Why Fear of Missing Out Is No Joke

by Pamela J. Hobart

Modern times mean modern problems, and "fear of missing out" (FOMO) is a biggie. Although this neologism started out as kind of a cutesy description of an ordinary emotion, it turns out that many among us suffer from a fear of missing out in a pretty serious way. It may seem like "keeping your options open" so you don't miss out on the best opportunities is a reasonable thing to do, but it has its limits. Unfortunately, chronic FOMO is a real affliction that can lead to sadness and anxiety, Psychology Today reports, so here's how to keep it from ruining your life.

Notice that everything you do has an "opportunity cost." This means that when you do one thing, you can't be doing another thing with the same amount of time, energy, money, and so on. Taking some time and energy to weigh your options usually makes sense. But if you spend too much time wondering whether you're doing the right things, you can't invest as fully in actually doing them. If you spend too much time waffling over where to take a trip, you could have just already gone ahead and taken it. If you deliberate too much over applying to job openings, you'll miss them all. If someone invites you to a party but you hold out for a better plan that night and flake, people will stop inviting you to things. Hence the FOMO cycle: jealousy and regret culminating in sadness. Fun!

So with so much going on all around you, how do you protect yourself against the sneaky feelings of FOMO? Since sadness is the longest-lasting emotion, it's important that we prevent it when we can. While you won't be able to prevent all kinds of sadness you'll ever feel, you can refuse to torture yourself with FOMO and the things that trigger it. If you've been overcommitting to events and people (or undercommitting to them) out of a fear of missing out, you need to reassess the pattern. Realize that chasing the absolute best opportunities can backfire, and don't let the perfect friendship, job, or relationship become the enemy of the good one.

Yes, this may mean avoiding Facebook — lurking on social media services may make you feel more lonely (and possibly jealous) as compared to using it to connect actively with others. Same goes for Instagram and check-in services like Swarm, which are basically designed to showcase what other people are doing at any given time. Flipping through these on Saturday night could make even the most self-assured person doubt her previously reasonable, satisfied decision to stay in this time.

The root of the problem is that it's just very easy these days to connect loosely with people in our digital age, and loose connections are a double-edged sword. On the upside, developing, maintaining, and tapping your loose social ties, a.k.a. "networking," is still the best way to find a job. On the downside, you can find yourself feeling left out of everythingbirthdays, parties, trips, gossip, inside jokes — with which your loose social ties are connected. Take a moment to ask yourself whether you had any good reason to believe that you ought to have been included in the first place (no, shaking their hand one time at a mixer doesn't count). There's obviously a world of difference between not getting invited to your best friend since elementary school's party and not getting invited to someone you follow on Twitter's party, of course.

If you can't stick to loneliness-busting active participation and find yourself idly browsing social media and feeding the green monster, some time off may be in order (probably our brains feel too rewarded by digital hobbies anyways). And fingers crossed that you don't end up paranoid, with a mild case of MOMO (mystery of missing out) instead.

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