FOMO – What Is It And Why It Can Be Hazardous To Your Mental Health

By Reniel

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Last Updated: June 8, 2021

FOMO: The fear of missing out. The fear that you would be left behind. The fear that you would miss a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. The fear that keeps you on the edge – waiting for the next big and awesome thing.

It may be your deep concern not to miss a reunion, a party, an important announcement, or miss the chance to be somewhere amazing, taste something tantalizing, or be with someone you think is drop-dead gorgeous. It is an insatiable desire for the next great thing. But paradoxically, it also ruins the next great thing, because we would fail to appreciate it whilst looking for the next greater thing.         

The fear of missing out is more or less an addiction to novelty. It may be about anything, but whatever it is, you’re not the only one who has experienced, is experiencing, nor would experience it.           

The human mind is built with an unquenchable burning desire to know what others are doing, saying, and even thinking. We like to keep up, stay updated, and be in the trend. We fear being left out or left behind. We look around to see what others (appear) to be having fun doing, and we instantly feel the pull to do that too.           

It is something psychologists sometimes refer to as “Social Proof”. It means we strongly desire to act like the people around us – we look around to see what others are doing so that we can do the same – to avoid being an oddball (or feel awkward).      

It is what makes you stop scrolling and start gawking at the perfect vacation picture of your high school classmate on Instagram. It is what makes you drool over the new shoes your Facebook friend bought. It is what makes you want to leave the boring class and go have some fun.    

And whilst this is great – from an evolutionary point of view – it can become detrimental to you (especially to your mental health) if that feeling is not regulated.

Interestingly, social media, TV, newspaper, radio, and every salesperson out there knows this, and helps crank it up to overdrive. They know that there is a deep-rooted fear in you to not miss out, and so they leverage on it. They push your buttons to make you buy their products/services   

  •   Your phone beeps with a new notification – who knows? it might be a new follower, a new comment, or a story that vanishes in 24 hours. Who knows? Quick, you have to check it out now!!!
  •   The TV commercials are running, they say it’s 50% off for the next 24 hours. How would you have known if you weren’t glued to the TV set all day? This is the final flash sales for the year they remind you. You look left and right searching for your credit cards.
  •     And, my favorite of them all, the salesman informs you that there are only 5 items left in stock, and 209 other people are viewing the item right now – would you let them be the first to buy it? My gosh!      

Every day our fear of missing out is leveraged and intentionally intensified. Sure, FOMO helps us stay updated, but at what cost? For what purpose? To make us buy more? Stay glued to our screens? Or ignore the wonderful people, things, and moments right in front of us?    

FOMO becomes a sort of addiction: But unlike the usual addictions where you consume or do something to excess, FOMO is an addiction to the desire to consume or do something that you are not doing. It may lack any physical toxicity to your body, but then it eats away on your soul – your peace of mind, and sanity. Having said that, it is definitely hazardous to your mental health.        

Almost everyone with a social media account knows that feeling – the feeling that keeps you refreshing the feed for the 100th time … you see a picture of people having the time of their lives, whilst you’re stuck in your room staring placidly at the smiles, perfect angles, and filters…        

You essentially turn into a sensation receptacle – stimulating your mind with more and more information about everything, yet enjoying none, not even the ones you’re experiencing.    

But FOMO is an illusion; [...] not because you won’t miss out on some things if you don't try to stay updated, but because no matter how hard you try, you would always miss out on some things – either by choice or by physical constraints.        

You can’t be at all the parties happening this weekend. You can’t buy all the items listed for discounts this Friday. You can’t see all the amazing new TV series, nor events. You are inevitably going to miss out on some, in fact, you’re going to miss out on more than you can ever experience or stay up-to-date with. But that is okay!        

Life is not about getting everything, but getting a few that matters to you. It is about choosing what not to miss out on… like family dinners, your best friends’ birthday, the live concert held by your most admired celebrity, or some other activity like playing with your dogs.        

This is because it is truly what some other people are ‘FOMO’ing about. If you can take a happy picture of playing with your dog, people would like and comment on that. If you took a picture whilst you were having dinner with the family, people would admire that, and wish they too could experience that (especially those who lack those things).    

So you see, everyone lacks something. The problem with having FOMO is that you ignore the fact that people lack the things you have as well. As the cliché goes, “the grass is always greener on the other side”…that is until you cross over.         

You just need to realize that the new shoes came with bills, and having a dozen cats comes with a lot of responsibilities, and the person who uploaded the perfect selfie has those problems to face once the camera is put down. Don’t even think about babies or cars.       

So, yes, it sucks. Every nice thing sucks in some way. But you must learn to appreciate it. That is why you need to let go of the illusion of missing out because if you really did miss out on it, maybe it wasn’t that important after all – maybe your life didn’t depend on it. I know because you’re reading this now. 

 

How FOMO Can Become Hazardous To Your Mental Health

FOMO can go from an obsession with the beeps on our devices to full-blown sleep deprivation, panic buying, and other terrible and detrimental behaviors (like uploading that one video that shouldn’t have been on the internet, which then leads to lifelong regrets)        

FOMO stresses us out, and it leads to anxiety. But then it gets worse. When we are stuck in FOMO – especially when we can’t afford the things we lust about – it quickly flushes us down the pit of jealousy, low self-esteem, a sense of loneliness, and even depression.     

The truth is that we can’t entirely eliminate FOMO. We would always have the desire to do and be more. It is wired into a psyche and a good dose of it is great since it is what makes us work hard to pursue our dreams and other aspirations in life.   

Therefore, it becomes crucial to learn how to control this feeling of FOMO. Below is a short list of activities that you can do to bring your fear of missing out under subjugation

 

How to Overcome FOMO or How to Stop Caring Too Much About What Other People Are Doing

  • Practice gratitude and try appreciating all the wonderful things in your life
  • Practice mindfulness
  • Limit your exposure to TV and social media
  • Read books
  • Visit a friend or family member
  • Start a project
  • Set a milestone
  • Go for walks
  • Practice meditation

The best thing about bringing your FOMO under control isn’t that you get comfortable with missing out on all those other things, but that you begin to enjoy all the people and things around you. You begin to enjoy each moment of your day and soon would learn to be genuinely happy for those who are also enjoying themselves on the beaches, parties, or Eiffel Tower.

 

Photo by Ivan Samkov from Pexels

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