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Okay, we know this is a total #firstworld problem, but can we have some real talk about FOMO for a second? We've been noticing this FOMO (a.k.a. fear of missing out) seems to be escalating, both in ourselves and our nearest and dearest. Obsessing over what everyone else is doing, staying out late so you don't miss anything, walking into things on the street because we're too busy checking our Facebook to pay attention to what's happening — it's all a bit overwhelming.
Now, you may be looking at this and thinking it all sounds a bit ridiculous, but stop and think a bit about how your relationship with social media has changed your relationships in the real world. Now that we can Facebook stalk our friends and acquaintances, we're painfully more aware of what everyone is doing without us. Recent research from the University of Essex shows that having a co-dependency on social media is a major cause of FOMO and that if some basic social needs are not met (such as autonomy, competence, and relatedness), then you’re more likely to have an elevated level of FOMO. You know you got it bad when you reach for your phone the moment you open your eyes to check what you missed while sleeping, then do a thorough check pre-bed, too.
Let's back up for a moment: What exactly is FOMO? “FOMO is predominately prevalent in both young and mature individuals (typically between the ages of 16 to 35) and most commonly, it is a fear of one’s social standing or how one is perceived amongst peers, and a need to constantly know what is happening and what others are doing,” says Elizabeth Lombardo, Ph.D., M.S., P.T., a clinical psychologist in NYC and author of A Happy You.
So, you know that little angst you feel if you missed a pivotal window of time to ‘Like’ a friend’s photo, or if you didn’t know that so-and-so celeb was in who-knows-where because you didn’t refresh your Twitter feed in the past 15 minutes? That flutter of worry, that I-need-to-know-what-is-happening itch you just have to scratch could have serious effects on your well-being if it’s constant and consistent. “FOMO can cause anxiety, stress and, in more extreme cases, even depression and can be so pervasive that often we don’t even realize that this fear is an option,” explains Lombardo. “We 'should' ourselves too much — and ‘shoulding' ourselves and FOMO is the equivalent to negative background music. When you take control of your thoughts and can change the tune, it is amazing how your stress levels can decrease.”
But, like most things, FOMO isn’t always bad. “It can be positive if it motivates you to make a positive change — if you spend your Thursday evenings watching a three-hour lineup of your favorite primetime shows and you see that your friends are taking spinning class via social media, this may encourage you to join them next week,” says Lombardo. When it’s not good for you: In relationships, if FOMO arises or thoughts of ‘I should be somewhere else’ while you’re spending actual real-life time with a significant other or friend.
And, not all FOMO is created equal. Here, Dr. Lombardo breaks down some sneaky kinds of FOMO that could be wreaking havoc on your confidence, self-worth, and becoming a major life-suck.
Wonder how high — or low — your FOMO is? Check out RateMyFomo. See, we told you this was a real thing.
Illustrated by Zhang Qingyun