Maybe you know the feeling: you’re scrolling through social media and the longer you scroll, the worse you feel. Why does this happen?
You might be experiencing FOMO, an acronym that stands for the fear of missing out. Underneath FOMO is the fear of being forgotten or left behind, and ultimately the fear of being “less than” or not “good enough”. The feeling is so ubiquitous, it was added to the Oxford Dictionary in 2013.
Some people feel FOMO more intensely than others. If you’re especially prone to FOMO, you may be at greater risk for mental health struggles like anxiety and depression.
Let’s talk about the origins of FOMO and how to let it go.
Why do we get FOMO?
Humans have social needs that are just as vital to our survival as food, water, and shelter. We have a baked-in need to belong.
Social Comparison Theory posits that humans determine their own worth and identity by comparing themselves to others. This mechanism of comparison is important for our development, but it evolved in a time long before we had endless access to information. To say the least, we’re no longer just comparing ourselves to the small group of people in our hunter-gatherer band.
Not only is this access to information broad and endless, it’s mostly skewed. On social media and elsewhere, we’re mostly seeing the highlight reels of the lives of others. Rare, special moments; big achievements; and cropped, filtered versions of reality.
If we’re not careful, we can believe the lie of social media which tells us that everyone else is happier, more successful, and more loved.
What do we do about it?
FOMO is based in fear: a survival mechanism that motivates us to move away from danger and toward safety. Or at least that’s how it’s supposed to work. The problem is that the fear of not measuring up to others is an existential one. So how do we escape it?
Fear originates in the amygdala, an almond-sized part of the brain responsible for the experiencing of emotions. The amygdala is a bit undiscerning; that is, it alerts us to danger, but it’s often wrong about the immediacy of the threat.
The good news is that we can learn to regulate this emotional response. This is in essence the mechanism of change in treatment modalities like cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). We can learn a variety of strategies to move out of the emotional part of the brain and into the prefrontal cortex toward a more organized and purposeful response.
Strategies like cognitive reframing, grounding exercises like deep breathing and other coping skills are essential to mental health.
Interested in learning more? Read 3 Ways to Avoid the Comparison Trap.
Feeling better starts here.
If you often find yourself getting stuck in anxiety spirals or beaten down by depressing thoughts, talking to a therapist could help.
Not sure therapy is right for you? Learn more here.
We’ll match you with a licensed therapist who accepts your insurance and is available to see you either online or in-person.