Ever since I joined the 21st Century and got a smartphone, I’ve noticed an increase in my anxiety. Why? Because with every event notification, ding, or timeline scroll, I’m reminded of all the social activities in which I’m not participating.
Maybe you can relate: Do you cringe whenever you get an event notification on your phone? Are you torn between the decision to put on pants and go to dinner with friends or remain at home streaming the latest season of your favorite show on Friday nights? Does looking at your calendar make you want to throw your phone out of the window? If you’re anything like me (or millions of other twentysomethings on the planet) and answered yes to any of these questions, then you just might be suffering from the fear of missing out, or FOMO.
What exactly is FOMO? The New Oxford American Dictionary defines FOMO as “Anxiety that an exciting or interesting event may currently be happening elsewhere, often aroused by posts seen on social media.” The fear of missing out occurs when you learn about an event or activity through pictures shared online and become anxious because you’re, well, missing out.
At its core, FOMO is about social anxiety, a preoccupation with being on the outside of the popular event, activity, or trend of the moment. But how do you know if you have FOMO or if you are actually just bummed out that you’re not doing something? When navigating the sometimes confusing world of FOMO, asking yourself a few questions may help you sort things out:
What am I afraid of missing?
A few weeks ago, I asked myself this question when a group text between friends brought up an upcoming concert. I love live music, but I was really tired and didn’t really care for the artist who was scheduled to perform. In spite of these two convincing reasons to stay in the comfort of my own home, I was still considering going to the concert. Why?
I answered myself, saying “I’m afraid of missing out on the opportunity to take cool concert pics and post them on my social media to make it look like I have a hip, interesting life.” If you ask yourself a similar question and the answer is something like “I’m afraid of missing out on new snaps for my Insta timeline,” you may have FOMO. However, if your answer is “quality time with people I love,” perhaps you’re experiencing genuine disappointment.
What do I really want to do?
It took me a while to figure out that I didn’t want to go to that concert. I just wanted to stay in, watch an old black & white film, and get to bed early. It’s not that I don’t enjoy my friends or live music, but when I decided to stay home, I was relieved. I realized that I felt like resting because I needed rest. There are very few things worth sacrificing your health for, and making sure you take time to relax is an important part of your health.
When trying to figure out if you have FOMO, it may help to figure out what you really want. If the answer is anything other than the activity in question (e.g. take a nap, read a book, go down the rabbit hole of funny cat videos, et cetera) — you might be in the throes of FOMO.
If the answer is “nothing,” it’s likely you’re really into the activity in question and there’s a good chance you’ll enjoy yourself. Cool.
How will I feel if I don’t participate?
When I reached the decision to stay home and chill, I sent the group a text that simply said, “Hey, guys. I’m out for the concert this weekend. But have fun!” Before I hit send, I started to second-guess myself, wondering: How will I feel if I don’t go? I’m not going to be in any of the pictures, I won’t have anything to post… but I won’t have a major headache in the morning from the thumping bass. I’ll have enough energy to go for a run tomorrow morning. And I’ll also have more money to do something I really want to do later this month! That works for me.
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If you ask yourself the same question, and your answer is “I will feel like literally dying, because I’ll be the only one who wasn’t there.” — FOMO. If your answer is “Good, because I’ll be staying true to my heart by doing what I really want to do, not just what everyone else is doing” then you’re probably doing a pretty great job of leading a balanced social life.
My decision to prioritize my health by staying home from the concert turned out to be one of the best decisions I’d made in a long time. I was really pleased with how rested I felt throughout the remainder of the weekend. I was also proud of myself for sticking up for myself instead of just going along because “my friends are all going.”
Understanding why you’re doing (or not doing) something can keep you from making decisions you’ll later regret and save you time, money, and energy. Of course, figuring out FOMO is a process that requires practice; you may not make the right choice every time. I certainly don’t. But taking the time to learn more about your motives may help you learn to live your best life and overcome your fear.
Originally published on August 30, 2018.