The FOMO paradox: How fear of missing out leads to isolation
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Many people are unable to live in the moment out of fear they are missing out on something that could be a game-changer in their lives, relationships or careers. These are the friends who cannot commit to hanging out until the last minute or the romantic partner who does not want to “put a label” on the relationship. Keeping options open in case something better comes along, also known as “Fear of Missing Out” or “FOMO,” can become an isolating compulsion, impacting the individual’s mental health and interpersonal relationships.

FOMO can have a negative effect on mental health, as those who struggle with the phenomenon often feel intense dissatisfaction with their personal and professional lives. As Linda Bloom, LCSW, explains, “FOMO frequently provokes feelings of anxiety and restlessness, often generated by competitive thoughts that others are experiencing more pleasure, success or fulfillment in their lives than they are.” The resulting feelings of dissatisfaction are often significant in an individual with FOMO, regardless of whether the comparative happiness of others is real or perceived.

The competition people often feel when struggling with FOMO is typically amplified by social media and “the highlight effect,” in which people naturally compare the mundane and less-than-glamorous aspects of their lives with the highlights their friends post on Facebook. A 2013 study led by Andrew Przybylski, psychologist at the University of Essex, found that people with FOMO tendencies typically use social media more than others, in part to know what their personal connections are doing at all times. People who struggle with FOMO often face this exact fear, which is that others are doing something fun without them or that they are missing out on a great opportunity, whether in a social or professional context. Social media can fuel this population’s negative thoughts by enabling their compulsions and, sometimes, confirming their fears.

Przybylski’s study found that people with FOMO felt “less competent, less autonomous and less connected with others than people who don’t worry about being left out.” This displays the paradoxical nature of FOMO, in that those who avoid committing to friends or loved ones out of fear they will miss out on something special often miss out on equally life-changing events, people and opportunities that are right in front of them. Dr. Larry Rosen, psychologist at California State University, Dominguez Hills, suggests that overstimulation and compulsive checking of electronic devices and social media can lead to the feelings of anxiety that exacerbate FOMO. He recommends that people engage in calming activities or practices, such as short walks or mindfulness exercises, every 90 minutes to avoid FOMO-related anxiety.

If you or a loved one is struggling with anxiety, help is available. Sovereign Health Group treats individuals facing mental health disorders, substance abuse issues or dual diagnosis. Call to speak with a professional today.

Written by Courtney Howard, Sovereign Health Group writer

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