You know the feeling. It’s exhausting, it’s stressful, it’s obsessive: it’s FOMO. The fear of missing out, whether it’s sparked by a social media post or an in-person interaction, it’s a recipe for a rich stew of anxiety and discontentment.

Is FOMO Really So Bad

Here’s the big problem with FOMO. “You’re focused on what others are doing, rather than being fully present where you are,” explains Cathy Sullivan-Windt, Ph.D, a licensed psychologist & founder of the New Connections Counseling Center.

So why is that so bad? Constantly distracting yourself with what others are doing sets up the groundwork for social comparison. And the biggest issue with this is that you’re comparing your reality with someone else’s curated depiction of reality. That skews your expectations for how things should be and can undermine your self-confidence, satisfaction, and enjoyment.

And to make matters worse, your brain rewards you for engaging in social comparison when you come out on top in the situation. There’s also an almost addictive element where you can’t stop yourself from compulsively checking your phone to see what everyone else is up to.

The Upside To FOMO

But there are times when FOMO can be a good thing, in tiny doses and specific situations. “I’ve seen FOMO motivate people to step out of their comfort zone,” says Kellie Zeigler, one of just 1,500 Certified Applied Positive Psychology Practitioners in the world.

Zeigler gives the example of trying to decide whether you want to attend a friend of a friend’s birthday party after a long day at work. “You know that you’d have a good time if you went but right now all you can think about is the effort it takes to get there. A little bit of FOMO might help motivate you to go. You’ll go, have a great time, and be re-energized by the interactions you have there.”

Lauren Cook, Doctoral Candidate of Clinical Psychology at Pepperdine University agrees. “FOMO can pull us near one another. When we want to socially isolate, it can be the reminder that connection is really key for our health,” she says.

According to a study by Julianne Holt-Lunstad, PhD, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Brigham Young University, a lack of social connection increases health risks as much as smoking 15 cigarettes a day or having alcohol use disorder.

Another advantage of FOMO, “when we see someone else living their #bestlife, it can give us hope that we can do the same,” Cook explains. “Watching others excel, can be a way to encourage us to reach for more.” We can use that as fuel as motivation.

The Right Amount Of FOMO

Is there a Golidlocks scenario with FOMO? The quick answer: it depends. There’s the good kind of FOMO and the bad kind of FOMO and it’s how you view it that makes it one or the other. So, if the idea of upping your dosage of other peoples’ experiences makes you shudder, don’t worry that you’re missing out on the fear or missing out.

“If FOMO helps you motivate to reach your goals, awesome. If it freaks you out and paralyzes you in indecision, let it go, get clear on what you want, and move forward with a focus on what brings you joy rather than what you’re afraid of not having,” says Zeigler.

And sometimes, unfortunately, FOMO isn’t a choice. We normally use the term trivially to describe social anxiety or exclusion, but it’s related to other kinds of fear as well, including a powerful drive to avoid regret.

Seeing that you’re missing one party probably won’t make a huge difference to the trajectory of your social life, but missing the next four or five or ten? Those friends are likely to stop calling, then all those RSVP no’s might be a decision you regret.

“When you look at your life in 5 or 10 years into the future, are you afraid it looks the same as it does right now?” says Zeigler. “For some people, that’s a yes. If your FOMO is for a better life, for being healthy, or having meaningful work, that feeling can help motivate you to make the changes you want to see in your life.”

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Last Updated: Feb 6, 2020