You know the feeling: Feeling left behind, alone and sad in your pjs with only your beloved Netflix for company. It's called "fear of missing out," or FOMO, and social media only heightens that feeling. While generally used in a lighthearted context, FOMO is actually a real issue. According to a survey conducted by MyLife.com, 56 percent of people are afraid of missing out on events, news and important status updates if they are away from their social networks. And experts are saying it isn’t good for your general mental well-being. “FOMO is a leading contributor to ‘inauthentic life’ in the 21st century,” says psychologist Dr. Ramani Durvasula. “Everyone is so afraid of missing out that they rarely take the solitary moments to recharge or at least be discerning about where they go and what they do.” Here’s why you’re better off making decisions that are right for you — not because of your FOMO.
1. FOMO Promotes Inauthenticity
Durvasula says that FOMO often causes people to show up not because of the love of the activity or the genuine drive to be with other people, but instead simply to be present. “This results in a lot of superficiality in terms of your engagement and involvement in the event and the nature of your interactions -- and it ends up being like empty calories,” she explains. “There is so much just ‘showing up’ that you aren’t being the best and most authentic version of you.” So if your justification for attending an event is so you can post a photo of it on Instagram, you’re letting FOMO take over.
Related: Dr. Ramani Durvasula
2. FOMO Makes You Prioritize Activities Over People
Since FOMO is more about what you’re doing than about whom you’re with (unless your fellow attendees are famous), it can cause you to lose focus on cultivating and deepening your relationships. “If your social life is all about chasing the next exciting event, then you’re missing the point,” says John Boese, founder of GoFindFriends.com. “Take the time to build relationships and really get to know people in more intimate social settings. Having a few close friends will do more for your overall well-being than attending tons of social events.”
3. FOMO Is Expensive
Clearly, attending a multitude of social events -- and a “keeping up with the Joneses” mind-set -- can really put a dent in your wallet. When you’re worried about missing that music festival, group trip or fancy dinner, a swipe of a credit card can quell those fears. “These self-created emotions have the ability to pressure and steer you off the course that is truly aligned with your best interests and personal goals,” says relationship coach Benjamin Ritter. “Without realizing it, FOMO can turn you into a person who makes you happy in the moment, but then leaves you broke on a street corner in last night’s clothes, trying to figure out how you got there.” The anxiety that comes with bills you can’t pay far outweighs the fear of being the only one you know without a VIP Coachella pass.
4. FOMO Makes Us Feel Not Good Enough
“FOMO is another way of expressing anxiety that who we are, what we are or the choices we have made are not enough,” says clinical psychologist Dr. Ben Michaelis, author of “Your Next Big Thing.” Ritter agrees, explaining that giving in to FOMO encourages people to question how their own lives match up to others, playing a comparison game that leaves them feeling envious and unhappy. “Your current life feels like it is less acceptable, and your passions and goals don’t match up to the fun and excitement that you feel other people are experiencing,” he explains. To learn how to be fulfilled in your current state, says Ritter, focus on your core values and real relationships, and base your decisions on you, not on your newsfeed.
Related: “Your Next Big Thing”
5. FOMO Promotes Self-Destructive Behavior
Another trendy acronym related to FOMO is YOLO (you only live once), which, in tandem, can create a recipe for risk-taking. Like, YOLO, FOMO is all about living with no regrets, says relationship expert April Masini, and that can lead people away from sound decision-making. “A life of purely and solely FOMO decisions can lead to impulse buying, impulse sex and impulse reactions that create discord, chaos, health issues and financial ruin,” she explains. “You don’t want to find yourself making impulsive decisions based on FOMO instead of who you really are and what you really want in life, short term and long term.”
6. FOMO Fuels Social-Media Addiction
FOMO is encouraged by social media and the fact that we can keep tabs on what everyone we’ve ever known is doing at any given moment. In many ways, this compulsion keeps us in a cycle of feeling like we need to stay informed, says licensed marriage and family therapist Carrie Krawiec of Michigan's Birmingham Maple Clinic. “FOMO is so powerful because of the immediacy of social media,” she explains. “It’s one thing to be disappointed you were not included when you learn of a coworker’s weekend party over lunch later in the week. It’s an entirely different scenario to see a party unfolding -- in real time -- over Instagram pictures, Facebook status updates, Foursquare check-ins and tweets and to know you are seemingly the only one sitting at home in front of a computer screen, missing out on all the fun.” Limiting your social media time to an hour a day or a couple of times a week can help curb the feeling you’re missing out or that you’ve been excluded.
Related: Birmingham Maple Clinic
7. Because It’s Exhausting
“Our brains are biased toward consuming information and ‘being in the know,’ and that’s why FOMO is such a problem,” explains digital lifestyle expert David Ryan Polgar. “We exhaust ourselves trying to catch up.” Professional relationship and intimacy coach Pat Barone agrees. “Anything done in fear usually winds up being unfulfilling,” she says. “We flit in and out of social gatherings, run by an overbusy schedule, and are never really conscious and present while there.” Finally, FOMO gets in the way of crucial time we need to wind down, recharge and simply be with ourselves. Experts agree that alone time is essential for mental health, but getting it isn’t as easy now. “We’ve removed the natural downtimes of life,” Polgar explains. “The Internet has opened up a never-ending source of options and entertainment that we are struggling to adapt to. Alone time, instead of being viewed as a luxury, should be seen as essential to each day.”
Join the Conversation
What do you have FOMO about in your life? How often do you post on social media? Comment below and we’ll respond!
Journalist Natasha Burton has written for Cosmopolitan for Latinas, Maxim, Cosmopolitan.com, and WomansDay.com, among others. The author of "101 Quizzes for Couples" and "The Little Black Book of Big Red Flags," she is regularly called on as a relationship expert by various media outlets around the world.