Part 1: Understanding FOMO
Fear of missing out is an anxiety about missing out on rewarding experiences that others seem to be having. In the highly digital world we live in, where social media constantly displays snapshots of other people's lives, this feeling is amplified.
What we see on social media is far from the complete picture. It's akin to watching only the highlights of a sports game, missing out on the timeouts, mistakes, or less exciting moments. People tend to share their best, most picturesque experiences online. Intellectually, we understand that life isn’t a non-stop series of perfect moments. But emotionally, when we see images of others’ activities or when we feel left out, the sensation of missing out can feel overwhelmingly intense and emotionally painful.
Why Are We So Impacted by FOMO?
Tara Brach, a renowned mindfulness expert, sheds light on this with her insights on social comparison: We often compare our own lives with those we see on social media, potentially leading to feelings of inadequacy or anxiety. This comparison isn’t limited to activities; it extends to lifestyles and achievements as well. Being social creatures, we have an innate desire to connect and feel included. We fear missing out on experiences that we believe are crucial for maintaining our social bonds.
Additionally, factors like low self-esteem and insecurities can predispose some individuals to a heightened need for external validation. In such cases, a person might feel compelled to partake in specific events or activities to feel valued or accepted. This attachment to external approval fuels FOMO, where social recognition becomes a significant source of self-esteem.
Sarah Peyton offers a compelling neurobiological perspective. She discusses the concept of alarmed aloneness — our brains are hardwired for connection and warmth in relationships. When we experience disconnection or isolation, our brain can trigger a state of alarm, initiating stress responses and potentially leading to feelings of anxiety and fear.
Thus, FOMO isn’t solely about missing events or experiences; it's also about missing essential social connections and interactions that are crucial for our emotional and neurological health. In the realm of social media, where an idealized version of connectivity is often portrayed, this sense of alarmed aloneness can be exacerbated, intensifying the feelings associated with FOMO.
Part 2: Coping Strategies for Immediate Relief
The following information is designed to combat the intense anxiety often triggered by FOMO. These steps work wonders because they anchor you back into the present moment, pulling your mind away from the "what ifs" and "what could have beens."
A mind that frequently wanders, especially to thoughts of potential missed experiences, isn’t fully in the here and now. This lack of presence can heighten feelings of FOMO, as you’re not completely immersed in your current experiences, leading to a persistent sense of missing out.
1) Acknowledge the Feeling:
When contending the unsettling sensation of FOMO, it's crucial to first recognize and accept your emotions. This initial step of acknowledgment is vital. Often, there's a natural tendency to suppress uncomfortable emotions, attempting to push them aside. However, this approach is counterproductive. Suppressing emotions doesn't eliminate them; instead, it can cause these feelings to resurface in unexpected and potentially harmful ways. And the act of suppression requires significant mental effort and energy, which can be exhausting and detrimental to our overall well-being.
So rather than fighting these feelings, embrace a stance of awareness and acceptance. Acknowledge your anxiety by mentally noting it: "Hey, I see you, anxiety. I understand why you're here, but right now, you're not serving me." This approach not only conserves your mental energy but also puts you in a position to manage your emotions more effectively, paving the way for healthier coping strategies. Remember, the goal isn't to eradicate these feelings but to acknowledge and understand them, reducing their power over you and allowing for more constructive emotional regulation.
Deep breathing is an effective tool for soothing your nervous system and can act as a reset for your brain. When you engage in deep breathing, you're essentially signalling to your body that you're safe and okay. This practice helps shift your body from a state of heightened alertness, often triggered by stress or anxiety, to a state of calm.
The mechanism behind this is rooted in our physiology. Deep and slow breathing stimulates the vagus nerve, which runs from the brain through the face and thorax to the abdomen. This stimulation activates the parasympathetic nervous system, often referred to as the 'rest and digest' system. It counteracts the 'fight or flight' response of the sympathetic nervous system, associated with stress and anxiety. Deep breathing decreases heart rate and blood pressure, thereby reducing stress levels.
One effective technique for deep breathing is the 4-7-8 method. It's straightforward and powerful in its simplicity:
Click here for the YouTube video of this article, with a guided practice of 4-7-8
This rhythmic pattern of breathing not only helps in calming your nervous system but also brings your attention back to the present moment, anchoring you in a state of mindfulness. It's a practical, quick, and easy method to regain control over your emotional state, particularly useful for shifting out of anxiety .
Having acknowledged your emotions and utilized deep breathing to ground yourself in the present, you might still find yourself grappling with the agitation stirred by FOMO. In such moments, when anxiety feels overwhelming, introducing physical movement can be incredibly beneficial.
Movement helps because when we experience emotions like anxiety, our bodies often enter a state of heightened arousal as part of the 'fight or flight' response. This state is characterized by increased energy and tension in the body. Movement allows us to use that energy, facilitating a release of tension and helping to reset our nervous system. Engaging in physical activity stimulates the production of endorphins, our body's natural mood elevators, which can have a calming effect on our mind.
The type of movement that works best can vary from person to person. The key is to find a form of movement that feels good and suits your current state. It's not about intensity or duration; it's about movement as a tool to help discharge emotional activation and restore a sense of balance in your nervous system.
Self-compassion is the art of being kind and understanding toward ourselves, especially in times of difficulty or stress. It's about acknowledging our feelings without judgment and offering ourselves the same kindness we would to a good friend.
What you need to know is that the way you feel when you are experiencing FOMO is normal. These emotions, as intense as they may be, are a normal part of the human experience. It's vital, therefore, to refrain from self-criticism or negative self-talk. And most importantly, if you're feeling urges to harm yourself in any way, please remember that there are healthier ways to find relief.
Start by taking a deep breath and acknowledging the urge is there, without judgment of self. Observe it as an outside observer might, noting its intensity and where you feel it in your body. Keep breathing deeply, anchoring yourself in the present. Remind yourself that urges are temporary; like waves, they will dissipate. As you continue to breathe and observe, you'll notice the urge losing its power, diminishing like a wave receding back into the ocean. This process empowers you to handle distress without resorting to harmful behaviours, fostering resilience and a sense of control over your emotional world."
Remember, you're not in this alone. Reach out to someone you trust. - a family member, a friend, a counsellor, or a support line. Sometimes, the simple act of voicing your feelings can significantly diminish their intensity. If you have the option to reach out to a family member, this may be your opportunity to Deepen Connections: talking to them may provide you with a shift in focus, which can alleviate anxiety and fear of missing out, enabling you to value and cherish your current moment
Part 3 - Creating a Positive Experience for Self
Imagine this scenario: you've chosen to stay in, and initially, it feels a bit uncomfortable, maybe even boring. You might feel like you're missing out on a fun gathering with friends. But here's where that old perspective shifts: sometimes, the most rewarding company you can have is your own. Learning to enjoy your own company isn't just about passing time; it's about becoming a friend to yourself, embracing self-connection and mindfulness. And, this ability to befriend self is an essential skill. After all, you are the one constantly in your life. Embracing solitude as an opportunity for self-discovery and enjoyment is a habit worth cultivating. I've even given it a fun name for you. This transformative concept will now forever be referred to as MOMO - which stands for Mindfulness of Missing Out: where we will emphasize being mindful and present in the moments you choose for yourself, instead of worrying about what you're not participating in.
Here's how to set up your time:
I'm excited for you to move beyond the emotional distress FOMO can bring, and to experience the joy and satisfaction of befriending yourself. It's a transformative process that I believe will bring you great peace and contentment.
Susan Guttridge is a trauma-informed Master level Counsellor with the clinical designation of Canadian Certified Counsellor (CCPA). She has 20+ years experience providing individual and group therapy.