FOMO: Do You Have a Fear of Missing Out?

Lots of 20-somethings are affected by FOMO, or the fear of missing out on social events. Now researchers say they’ve come up with a way to measure FOMO, a condition that can sometimes lead to anxiety and depression.
FOMO: Do You Have a Fear of Missing Out?

FOMO, or the “Fear of Missing Out,” is something many of us have experienced. Most common among the under-30 crowd, it happens when we start to feel nervous about not taking part in social events, like that awesome party everyone who’s anyone showed up to last weekend. People have pretty much always been concerned about their social standing, but the recent explosion of social media has made FOMO a bigger deal. Now researchers say they've developed a system to test just how fearful we are about missing out.

Let’s Not and Say We Did — The Need-to-Know

The new FOMO "quiz" asks questions about how often we check social media and how worried we feel when our friends are hanging out without us. FOMO is often associated with a perceived low social rank, which can cause feelings of anxiety and inferiority The dark side of competition: How competitive behaviour and striving to avoid inferiority are linked to depression, anxiety, stress and self-harm. Gilbert P, McEwan K, Bellew R et al. The Mental Health Research Unit, Derbyshire Mental Health Trust, University of Derby, Derby, UK. Psychology and Psychotherapy. 2009 Jun;82(Pt 2):123-36.. When we miss a party, vacation, or any other social event, we sometimes feel a little less cool than those who showed up and snapped photos. In some cases, people are even afraid to miss out on bad stuff! (Not having a job is an exclusive club, after all.) FOMO is most common in people ages 18 to 33 — in fact, one survey of people in this age group found two thirds of participants said they experience these fears. The survey also suggests FOMO is more common among guys than ladies, though it’s still unclear why.

Research suggests FOMO can take a pretty strong negative toll on psychological health. Constant fear of missing events can cause anxiety and depression, especially for young people. In more extreme cases, these social insecurities can even contribute to violence and feelings of shame Health, hierarchy, and social anxiety. Wilkinson, R.G. Trafford Centre for Medical Research, University of Sussex, Brighton, United Kingdom. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences. 1999;896:48-63..

Over the past few years, there’s been a lot of research on the way social media influences FOMO. Recent research suggests people who experience FOMO are most likely to value social media as part of their social development. Status updates and tweets (OMG best night ever!) let us know about all the exciting activities happening while we’re home catching up with The Jersey Shore crowd. Some psychologists even suggest FOMO helps drive the success of social media platforms, since we feel we need to use the technology to let us know what’s happening elsewhere. But, in some cases, FOMO may actually give us positive motivation to socialize with friends.

Have No Fear — Your Action Plan

Some argue the feelings associated with FOMO strengthen connections with others, encouraging people to be more socially active. While it might be anti-social to sit around Facebook stalking pseudo-strangers, it’s possible to use social media in a more constructive way, like keeping in touch with friends and planning activities. (Maybe it's time to reconnect with an old buddy who lives nearby?)

And we can’t necessarily blame anyone’s social media feed for causing FOMO. Fears about missing out may be a type of cognitive distortion separate from technology, causing irrational thoughts associated with depression (like believing all those friends hate us if we didn’t get an invite to last week's party). For people prone to these kinds of thoughts, modern technology may just exacerbate their fears about missing out. So unplugging all those gadgets might not solve the problem as well as cognitive behavioral therapy or another kind of talk therapy.

When scoping out other people’s plans, especially online, remember that many people project their most idealized selves on the web, so spy with a skeptical eye! And to those of us who are confident enough in our own plans for this Friday night… well, hats off.

The Takeaway

FOMO's a real issue: Most people under 30 admit to worrying that their friends are hanging out doing something cool without them. There's nothing wrong with scrolling through that Facebook news feed every morning just to see what everyone's up to — it's only a problem if we're driven crazy by excessive fears about missing out on social events.

Photo by Aleksandra Flora

Do you freak out when you think your friends are having a good time without you? Let us know in the comments below or tweet the author at @justiNYte.

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