FOMO, or the fear of missing out, is happening on a grand scale for the first time in human history because of the awareness that digital and social media has brought to our lives. And almost no one is immune to it.

When you are being bombarded on a minute-by-minute basis with all the things happening in the world that you could potentially do, or may be missing out on, it’s hard to be satisfied with the sameness of your everyday life.

Throw in the natural human tendency to compare yourself to others and all the groundwork is there to experience FOMO.

The First FOMO

The very first seeds of FOMO were vital to our survival. It drove our species to notice who was thriving and to copy their behaviors, ensuring that the best strategies for survival spread throughout society.

It also gave rise to adventure and migration. Scientists even believe there is something called migration DNA. Robert Moyzis, Ph.D., a professor of biological chemistry at The University of California Irvine has shown that a variation of the RDR4 gene called 7R mutated 40,000 to 50,000 years ago during our migration out of Africa then spread rapidly in human populations. Talk about the ultimate FOMO. The fist humans walked thousands of miles to Eurasia to see if something more interesting might be going on there.

How FOMO Has Evolved

Fast forward to today: With all the access we have to other peoples’ lives, we experience a more nuanced and painful fear of missing out or being left behind more frequently than ever before. “From photos of other people’s dinners to comments about their political views, it’s also easy to forget that people are only showing us what they want us to see,” says Cathy Sullivan-Windt, Ph.D, a licensed psychologist and founder of the New Connections Counseling Center.

“It is generally a curated view into people’s lives. But this view nevertheless encourages social comparison. These social comparisons start to backfire when it distracts one from one’s own sense of meaning and purpose,” says Sullivan-Windt.

The idea of finding a greater purpose is key to understanding what drives the feeling of FOMO and how you can actually work to feel less of it in your day-to-day life.

How FOMO Affects People Differently

“At its root, FOMO can be a lack of self-awareness about what one values and a lack of intentionality in one’s life, says Sullivan-Windt. That person might turn to overbooking their social calendar as a status symbol. This tactic is usually a way to avoid confronting themselves. “A person who takes time to self-reflect and is very intentional in living according to her or his own purpose is generally more content, and less apt to measure him or herself against others.” Translation: Self-contentment is FOMO repellent.

The opposite is also true Sulivan-Windt explains: “Those lacking in self-worth and without an internal sense of security are most often looking to others to measure their own worth.”

Who Gets FOMO

Those aren’t the only things that might make someone more prone to FOMO; your personality type as well as your personal experiences all play a role. “Those who are most susceptible to FOMO are the social extroverts who thrive on group energy. It can also impact those who lack self-confidence and security within themselves.” says Lauren Cook, MFT, a clinician and Doctoral Candidate of Clinical Psychology at Pepperdine University.

When someone needs social approval to feel reassured about themselves (which is a never ending and never fulfilling cycle), FOMO can hit hard explains Cook.

Maryanna D. Klatt. Ph.D., a clinical professor in the Department of Family Medicine at The Ohio State University College of Medicine, agrees and adds it’s also affected by the company you keep: “Individuals who haven’t had mentors to show them that it is okay to blaze one’s own path, and that this actually can be very satisfying are more prone to FOMO.”

Once you understand what’s driving your FOMO, you can take steps to eliminate it over time. “If you must compare, try comparing yourself now with how you were in the past. Or compare yourself now with how you want to be in the future,” says Sullivan-Windt. “These types of comparisons can be more useful. You may recognize the ways you have grown and goals you have reached. You may also clarify future goals in terms of what may be more fulfilling.”  For tips on how to reduce FOMO, click here.

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Last Updated: Feb 19, 2020