What is the Fear Of Missing Out?
Publication date: 17-02-2023
Updated on: 02-03-2023
Topic: Mental health
Estimated reading time: 1 min
Article AuthorEleonora Orioli
Medical EditorDonata Pratesi
Editor and TranslatorViktoryia Luhakova
FOMO, a term bandied about among young people, is a social phenomenon related to the digitization of daily life. It stands for Fear of Missing Out, fear of being excluded, which corresponds to the fear of missing out or not participating in an enjoyable and rewarding experience involving acquaintances or friends. We discussed this topic with Dr. Donata Pratesi, a psychiatrist from the Center for Mood Disorders at the Ospedale San Raffaele-Turro.
How to recognize FOMO?
"The main feeling attributable to FOMO is that others live more fulfilling life than we do," says Dr. Pratesi.
FOMO is defined by 2 main elements:
- anxiety related to the possibility that others may have enjoyable experiences in which the subject does not participate;
- desire to be constantly in contact with others via social networks, compulsively checking social and any notifications.
"The second element is somewhat of a consequence of the first and is related to the need to constantly research what others are doing and what you are missing," the psychiatrist specifies.
Who can be affected?
It is a phenomenon that affects youth and adults alike, but male adolescents are the most affected.
The fear of being excluded in adolescence is physiological. Any teenager who is not invited to a party may experience a feeling of discomfort and unease. We speak of FOMO, and this phenomenon becomes pathological, when this feeling of discomfort goes to impact the individual's daily functioning.
How did FOMO appear?
"FOMO has always existed, even before the digital advent, to this day, however, there are so many more opportunities to experience this type of experience since we are continuously exposed to the experience of others. It is as if our lives are constantly on display, as well as the lives of others. Everything has exploded more with the creation of Instagram stories that allow for daily reporting of others' lives within 24 hours of posting: this involves constant monitoring of social media and smartphone," the specialist continues.
Thus, FOMO arises from the inability to participate in activities shared by friends and acquaintances; in other cases, however, it may arise without involving others. In this case, the fear of exclusion stems from too many choices with respect to how to spend free time. "If there are so many options to choose from, this can lead to the perception that the experiences other people are having are better and more interesting. The individual loses a sense of reality and relies on the interpretation of social network posts."
The freedom of choice, and thus the presence of multiple options, generates in the individual with FOMO the feeling of not having made the best choice, leaving a sense of distress and inadequacy.
FOMO is closely related to smartphone addiction and is characterized by:
- compulsive hyper-control of the smartphone,
- need to be constantly connected,
- inability to restrain oneself from reading any notifications.
"It is characterized by the need to constantly refresh web pages, and from a cognitive point of view, FOMO is characterized by obsessive thoughts with respect to connection."
Only when this need becomes constant and extreme, it can cause pathological conditions:
- social anxiety,
- high levels of stress,
- anxious depressive symptoms.
The studies that have been conducted on FOMO show that the causes are to be found in the attempt to satisfy one of the basic needs of human beings: sociality. Dr. Pratesi explains:
"The attempt to satisfy this need can lead to overuse of social media. Those who do not feel sufficiently related to each other make use of new technologies on a compensatory level. So people who underestimate their lives and have low self-esteem are more likely to develop FOMO."
How to prevent or treat FOMO?
"We must first remember that on social media we tend to overestimate the happiness and success of others. We do not see the real condition of the other person, but we see what others want us to see. It is physiological to have regrets, to be indecisive, and to be afraid of having made a wrong choice," says the specialist.
FOMO can therefore be countered through:
- mindfulness of the present: "Those who live in fear of losing something are as if they are always projected into the future or the past; they have a hard time staying in the here and now. Mindfulness meditation exercises are therefore an advisable and viable path for all people."
- reducing social comparison;
- learning to accept feelings of loneliness: "Loneliness is not necessarily something we have to run away from or escape, but devoting time to it is the first step to gaining greater autonomy."
"We can finally say that an antithesis to the word FOMO was created, namely JOMO, joy of missing out. The key to countering this growing phenomenon among young people is to accept reality for what it is, to live in the moment without the anxiety of losing something," Dr. Pratesi concludes.