Fear of Missing Out: Here’s How to Cope
This article is part of a series on how to cope with common feelings that can be tough to experience. Here, experts provide simple strategies for acknowledging and managing fear of missing out.
You see a friend post on social media about her elaborate holiday décor, and you immediately start stressing about how you can do something similar. You purchase lottery tickets just because you see others are doing the same, even though it’s not in your budget. Or maybe you feel panic because you weren’t invited to a neighbor’s barbecue. If this describes you, you might be experiencing FOMO.
What Is FOMO?
FOMO stands for “fear of missing out.” The term was introduced in 2004 to describe a phenomenon observed on social media: people feeling as if they were missing out on activities they saw others posting about, and then exhibiting compulsive behavior in an effort to belong.
“FOMO is a pattern of intrusive and distorted thoughts that fill you with a host of negative emotions,” says Paul Hokemeyer, Ph.D., a licensed marriage and family therapist in Telluride, Colorado. “Central to these negative affective states is a sense of being irrelevant and unworthy.”
A fear of missing out has been connected to a problematic attachment to social media, according to research published in the World Journal of Clinical Cases, since social apps offer an inside look into what others are doing. But you could experience this feeling outside of social media, as well, if a situation makes you feel neglected or like an outsider.
How People Experience FOMO
A fear of missing out can be experienced in a range of different ways and degrees of intensity. For some people, there are specific, occasional situations that will trigger pangs of feeling left out. For others, there’s a constant concern about being excluded from situations or activities, says Tess Brigham, a licensed therapist who practices in San Francisco.
Different types of FOMO can stem from different emotions. “FOMO on not going to the Oscars is very different from FOMO of your college friends getting together for a reunion without you,” Brigham says.
A person who feels left out from a situation that isn’t part of their immediate life experience (like the Oscars) may not be satisfied with their own life. A person who feels left out from a situation that is part of their everyday life (like the college reunion) may be experiencing feelings of exclusion or rejection.
“Our greatest fear is we’re not enough, and being excluded or forgotten is the ultimate ‘You’re not enough,’ ” Brigham says.
FOMO-related feelings are to be expected, but if you’re not managing those feelings in a healthy way, it could have dangerous consequences. A two-part study published in 2022 suggests that college students experiencing FOMO were more likely to exhibit problematic alcohol and drug use, plagiarize, and steal.
How to Deal with FOMO
If you find yourself feeling like an outsider and responding with strong feelings or behavior, there are some things you can do to cope.
1. Do a Digital Detox
If your FOMO tends to crop up based on what you’re seeing on apps like TikTok, Instagram, or Facebook, it’s time to examine your social media consumption, says Sherry Pagoto, Ph.D., a licensed clinical psychologist, professor, and social media researcher who teaches at the University of Connecticut and directs the UConn Center for mHealth and Social Media.
The less time you’re on social media, the better, but you don’t have to go cold turkey. “If someone is always throwing parties and you find yourself jealous and upset every time pictures are posted, then this person isn’t the best person to follow,” Brigham says. “Curate your feed so you’re only seeing people who inspire you and don’t make you feel bad about yourself.”
2. Avoid Comparing Yourself to Others
In the same vein, it’s important not to let what you see others doing dictate your priorities or feelings of self-worth. For example, a recent study suggests that using social media can cause people to compare their achievements with those of others, which may lead to lower satisfaction with one’s financial situation.
“The more you can stop comparing yourself to others by noticing the ways you ‘fall short’ from the ideal and focus on what really matters to you, the more fulfilled you’re likely to be,” says Cortney Warren, Ph.D., board-certified clinical psychologist and adjunct professor of psychiatry at the Kirk Kerkorian School of Medicine at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
Remember that social media isn’t a whole look at someone’s life—it’s a highlight reel—and that it’s never actually perfect. “FOMO can emerge in response to the highly exaggerated and overly positive images people post in social media that glamorize their life,” Warren says. “Remind yourself of what really matters to you and why—which may be very different from what others value or project into the world.”
3. Remind Yourself That It Isn’t About You
Social media also distorts our view of just how many things are going on without us. People have always taken vacations, bought new cars, and thrown parties. But before social media, others weren’t so aware when they did.
“We get this perspective that a lot of stuff is going on and we’re not invited,” Pagoto says. “Remember it’s not about you. Even the most popular person isn’t at every party. We all can have the same feeling but still feel like we’re the only one.”
4. Practice Gratitude
Instead of seeing what you don’t have, make a written inventory of the relationships, opportunities, and gifts in your life, suggests Hokemeyer. You can even keep a gratitude journal, where you write the things you’re grateful for each day. You might be surprised how much this simple act can improve your outlook.
“Gratitude is free, and it’s probably one of the most effective tools to improve your mental health,” Brigham says.
When to Seek Help
Although most of us experience the feeling from time to time, you might decide you need or want some help dealing with FOMO. If your fear of missing out seems to consume your life, or you’re constantly or obsessively checking social media, that’s a signal it may be time to get help from a mental health professional.
“Find a therapist who can work with you to create a reparative plan of engagement to limit your [social media] use and appreciate the richness and grace of your real-time life,” Hokemeyer says.
Feelings of FOMO might not just mean a person is spending too much time online—it could also be a sign they’re feeling isolated, lonely, and/or experiencing low mood, Pagoto adds. A therapist can help you work through any tough feelings or mental health concerns you have and help you focus on your life instead of others’.
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