The 411 on FOMO

FOMO: Real Effects of This Social Anxiety

While the Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) disorder is often regarded with a bit of skepticism, it is a very real branch of social anxiety that can impact your health and happiness. Here, local licensed professional counselor, Julie Brown, shares her thoughts and insightful advice for identifying and dealing with FOMO.

by Katie Faulkner

Upset confused african woman holding cellphone having problem with mobile phone, frustrated angry mixed race girl reading bad news in message looking at smartphone annoyed by spam or missed call

What Is FOMO?

The dictionary defines FOMO as, “anxiety that an exciting or interesting event may currently be happening elsewhere, often aroused by posts seen on a social media website.” Brown takes it a bit further saying that, “This type of anxiety is nothing new. That feeling of being out of the loop has been around for generations. It’s just exacerbated by all kinds of technology now. Everything from text messages to Facebook to the television can cause you to feel like you’re missing out.”

How Can I Recognize FOMO?

As Brown explains, the list of symptoms for FOMO is very similar to other anxiety disorders. Some items on the list of symptoms include:

  • Feeling “revved up” or constantly worried
  • Indecisiveness
  • Fear of making the wrong choice
  • Restlessness
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Difficulty handling uncertainty
  • Sweating
  • Fear of committing to plans
  • Digestive issues

In addition to these, people with FOMO are more likely to spend an excessive amount of time on their personal electronic devices– cellphones, tablets, or laptops – mostly, checking social media sites. However, Brown explains that even just texting or emailing can contribute. “Anything that keeps your mind constantly connected to other people’s polished versions of what you could be doing can lead to feelings of anxiety. You can spin out about what could be or should be instead of what is occurring in the moment,” she says.

Another indicator would be if you become overly irritated, anxious, or even physically uncomfortable when you can’t access your phone or communicate with your friends for a period of time.

Personal temperament is something we often judge harshly in ourselves, but being self-aware, forgiving, and accepting of your predisposition can go a long way to take that burden off your shoulders, reduce your stress, and hopefully lessen FOMO’s effects on you.”

Julie L. Brown


How is FOMO Expressed?

Often people with FOMO fall into one of two camps: overcommitters or commitment-phobes. The first tend to say yes to every invite, overcommitting their time to different plans to the point that they can’t spend quality time anywhere. Sometimes they overcommit so much that they are physically incapable of attending everything they’ve promised to, which can contribute to their anxiety.

The second group tends to avoid committing to any plans in case something better presents itself. They often fear making the wrong choice, and can actually end up with little-to-no plans, leading to loneliness and exacerbated anxiety.

Julie L. Brown Licensed Professional Counselor, Co- Founder and Teacher, Center for Mindful Living chattanooga

Julie L. Brown Licensed Professional Counselor, Co- Founder and Teacher, Center for Mindful Living

What Fuels FOMO?

We know that social media and constant connection to technology can aggravate FOMO. But Brown says there are plenty of other, lesser acknowledged, triggers to this anxiety. “Medications, diet, light exposure, perspective, and even temperament are all contributors to anxiety,” Brown says. She explains that some people are just more inclined to have anxious tendencies. “Personal temperament is something we often judge harshly in ourselves, but being self-aware, forgiving, and accepting of your predisposition can go a long way to take that burden off your shoulders, reduce your stress, and hopefully lessen FOMO’s effects on you.”

What Are Recommended Prevention & Treatment Methods?

When it comes to dealing with FOMO, or any type of mental health issue, Brown says she encourages self-compassion first and foremost. “I’m also a huge advocate of mindfulness and meditation,” she says. Taking the time to listen to your own body and your mind’s needs gives you the opportunity to choose a self-soothing option like taking a breath, going for a walk, listening to music, or talking to a trusted friend. “Anxiety is linked to depression and loneliness. So the worst thing you can do is not reach out to someone. You should seek things that are naturally therapeutic to you, or if you feel your case warrants it, find a therapist – they’re trained to help you,” Brown says. She also emphasizes that looking outward for validation is a path to disappointment.

Brown reminds us that total body wellness is the key to combating FOMO, along with other mental health issues. “Make sure you get enough sleep, and that you’re eating healthy foods, getting outside and getting plenty of light exposure, and exercising regularly. Your diet, environment, activity level, and medications play a huge role in how you feel!”

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