The fear of missing out (FOMO) is the feeling or idea that you are missing out on something important or enjoyable that others are experiencing.
It is the perception that others are having more fun, living better lives, or experiencing better things than you.
FOMO can be experienced in many situations, such as missing out on a party or other social gatherings, missing out on work promotions, missing out on traveling to exciting places, missing out on a good sale, or missing out on social media.
FOMO can involve a deep sense of envy of others or feeling unhappy about your own life. It may also make you feel anxious about not progressing or living a life that is not as exciting as it could be.
When experiencing FOMO, you have the urge to be connected to what other people are doing and compare yourself with them. This may lead to feelings of lower self-worth or self-esteem if other people seemingly have better life experiences than ourselves.
FOMO is thought to include two processes. The first is the perception of missing out, followed by compulsive behavior to ensure one is not missing out.
This could involve attending as many social events as possible or constantly checking social networking sites. People may become overwhelmed with the number of options they have and may not know what the best option for them is, which would mean they miss out the least.
For instance, someone may be invited to a few parties, and they may not know which party to attend without feeling the FOMO of missing out on the other parties.
Researchers have applied self-determination theory (SDT) to FOMO. SDT postulates that humans have three innate basic needs that they strive for: competence, autonomy, and relatedness.
Przybylski et al. (2013) suggested that FOMO is a negative emotional state resulting from unmet social relatedness needs.
The social aspect of FOMO could be considered the basic need for relatedness, which refers to the need to belong. Thus, we have feelings of FOMO when our relatedness needs are not being met.
In This Article
History of FOMO
While the term ‘FOMO’ is relatively new, it is not a new phenomenon. FOMO is thought to have been around for centuries.
It was not until 1996 that the term ‘fear of missing out’ was coined by marketing strategist Dr. Dan Harman.
In 2014, the term FOMO, which was previously used in marketing, was formally adapted to be applied to other settings, specifically observable with the rise of social networking sites.
FOMO is still a relatively new phenomenon that has grown increasingly popular alongside social media. Since it is quite new, more research into this and what may cause FOMO may arise in the years to come.
The term FOMO may have been coined in the age of social media, but it is not a new concept. Regardless of generation, people have had experiences of feeling as if they are missing out, as illustrated in the old phrase ‘the grass is always greener,’ meaning that people often assume that there are better things in other places.
Usually, if there are channels of communication between people, FOMO has always found a way of being present. Any communication channels allowing individuals to gain knowledge of their friends, family, or even strangers’ lives can result in feelings of FOMO.
This can include communications such as newspapers, letters, pictures, and verbal interactions. Improvements in technology mean that now more than ever, we have easier access to receiving information about others.
We are often able to know details about people’s lives that we may not have known decades ago, which is probably now why the FOMO phenomenon is more recognizable than ever.
Loss aversion suggests that people are more likely to be affected by losses than by equal gains.
If they perceive that they are losing or missing out on something, this can cause greater negative feelings than the positive feelings that come with not missing out.
Regret is thought to be the strongest trigger for why people experience FOMO. The fear of missing out can go hand in hand with feelings of regret for missing out.
Regret can also be broadcasted into the future through what is known as ‘affective forecasting’. This means that people try to predict how they might feel based on events that haven’t happened yet.
So, people may feel regret before something happens, which can trigger FOMO.
Too much choice
Another potential cause for FOMO could be that we have too many options. While too many options may feel like a positive thing, there comes the point where there are too many things to choose from, and this can become overwhelming.
For instance, someone may not know what career to get into if they are bombarded by many choices, and they cannot predict which will be the best option for them.
Often, learning to choose well in a world of unlimited possibilities is harder than learning to choose.
We will usually want to pick what is right for us, which can prove difficult if there are too many options and we fear missing out if we choose the wrong option.
FOMO may originate from feelings of unhappiness. Low levels of satisfaction with the basic needs for competence, autonomy, and relatedness may tend towards higher levels of FOMO than those with their needs met.
Those who feel socially excluded may also have higher levels of FOMO.
Humans are social beings who desire group interactions, so the perceived exclusion may make people unhappier, which means they are more likely to experience FOMO.
FOMO And social media
With the rise of social networking sites becoming ever-popular, we can be more connected to others than ever. We have easier access to seeing what other people have in their lives, as well as being able to post about our own lives.
Social networking can provide a new channel for communication, knowledge, entertainment, and self-expression.
FOMO has been linked to intensive social media use. We have almost instant access to being aware of what we miss out on, such as seeing photos of friends at a party or on their travels.
People tend to cherry-pick what they share on social media, often the most perfected version of their lives, as sharing mundane life tasks may not be considered interesting to others.
Therefore, seeing all the best parts of someone’s life online can give others the impression that that person has an exciting and more interesting life.
Social networking sites can thus cause FOMO by promoting unrealistic expectations of what our lives should look like.
For many, social media is habitual and arguably addictive. Because of FOMO, people may check their social media accounts multiple times throughout the day to keep up with what is happening.
FOMO could cause people to check social media right after they wake up, before they go to bed, and during mealtimes. Social media users have ‘always on’ communication with others and may find it hard to switch off or be away from their phones for fear of missing out on something important.
Receiving messages or notifications from social networking sites can compel users to stay continually engaged and updated.
Social media can be a cause and effect of FOMO. Social media users often have a higher chance of experiencing FOMO, but FOMO is also a mechanism that can lead that person to use social media.
This can result in a vicious cycle where users keep comparing themselves and feel that they are missing out.
Now that any individual can see others’ updates on their lives, social media enables users to have constant access to what they are missing out on, making it difficult to go more than a few hours without hearing from friends and seeing others talk about their lives.
People and even companies can use social media to promote products or experiences and ask people to ‘follow’ them on social media platforms so that they don’t miss out on content.
Although social media may give us greater access to FOMO, one study found that hearing about a missed opportunity from a friend produced the same amount of FOMO as viewing it on social media (Milyavskaya et al., 2018).
So, one form of communication doesn’t necessarily cause more FOMO; it is just that social media is more accessible.
Impact of FOMO
FOMO is suggested to have a negative impact on an individual’s mental health. Frequently checking and refreshing social networking sites for alerts and notifications can heighten levels of anxiety.
Receiving certain types of notifications can produce a rewarding feeling, and when a new notification comes through, we may often anticipate this rewarding feeling.
If the rewarding feeling does not come, this can instead cause frustration and anxiety for people.
Social networking sites can compensate those who struggle to communicate face-to-face, such as those with social anxiety.
While this may be beneficial for these individuals to express themselves through other means of communication, it can become problematic when the use of social media reinforces avoidance of face-to-face interactions, which could increase social anxiety further.
FOMO has also been found to have a relationship with the amount of time spent on social networking sites as a predictor of emotional distress (Weinstein et al., 2015).
Constant social comparisons and unreasonable expectations can adversely impact people’s self-esteem. FOMO has also been associated with the emergence of depressive symptoms in some (Steers et al., 2014).
These symptoms may be further intensified by the perception that an individual can avoid these negative emotions by using social media.
Through social media, there is a continuous awareness of what an individual may be missing out on. Social media can create distorted perceptions of the edited lives of others, and people may constantly be comparing themselves to others.
This can lead them to feel inadequate and lonely or that they are not doing enough with their lives.
FOMO has been associated with insomnia (Adams et al., 2020). As well as this, students who used smartphones at night were at risk of reduced sleep quality and overall psychological health (Shoval, Tal, & Tzischinsky, 2020).
It is well established in research that the blue light emitting from the screen of electronic devices affects sleep.
The reason behind this is the suppression of the hormone melatonin, resulting in a state of neuropsychological arousal.
Therefore, if people check their phones before trying to sleep due to FOMO, it makes sense that they may find it harder to sleep or have poorer sleep.
FOMO is thought to have negative effects on academic performance. If people are responding to frequent notifications, this uses repeated task switching, which is believed to affect attention span, interrupt work, and impairs overall productivity (Azizi, Soroush & Khatony, 2019).
Repeated task-switching results in more multitasking. Multitaskers are often more likely to make mistakes and take longer to complete tasks.
The constant connection to smartphones due to FOMO may be associated with decreased academic performance and cause more distractions.
According to Altuwairiqi, Jiang, and Ali (2019), FOMO has also been associated with a range of negative life experiences and feelings:
Reduced life competency
Negative effects on physical well-being
Lack of emotional control
FOMO may also prevent us from being present in the current moment.
If we constantly check social media for fear of missing something important, this limits the time we take to reflect or enjoy quiet time with no distractions.
We may become more out of touch with what we are feeling internally if we are constantly thinking about external ideas.
How to minimize FOMO
To combat FOMO, Kristen Fuller (2018) suggested that social media users embrace JOMO (the joy of missing out).
JOMO is the ‘emotionally intelligent antidote to FOMO and is essentially about being present and being content with where you are in life.’ This can enable people to:
Escape the fast-paced world of social media
Remain more mindful of important human relationships
Reclaim the time otherwise spent on social media
Embrace time away from social media
Find solace in their own lives
Below are some of the ways in which to minimize FOMO and find more joy in missing out:
Rather than focusing on what you do not have, try to notice everything you do have.
On social media, it may be useful to remove people who appear to brag too much or elevate your FOMO.
Instead, you can try following realistic people who spread positive and uplifting messages. This all depends on what triggers the FOMO in each person. Find people or accounts that make you feel good about yourself.
Keeping a journal
Writing about things that bring you joy in a journal can shift from focusing on public approval to private appreciation.
This may help you from focusing too much on what others have and break the cycle of seeking validation from others.
Focus on gratitude
It can be really beneficial to try to appreciate what you already have in life, such as a home, health, or family for instance.
It can be good for mental health to be thankful for everything you have already accomplished in life and the people in your life. With gratitude, you may be less tempted to seek out what others have on social media.
When experiencing FOMO, we may move at a faster pace than we really need to, and this may not always benefit us. It might be helpful to practice taking your time with activities to allow yourself to appreciate the experience.
This could be as simple as taking the time to make a cup of tea or eating slowly to appreciate the taste and texture of food.
When feeling FOMO, stopping to take a few deep breaths before carrying on with your day can help calm your mind down and help you think clearly.
Eliminating unhelpful things
This can involve removing some things from life that brings no joy or add no meaning or quality to life. Having more does not necessarily mean that this is better than having fewer but higher quality things and experiences.
Sometimes, learning to say no to more things can provide you with more time to devote to experiences that are more deeply rewarding to you.
Experience over symbol or status
It can be useful to think about the reason why you do certain things: is it to appear impressive to others or for your own enjoyment?
Focusing on the experience and the feelings of accomplishment, connection, or fun that comes with it rather than focusing on things that may only bring temporary pleasure.
Be willing to not have it all
The problem is that we may think we have all we have ever wanted but then find something else we may want anyway. Desires can be endless, and it is sometimes better to accept that you cannot have everything.
Indulging in all our impulses for instant gratification may only lead to wanting more and never being satisfied.
One thing at a time
Although we may believe we are good at multitasking, it is better to focus on one thing at a time until completion than trying to complete many things at once.
It can become overwhelming to try to complete many tasks at once, and they may not be of great quality rather than putting all your effort into completing one thing at a time.
When focused on a single task, will full attention given, you are more likely to succeed and produce higher-quality results.
Mindfulness is the practice of being present in yourself and giving non-judgemental awareness to our moments and experiences.
This is another method that is useful to help slow down and focus on internal feelings rather than seeking external pleasure.
Abel, J. P., Buff, C. L., & Burr, S. A. (2016). Social media and the fear of missing out: Scale development and assessment. Journal of Business & Economics Research (JBER), 14 (1), 33-44.
Adams, S. K., Murdock, K. K., Daly-Cano, M., & Rose, M. (2020). Sleep in the social world of college students: Bridging interpersonal stress and fear of missing out with mental health. Behavioral sciences, 10 (2), 54.
Azizi, S. M., Soroush, A., & Khatony, A. (2019). The relationship between social networking addiction and academic performance in Iranian students of medical sciences: a cross-sectional study. BMC psychology, 7 (1), 1-8.
Fuller, K. (2018, July 26). JOMO: The Joy of Missing Out . Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/happiness-is-state-mind/201807/jomo-the-joy-missing-out
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Steers, M. L. N., Wickham, R. E., & Acitelli, L. K. (2014). Seeing everyone else’s highlight reels: How Facebook usage is linked to depressive symptoms. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 33 (8), 701-731.
Weinstein, A., Dorani, D., Elhadif, R., Bukovza, Y., Yarmulnik, A., & Dannon, P. (2015). Internet addiction is associated with social anxiety in young adults. Annals of clinical psychiatry, 27 (1), 4-9.