FOMO, or the Fear Of Missing Out, has risen in popularity over the past few years. Realistically, you can’t go to every single social gathering – but social media makes sure you’re reminded when you’re not.
To get behind the psychology of FOMO, and to hopefully find out how we can rid ourselves of this phobia, in an age when we have constant reminders of how amazing everyone else’s life is thanks to social media, I talked to Emma Citron, a Consultant Clinical Psychologist, to see if she could shed some light on how to deal with this terrible and relentless affliction.
Why do we get FOMO?
I would say that the proliferation of [the use of] social media has often fuelled this, because everybody is posting happy, cheerful, exotic pictures, and therefore this fuels our psychological sense of “everyobody else is having a great time and we’re not”. But of course it doesn’t represent reality because that’s just a one second pose and act – there could be huge family arguments going on behind the scenes, [so] it doesn’t actually mean anything.
Do you think there’s been an increase of FOMO because of social media?
I think teenagers are particularly susceptible to it, [because] they can easily feel excluded and ostracised from their social group. It started with BBM, where if they were part of the equivalent of what is now a Whatsapp group, they would be aware of all the doings of their social group, and had been told face-to-face that actually the group weren’t doing anything, but they could see via facebook or elsewhere that actually a group was. So yes social media has been a huge part of this – I don’t think, for example, we even had a name for this FOMO before the spread of social media , so I think that kind of proves the point. … There’s always been exclusion within schools and social groups, even within adult social groups, but I think it’s much more in your face [nowadays] and it’s lead to a lot more insecurity.
Is FOMO a condition in itself? Can it be a sign of another condition?
No, it’s a sidekick to low self-confidence, of a low sense of self. It’s a particularly in your face trigger, a trigger to potential misery, but I think it’s up to the individual to seek help if it’s causing depression – go to their GP, get a referral, if it’s causing anxiety, then techniques such as CBT [Cognitive Behavioural Therapy] can help a patient to really address the balance in their heads of what’s been going on and what they think is going on and what they think they’re missing out on .
There’s been a sort of backlash to FOMO, in the form of JOMO (or the Joy of Missing Out). Do you think this is a positive thing? Or do you think it could have a negative impact?
I think there can be too much emphasis on proving things to others so my reservation there would be that if you’re having a nice time and you’re happy, then why do you feel like you need to show anybody that, either in a positive way or in a slightly bitter way, which is what this JOMO sounds like? So just don’t get into the game, don’t get into that whole dynamic – if you’re happy in your relationships then go ahead and enjoy that, put your energy into that and stop worrying about what other people think.
So how can we go about dealing with our FOMO?
Just to look at the evidence, ask friends “was I really left out?” – … if you do have an insecurity, were you left out or was that just in your head, like a misconception? … Do a reality check, and find out what’s really going on, and whether indeed there are any issues with your social group. There may well not be, [but] … talk and be honest with your feelings.
Also make the effort to instigate social arrangements or get-togethers with friends, then you feel empowered and emboldened to take control of your social situation, and not to feel like a victim of it.
Use social media sites with caution especially if you know you are susceptible to feeling excluded. Do not trawl them. Do not spend any time searching or stalking what friends or exes are up to.
Rather than going down that misery route, I would say pick up the phone and be proactive, and make and arrangement to get together, rather than feeling all miserable about everything. You can be a sort of architect in your own life, you don’t have to feel like you’re a passive spectator I suppose.