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What is FOMO? How to Read the Signs & Overcome the Stress It Causes

What is FOMO? The fear of missing out can leave you anxious, sad and mostly, left out. Here’s how to recognize the signs and stoop it from hurting you. 

What is FOMO

What is FOMO really? FOMO is the fear of missing out. It is relevant in a lot of circumstances like missing someone’s party, not getting an invite, or being too anxious to do something you want to do. 

FOMO was always a thing but the term became relevant in the last few years due to the rise of social media. With everyone sharing their highlights online, those of us who aren’t going on adventures can see the fun others are having while sitting at home. It makes those feelings even more real and painful.

[Read: Dating someone with FOMO – Will they ever be ready for a real relationship?]

What is FOMO?

FOMO is an acronym for Fear Of Missing Out. And quite simply, it is the fear and anxiety we feel when we believe we’re missing out on something that someone else is enjoying right that moment.

FOMO can come in different forms. You may feel FOMO when you aren’t invited to something, when you’re sick and can’t make plans, or when social anxiety takes over and prevents you from interacting in a public setting. 

And this feeling is exacerbated by our ability to stay connected to others virtually. Before technology was so prevalent, if you didn’t go out on Friday with your coworkers you’d maybe hear about it Monday morning but it would be too late to do anything about it. 

Now if you don’t go out, you instantly see your friends posting on their feeds having a great time without you. You feel like an outsider. You want to be included but for whatever reason aren’t.

Being that it is human nature to want to fit in and be involved in a community, being left out of the fun can be very lonely and isolating. [Read: Why social media makes you feel more insecure and lonely than ever before]

The rise of FOMO in today’s connected world

FOMO is also much more generalized now. It isn’t just about missing the fun with friends but not doing the same as others. 

Whether it is your old classmates, celebrities, or influencers, seeing people go on trips, try new things, and even just hit milestones in their lives can trigger FOMO. 

And unfortunately, FOMO is not just a passing fear of missing out. With its continued presence in our lives, it can become a major stressor. 

If you are at home in your apartment most weekends watching TV and petting your cat, even if you enjoy that simple life, seeing others online doing things like getting married, going skydiving, or buying a house can be triggering. 

This leaves you feeling less than. You think others are living better or more fulfilling lives than you, and it can lead to further anxiety and even depression. [Read: How to get over feeling unwanted and start feeling desired again]

How to recognize FOMO and its effects in your own life

This relentless comparison to others’ online presences is so damaging to the psyche. 

Every time you pick up your phone and see someone’s smiling photo in front of a mountain or engagement announcement, you can be hit with a tinge of low self-esteem. 

Seeing the best parts of other people’s lives makes you feel like your life is less special. If seeing old friends move onto new chapters in their lives makes you feel bitter, lonely, or behind you are probably experiencing FOMO.

This can be triggered by anything. Maybe you didn’t get a promotion at work. So when you see someone celebrating a new job, it is hard to be happy for them. Also, with the rise of social anxiety, it can be a double-edged sword. You can watch other people go to parties and wish you were there and having fun, but due to social anxiety, you feel trapped at home. [Read: Social anxiety vs shyness – How to decode what you feel inside]

This doesn’t just make you feel left out, but also guilty like your self-loathing is your own fault. FOMO isn’t always due to the fact that you’re not invited, but that you aren’t taking initiative. Or, at least it feels that way.

How to know for sure if you’re experiencing FOMO constantly

When you hit an age and see your peers getting married, having kids, or hitting career milestones, but you still live at home, it can feel like you put yourself in this position. It not only makes you feel down that you aren’t at the same point as your peers, but that you also aren’t living up to your potential and it is all your doing. 

This only makes the impact of FOMO that much stronger. And those feelings tend to double over into lower self-esteem and higher anxiety levels which worsens all those bad feelings. [Read: How to stop feeling sorry for yourself and end the pity party]

If this sounds familiar, you are probably experiencing FOMO. To be honest, I’d be surprised if you weren’t.

Even those who are doing extremely well in all aspects of life compare themselves to others online. Even those with loads of confidence face these battles. 

And instead of acknowledging these unfortunate feelings and stepping away from social media to focus on our own lives, these feelings actually increase our screen time. 

That’s right. It may seem bizarre but the fear of missing out isn’t just about being in person but missing someone’s post. You want to know the latest. You want to be up to date. 

Because you feel you are missing out, you feel this intensified need to engage online even more which perpetuates this harmful cycle of FOMO. [Read: Social media detox – How to wean yourself off it and live a better life]

How to overcome FOMO and enjoy your life

I know FOMO sucks. It really sucks. And it takes a serious toll on your mental health and wellbeing. 

Instead of using other people’s successes to inspire or motivate yourself, they seem to pull you deeper into a rut of nothingness. 

The good news is that it doesn’t have to be that way. You can get over the burden of FOMO and enjoy your life for what it is with these methods. 

#1 Take social media breaks. It is so easy to pick up your phone and mindlessly scroll through Instagram. It seems like a way to pass the time in a waiting room or look away from work for a moment. But, each one of those five-minute social media sessions is subconsciously triggering FOMO in one way or another. 

You may think a funny meme here and there or a friend’s dog photo is fine, but those are being sprinkled with bikini photos on the beach and more. Take breaks. You can do this by hiding your social media apps on the last page of your phone’s icons. You can even delete the apps for a while. Or when you want to pass the time on your phone, reach out to a friend or play a game. I would suggest taking time completely away from your screen if possible. Have a friend join you in your goal and keep on top of each other.

And most smartphones have a usage tracker that can tell you how much time you’ve spent on social networks. Take a look at that to see how those 5-minute scrolling sessions really add up. [Read: Instagram envy and how to keep things real when you feel jealous]

#2 Don’t compare your reality to someone else’s highlight reel. This is easier said than done, but it is a common saying for a reason. Most people post their best bits online. If you have a fight with your partner, get dumped, or got in trouble at work, you’re not going to post that online. 

Those things happen to everyone. When you scroll through everyone’s best moments while experiencing some bad ones for yourself, you feel isolated and alone in that. You’re comparing your reality that is filled with ups and downs to other people’s carefully curated ups. 

And the thing is, everyone else is doing it too. Why do you think people post their best bits? They want to seem happy and successful just like you because they see the same things. Remember that you are living a full life and just like every second of your day isn’t shared online, neither is everyone else’s.

#3 Follow people who make you feel good. This is hard to do at first, but God, it feels so good. You may want to keep up with your favorite celebrities, your former classmates, and the most popular Bachelor contestants but if their posts don’t make you feel good, why follow? 

Hating following or even jealousy following is not victimless. You become the victim. Following accounts that make you feel less than only increase your FOMO. 

I may want to see what a Bachelor contestant has to say about their embarrassing moment on the show but I don’t want to see her photoshopped beach pictures while I’m home working in a robe and slippers. 

It just isn’t worth the sting to my mental health and body positivity journey. I went through a purge of my social media follows about a year ago and do it every few months. I unfollow people that stress me out or make me feel like I’m not good enough. 

I follow my real-life friends, influencers that don’t photoshop their images, people who show their imperfections, celebrities that make me laugh, and a whole bunch of meme accounts. Following Instagram models may seem like #goals but it is really #unrealisticgoals or even #unhealthygoals for most people. 

#4 Focus on the good in your life. FOMO is sparked by the happiness we see in others and the sadness in ourselves. But, taking the time to focus on what’s good in your life can help turn the page on FOMO.

Instead of comparing your feed to others, look at your life. Do you have a solid relationship with your parents? Do you enjoy your job? Do you have the cutest pet ever? Did you have a breakthrough in therapy? Appreciate the good in your life and take hold of that. [Read: How to be grateful – 15 authentic ways to appreciate and express it]

When my anxiety was at its worst, I looked at people online living these full lives and felt so alone. I could barely leave the house while others traveled the world. I had to realize that my baby step of running errands alone might seem small in comparison but for me, it was a big deal and I had to focus on that for myself. 

#5 Post what you want to post and put your phone down. You don’t have to delete your social media accounts to fight FOMO. You can still post and interact, just do it in a healthy and productive way. If you want to post a selfie because you’re feeling yourself, go for it. 

But, looking for approval through likes or online attention won’t make you feel better. If you feel good about yourself and post a selfie, post it and walk away. Don’t wait for the likes to roll in or worry about if it is as good as someone else’s. Not only do the people we see so often online have professional lighting, photographers, and makeup artists but they have Facetune and editing that most of us don’t use or even notice. 

So, next time you want to share something good, share it but for yourself not for others. [Read: 15 very real millennial problems that reveal that not all is Instagram-perfect]

#6 Live in the moment. If you’ve ever been on a public beach during sunset you’ve seen how many people are there taking photos. It sort of ruins the magic of that natural moment. That is what social media does. And most of us are guilty of it.

I would see other people’s couple photos and they seem so romantic that I would try to achieve the same thing with my boyfriend whenever we went anywhere cute. If I don’t photograph that cute moment did it really happen? YES!

That’s the thing. You waste what could be really amazing moments of connection to get the perfect photo when that connection is what really matters. 

I’m in a healthy relationship and I’ve never been happier. My boyfriend and I have some cute photos together but they are mostly selfies taken at home. Years ago I dated someone and we have loads of #relationshipgoals photos taken on beaches and doing fun activities. But I was miserable in that relationship. No one would have guessed it from my posts. 

Living in the moment without the perfect photo to post is a lot more rewarding. [Read: 20 positive ways to live in the moment and live in the now]

#7 Enhance your real connections. When you get the urge to swipe through Facebook and Instagram to remain in the loop, take a step back. You are craving interaction and connection. Social media is the most shallow way to fulfill those desires.

Instead, make a real connection. Go to lunch with a friend, call your mom, cuddle your dog. Authentic connections may not be as instant but will make you feel better, not worse.

#8 Be grateful. Whether you decide to start a gratitude journal or simply thank God or the universe for what you have, this is a great way to remind yourself that you are happy and have plenty of things to be happy about. 

Seeing so much happiness from others online can trigger you to think about all you don’t have, when in reality you have a whole hell of a lot to smile about.

Take some time every day to take note of the things you’re grateful for. You can do this when you wake up, before bed, or any chance you get. You can write down a list of the people in your life you’re grateful for, the sun shining, or the food you have to provide for your family. Once you make a habit out of this, it will come naturally. [Read: 20 things to be grateful for you don’t appreciate already]

#9 Practice self-love. I know self-love is a millennial term most people roll their eyes at. But before you skip this, take a second to think about it. Self-love is not simply the act of loving yourself. Practicing self-love reminds you that you deserve a break, you deserve to be pampered, and you are worthy. 

Instead of taking a break and scrolling through your feed, take a break and do a face mask, watch your favorite sitcom or just sit and breathe for a few minutes. 

Taking time for you should include things that bring you pure joy, not things that leave you feeling not good enough. [Read: How to discover self-love and happiness one little step at a time]

#10 Remember that others’ happiness does not take away from yours. This is something that seems so obvious. But FOMO enhances this idea. When you see others doing well, it is not just the comparison that hurts but the idea that their happiness takes away from yours. 

That simply isn’t true. I have a few friends that have told me every time they see someone announce their engagement on Facebook, they only think about how they aren’t even close to that. They see this happiness from others as a reminder that they don’t have that. 

But, someone else’s happiness doesn’t have to do that. Instead, you can be happy for others and for yourself. Just because someone got a promotion doesn’t mean you can’t or won’t get one. Just because someone is engaged doesn’t mean you’re running out of time. 

Remind yourself that you can be happy for others and that doesn’t take anything away from you. [Read: 20 powerful ways to draw happiness from within instead of letting others get to you]

#11 Focus on your path. Everyone’s path is different, even when it doesn’t feel like it. I first started feeling like I was behind my peers when I was a senior in high school.

Everyone wanted to go away to school but I didn’t. Then in college, it took me longer to graduate. I looked at my classmates who graduated in 4 years and felt like I had failed because I needed more time. I would look at people who went straight from college into well-paying jobs when I had a part-time internship. 

And even recently, I would look at people my age having their second baby while I live at home. It can take time to accept that you and your peers are not the same. It may seem like every one of your classmates is getting engaged or married or moving on while you’re stuck. But take a step back.

Your story isn’t theirs. It is okay to move slower and to figure out what to want through experience. It is okay to meet the person you want to marry later in life or to never get married. You don’t have to compete for milestones. Life isn’t a competition to see who gets to the end first. It is about enjoying your own path, wherever it goes. [Read: How to find yourself when you feel like you’ve lost your way]

#12 Be active when engaging online. One of the reasons we often don’t recognize FOMO until we’re deep into those self-deprecating feelings is that we mindlessly scroll. We open an app and just look without thinking. We don’t actively engage with what we’re seeing. 

But scrolling, even without full attention, through harmful posts can eat away at your subconscious. Take your time in your next scrolling session. Really pay attention to what you’re seeing. If it doesn’t make you happy to see, unfollow it. If you see something that inspires you, share it. If something makes you happy, tell the person that posted it. 

Making meaningful engagements through social media is a lot more impactful and beneficial than the mindless scrolling we are all guilty of. [Read: How to change your self-deprecating attitude and stop giving up on life]

#13 Imagine the world without social media. Consider this a mental health daydream. Don’t simply imagine your life without social media, but the world. What would you be doing if social media didn’t exist? Would you be thinking about what others are doing or focusing on your life?

Would you be trying to get the perfect photo where you look happy and nonchalant and cool or just enjoy the moment? Without the impact of social media, you would simply live your life how you want to for you, not a ton of strangers. 

#14 Rethink your jealousy. Even though we don’t want to admit it, we’re jealous. But, like most jealousy, it is unfounded. Sure, when I see a girl with crystal clear skin posting a selfie I am jealous, but I’ve learned to redirect that feeling. 

What am I jealous of? And why am I jealous? I don’t know anything about this girl’s life nor she mine. It could be photoshopped or not, but how does that affect me and my life? Being jealous of someone’s life for any reason only makes me see less of myself when I know my acne doesn’t define me or make me less deserving of happiness. 

Next time you feel that ping of jealousy running through you, step back and reexamine that FOMO. Are you missing out on a great opportunity or are you living your life how you want to? [Read: How to learn to stop being jealous and learn to live envy-free]

#15 Reassess your attention. We give so much of our attention and energy to strangers. How much time have you spent looking through someone else’s vacation photos or thinking about what someone posted? Why are you putting so much energy into something that does no good for anyone?

Refocus your attention on your true connections. Reach out to your friends and family. Accomplish something you want. Don’t waste the attention you have on something only making you feel bad.

[Read: A full guide on how to learn to live a life you’ll love and cherish]

What is FOMO? It is the fear of missing out but what you’re really missing out on is living your own life fully and enjoying every moment of reality.

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Samantha Ann
My name is Samantha Ann. I am 28 years old. It was always my dream to become an advice columnist, so after years of off and online dating and eventually finding...