The Psychology Behind FOMO

The Psychology Behind FOMO

The Psychology Behind FOMO


Have you ever felt sad and distressed when you had to stay back and complete that boring research paper due the very next day while your friends were all out enjoying that late-night party that you forever craved to attend? Have you felt lost when you found yourself making no progress in life but everybody you knew had a picture-perfect life on Instagram? These feelings of sadness and distress are termed as the Fear of Missing Out or more commonly FOMO, in today’s world.

What is FOMO?

FOMO can be defined as a psychological phenomenon that causes people to feel regret about their state in life. They tend to experience feelings of inadequacy about their journey in life and this involves a distorted perception that everybody is living a better and fun life than themselves. The ultimate presence and influence of social media in our everyday lives have made matters worse. One can experience FOMO in the most subtle forms even when one cannot keep away from checking one’s message notifications every time something pops up on their phone or even signing up for an event despite being stuck in a busy schedule. All these are mostly exhibited due to the fear of not keeping up well in their lives.

Also Read: JOMO: joy of missing out

Causes of FOMO

FOMO is not yet considered a diagnosable disorder but researchers have found that this phenomenon arises out of some causes that are ingrained in an individual. The innate desire or need for belongingness and inclusion can itself be a major drive creating feelings of FOMO in people. Whenever they sense a lack of belongingness or that they are not being included in the group they wish to fit in, it can cause emotional and even physical distress.

People tend to document every tiny update that occurs in their lives. This constant documentation depicting “perfect” lives can cause feelings of FOMO and turmoil in some people. Although social media has turned the entire circumstance into quite a havoc, it was never the only culprit. The natural need, as mentioned, to fit in has long existed before the advent of social media. FOMO is also closely related to the fear of ostracism and exclusion even in the slightest of situations.

Research has also identified that the brain activities during experiences of FOMO are like that of situations of anxiety and invoke a fight or flight response. While normal scenarios alert the body about a physiological threat, FOMO experiences involve the body being alerted to a social threat. This puts our brain on high alert and further we find ourselves in discomfort and distress.

Symptoms of FOMO

FOMO can be manifested through many behavioural patterns. Some of them are:

  • Obsessively checking the social media accounts and mobile notifications for updates on the lives of other people
  • Cognitive or mental comparison of one’s own life with that of other people.
  • Feelings of anxiety, distress and depression
  • Concentration difficulties
  • Sleeplessness or even trouble sleeping
  • Overscheduling oneself or committing to many activities and events even when one already has a busy schedule.
  • Greater amounts of stress
  • An unhealthy drive for perfectionism could tamper physical and mental health
Who’s at Risk?

Considering the age range, children, especially teenagers and young adults are mostly a risk of experiencing feelings of FOMO. This may be mostly due to the increased amount of time they spend online and their constant and irresistible engagements with social media platforms. Another reason for this group to be at a huge risk is the innate need of having to belong or be included in desirable social groups. This could be evidenced by Maslow’s need hierarchy which finds that the need for love and belongingness finds its epitome during one’s adolescence. However, experts suggest that people, if they habitually spend larger amounts of time online, can stand a chance of increasingly experiencing these feelings of missing out.

How to Resist?

Although FOMO can cause a lot of distress in one’s physical and mental health, there are many ways one can resist or cope with these experiences.

  1. Pay no heed to the perfect lives on social media: Most people forget one major fact when it comes to lives displayed on social media accounts. People exhibit what they want to. If they want others to believe their lives are exciting, they would cook up a recipe that proves the same, no matter how distorted the reality may be. Try and comprehend the possible realities of social media posts. Sometimes the mere aesthetics applied to the posts may deceive one into thinking that people’s lives are far more exciting than theirs, whereas the reality might be that both of them would be leading an equally mundane life.
  2. Turning off digital distractions like social networking and breaking news can make you more mindful and present in daily life. Reestablishing your connection to who you are and what you love can also be achieved by cutting back on social media use that might contribute to FOMO.
  3. Re-centering your most essential relationships can be achieved by putting down your phone and spending in-person time with loved ones. When you need to be reminded that you deserve love and acceptance regardless of what other people do, friends and family are frequently the greatest people to turn to.
  4. Yoga and other mindfulness exercises, such as meditation, can be very beneficial for cultivating composure and staying in the present moment. By calming your thoughts and paying detailed attention to your breathing, you might become more conscious of the fact that whatever is triggering your FOMO right now might not be worth your time or effort. One cannot acquire a sense of purpose and equilibrium from Instagram photo-liking and scrolling—not even from taking a stroll in the outdoors.
  5. Keep a journal to assist you in figuring out what sets off your FOMO. Refocusing your relationship around your worries and feelings of missing out may be simpler if you have a clear understanding of who or what is causing them. Trigger identification can help individuals to consciously take a step back from the circumstances that may be offered to them.

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