounds that are directly correlated with heart disease and other chronic illnesses.
Counterintuitively, people who suffer from FOMO are more likely to overcommit and thereby fail to fulfill social obligations, or to completely avoid such commitments to keep their options open, according to Psychology Today. Doing so is driven by the fear, central to FOMO, that a better opportunity will present itself. This can lead to constant feelings of anxiety and restlessness, not to mention neglected relationships and hurt feelings.
One of the biggest problems with FOMO is the way it prevents you from staying present and enjoying the moment. Constantly worrying about what you’re not doing or what you don’t have means you’re failing to appreciate the life you do have, as well as the people and things in it.
To that end, addressing FOMO head on means accepting its presence in your life and taking steps to mitigate it, according to GQ. These steps could include breaks from social media and reducing subsequent use, in addition to actively staying present. Meditation is a particularly effective practice with far-reaching positive health effects, as Forbes reports.
It is also essential to seek professional help if the situation calls for it. Anxiety and depression are real, serious threats, and should not be taken lightly. Luckily, you don’t have to fear missing out on the best psychiatric care for the best price — not if you’ve joined SingleCare, that is. Not only does the SingleCare database make finding the right match quick and simple, but members also save an average of 48% on mental healthcare.
(Main image credit: m-imagephotography/Thinkstock)