FOMO, or the fear of missing out, is the phenomenon of experiencing anxiety or distress about something you aren’t part of.
One of the biggest causes of FOMO in recent years is social media. Social media supposedly exists to connect people, but in reality it often makes users feel disconnected, isolated, lonely, and resentful of their own lives.
If you find yourself experiencing FOMO when you scroll through Instagram or TikTok, you’re not alone. Many of my therapy clients struggle with anxiety, social media, and FOMO. There are ways to navigate FOMO anxiety and social media to feel more balanced and less anxious.
FOMO (the fear of missing out) is the feeling that you’re being left out of some fun or important activity, event, or life occasion.
While the idea of FOMO has been around for years, it gained traction specifically when Facebook first came out. FOMO was initially used to describe the feeling of seeing everyone else’s adventures on the first social media site and feeling anxious, small, and left out by comparison.
FOMO isn’t only associated with social media, though. It can also be caused by things like having to say no to plans, not being invited to a well-attended event, feeling isolated from your friends, or working so much that you don’t have time for socializing.
Some of the signs and symptoms of FOMO include:
The symptoms of FOMO overlap with symptoms of other problems, such as people-pleasing. In general, you can tell if you have FOMO if you feel anxious about belonging or fitting in. This can look like anxiety about missing out on an experience – even if you don’t particularly want to go.
Social media apps, sites, and usage has only grown since the early days of Facebook. People around the world spend an average of nearly 2 hours per day on social media, an amount that’s continued to increase annually.
Despite the sheer number of people using social media at any given time, spending time on apps like Instagram and TikTok can make you feel like shit.
One reason for this is the social media pressure to be perfect. The pressure to be seen as having a great, fun, beautiful life is prevalent among millennials and younger generations.
Seeing edited and filtered photos of everyone’s highlights – their vacations, their perfectly put-together meals, outfits, and partners – naturally makes you compare yourself to them. And when you compare the humdrum of your daily life to the shiny perfect things you see on social media, it makes you feel inferior to everyone else. It can also increase your feelings of social anxiety and FOMO.
Ironically, the worse you feel while scrolling social media, the more likely you are to keep scrolling. This is because social media provides significant hits of dopamine to the brain. This is a feel-good chemical that activates your reward and pleasure centers.
There are plenty of causes for FOMO among millennials. Deep at the heart of our humanity is our need to belong to a group. This is an evolutionary piece of how humans stayed alive and safe throughout history. FOMO can make it feel like we don’t belong and are disconnected from the people around us, which is a threat to our deeply felt sense of safety in the world.
You’re wired to want to be connected with others. We all are. But things like social media can increase your social anxiety and cause a lot of stress. That’s because when you get a sense of FOMO, stress chemicals like cortisol and adrenaline are released in your system. This is the “fight or flight” system that keeps you on high alert and feeling like there’s danger nearby.
The anxiety that “fight or flight” mode causes is a vicious cycle. It can feel like you’ll miss out unless you are on social media, but social media makes you even more anxious. Your anxiety can also increase feelings of general social anxiety. This makes socializing harder and reinforces the belief that you’re missing out on fun and fulfillment.
So how can you overcome social anxiety and FOMO?
The first step is to become aware of when you’re impacted by it. Does anxiety crop up more for you when you’re constantly checking to see how many people have liked your new post? Are you worried that you aren’t interesting or cool enough for your friends?
Noticing when FOMO arises can help you understand your triggers and begin to manage them.
You’ll likely notice that FOMO is particularly strong for you when you spend more time on social media. Limiting your time on social media apps can help lower your anxiety and fear of missing out.
Try a social media pause for a week or two if possible, and see how that feels. Taking a social media break can help you reset your relationship to scrolling, feel less stressed, take the pressure off of being perfect and performing, and spend more time on things you care about.
Another way to reduce FOMO is to make sure you’re spending enough time in your life doing things you value. This includes things like making time for creative endeavors you enjoy, spending quality time with friends or family, and cultivating fun hobbies. The more you’re living the life you want to live, the less worried you’ll be about missing out on everyone else’s idea of fun.
If you’re asking yourself, “How do you deal with social anxiety and FOMO?” you’re not alone. And you don’t have to figure it out on your own. I’m here to help.
Together, we’ll help you figure out ways to overcome your FOMO anxiety and social media usage, manage your stresses, and learn how to feel like you belong in the world.
You’ll learn effective strategies to reduce your time on social media, cope with your anxieties, and figure out healthy ways to connect authentically with others.
I’m ready if you are. Reach out today to schedule a complimentary consultation.
Danielle is an anxiety therapist. She specializes in helping busy millennials dial down their anxiety and ADHD, so they can perform at their best. Danielle has been featured on Apartment Therapy, SparkPeople, Lifewire, and Now Art World. When Danielle isn't helping her clients, she's playing video games or spending time with her partner and step children.