If you haven’t heard, we have a relatively new phobia on the horizon: the fear of missing out, a.k.a. FOMO. However, clinical psychologist Anita Sanz states, “The fear of missing out is an old—actually an ancient—fear, being triggered by the newest form of communication: social media” (Sanz, 2015). FOMO is the fear of missing out on what other people are experiencing or doing.
Sanz furthermore explains that, in the past, our survival within a tribe relied on our awareness of threats to us or our community. It was critical to be in the “know” at all times because missing out on information could affect a person’s life. When we started creating stable and survivable communities, it became essential to be alert, be at the right places, and engage in the gossip of the day to receive information and resources that were crucial for survival.
Our means of communications transformed over the years into TV, newspapers, and the internet. Despite the fact that information became easier to access, our brains are still wired to believe that being left out is dangerous and a threat to our lives. “Not that it is usually a matter of life and death anymore whether you are on Facebook or Twitter, but for many people, social media has become their community lifeline.” (Sanz, 2015)
According to Sanz, the amygdala in our brain specializes in recognizing when there is a threat to us or when we are being excluded. When we feel we are not receiving necessary information or sense that we are being left out, our brain immediately activates the “fight or flight” reaction.
“Fight or flight,” also known as “acute stress response,” is when the brain receives a threat, and instantly, the nervous system puts the body on alert, and the adrenal cortex releases stress hormones causing accelerated heartbeats and heavy breathing. This process prepares the body to fight or escape from the perceived threat. The tricky part here is that the amygdala does not know if the threat is real or not! The body can go through stressful autonomic adaptation in reaction to false alarms!
I trust you understand the consequences of stress and how awful it feels. Hence, that is why many of us try to avoid stress triggers. Fear of Missing Out can cause a lot of anxiety, and some people want to prevent it. Prevention of FOMO can cause excessive self-comparison and, at times, obsessive monitoring behavior. That is why some of us check Facebook or Instagram rigorously to make sure we are not missing out on anything, which can make us even more anxious.
Now, here is a truth segment that I like to weave into every article I write. I went through FOMO.
I freaked that I was not partying enough every weekend, which in my mind translated into the idea that I was not living as fully as the people who were #youngforever #happy #enjoyinglife. I panicked that I was not #inlovewithmyjob #ambitious #successful #wokeuplikethis. You get the picture. I was ashamed at first. From where was this coming? My dread of these feelings grew into a nightmare, especially when I took self-comparison to a different level. I was not doing enough. I became competitive with my mind, trying to prove to it that I was running fast enough to catch some “target.” I panicked from any trigger. I had to be happy in my job, have a great social life, and look that pretty with #nofilter.
I would love to tell you I woke up one day and decided that I was good enough and that I didn’t need to catch up. Instead, I took baby steps. The funny part is that I worked in social media for a while, which luckily numbed me a bit to news feeds and gave me a behind-the-scenes reality check!
However, I did wake up one morning and take a major decision. I was half asleep and scrolling through my FB. I realized, “Oh no, I am a psycho.” Am I addicted to “checking”? And that is when I decided to deactivate my FB. I felt relief but still got weirded out from this new decision. Some of my friends did not understand why I did this. Their main concern was, “Dude, how are we going to share with you stuff?” I even worried, “How are they going to share with me IMPORTANT information (which basically meant memes about being broke or how girls actually prefer pizza over men)?” So I figured I will live. Months passed by, and I felt I had lost touch with reality. I was so used to updates from that girl I met one semester and haven’t seen since, sharing her daily updates about her 1-year-old daughter (you know, she has a new tooth or said the word “Dada”). I felt as if I lost all of these people. This includes close friends, relatives, and even people whom I cannot really remember why I know them! I kept my Instagram as a backup. What if I am barred from essential information for my survival?
I did snap out of this, and I have constantly been choosing to stay immune to social comparisons.
“Personality begins where comparison leaves off. Be unique. Be memorable. Be confident. Be proud.” Shannon L. Alder
I am not saying we should go ahead and deactivate our social media accounts. I appreciate how much these platforms have done for our lives and businesses. However, I do recommend that you tread lightly with such power. You must recognize the power of knowledge. It is tricky. We are constantly “in the know” about things that do not affect our survival, which we translate as entertainment, curiosity, information, and sometimes, data that we are bombarded with for no reason.
I want you take a step back and think of a moment when you felt you were missing out. It could be missing out on an outing, a career move, a relationship status, a vacation, an event, or just a lifestyle! How did that make you feel? How did you respond to your feelings? What triggered this? How do you deal with it? Do you want to deal with it?
Here are some suggestions on how to deal with FOMO:
- Take breaks from social media. Tip: Log off. When you open the app and you are asked to log in, you will remember that you are on break. 🙂
- I am not a big fan of mantras or affirmations, but self-reminders and the story we tell ourselves are major components of how we feel. Repeat reminders that you are doing really well or whatever you believe is positively true to you!
- Who do you want to please? I hope you choose yourself. Ask yourself, “What would it take from me to feel better?” One example is “self-celebration”. How often do you recognize your achievements? I am not speaking of the success of your career, education or the major cornerstones that somehow outline every human’s life. I am thinking of things you do not even consider; for example, surviving a heartache, being there for your loved ones, your empathy, your strength, the way you treat others, helping those who do not ask for your help, your generosity, your awareness, your ability to go on every day despite stress and still show up for work or for other people, and how you treat yourself with grace and pride. These things are significant and call for acknowledgment.
- Know your uniqueness and personal story. We are encouraged to look the same, lead the same lifestyles, love the same things, and respond in the same way. Trust your experiences, your principles, your background story, and where it has led you. The competition is only in your mind. There is enough for everyone of whatever you crave. Relax and trust.
“The reason why we struggle with insecurity is because we compare our behind the scenes with everyone else’s highlight reel.” Steven Furtick
- Honor your values. Take time, and think of your most important values. Integrity, honesty, generosity, joy, authenticity … whatever they are, how are you fulfilling these values? It will feel different once you recognize and choose to honor them in your daily life.
- Understand the power of choosing how to feel. Now, this will take another article. To make a long story short, knowing you are in control of your feelings is liberating. It is not as easy as it sounds. I can’t choose to be happy if I am having an anxiety attack. However, I can start training myself to feel what I want to feel consciously instead of surrendering to triggers that lead to emotional chaos. The more you learn how to be in control, the better you will be at choosing your reactions to environmental stimuli.
Finally, any stress trigger should be taken seriously, especially if it is affecting your well-being and daily life. Open up to your loved ones and seek help when you feel you are unable to deal with stress on your own.
Sanz, A. (2015). What’s the Psychology Behind the Fear of Missing Out? Retrieved September 01, 2016, from http://www.slate.com/blogs/quora/2015/09/30/fomo_what_s_the_psychology_behind_the_fear_of_missing_out.html
Fight or Flight. (n.d.). Retrieved September 07, 2016, from https://cmhc.utexas.edu/stressrecess/Level_One/fof.html
LAYTON, J. (n.d.). Retrieved September 07, 2016, from http://science.howstuffworks.com/life/inside-the-mind/emotions/fear2.htm