Fear of Missing Out: Are You a Slave to FOMO?

Are You a Slave to FOMO?

Reined-in cases of FOMO don't go much beyond good fodder for half-serious griping (see The Office's Mindy Kaling's hilarious tome, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?). But a true predilection can result in physical strain if, say, you hit yet another late-night soiree in spite of being bone tired (just so you're not the one who "wasn't there that time"). It can also trigger emotional turmoil in the form of uncertainty, regret, or envy, says psychologist Sherry Turkle, Ph.D., of the Initiative on Technology and Self at MIT.

Such emotions can lead to resentment--toward yourself and others--as well as feelings of dissatisfaction, anxiety, and unworthiness. And these, in turn, can prompt you toward a type of defensive sugarcoating that has become all too recognizable online. Take my Costa Rica post, which was basically my way of showing my social circle (and, of course, myself) that I don't need to be at some breakfast meeting to be fabulous. And perhaps it was no coincidence that minutes after that tweet went live, a housebound new-mom friend posted, "There's nothing better than raising my adorable little Caleb." If I can't be there having fun, the thinking goes, I'll show I'm having more fun right here.

"FOMO prompts people to use social media to present enviable versions of themselves," says Turkle, and this behavior can seriously mess with your head: "One of the weirdest things about FOMO is that people find it hard to live up to not only the images projected by others but also the image they've presented of themselves."

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When Envy Works

I never make it to the yoga workshop. Instead, I end up lunching with the guy I friended, who replied that he'd love to work together. It's true: If I hadn't had my FOMOment and freaked out that my pal's career was overtaking mine, I wouldn't have made this contact. Herein lies the upside of FOMO, explains Ann Mack, director of trend spotting for JWT. "It can be very motivating," she says. "It can keep us connected to other people and ideas."

But how can you reap the benefits without also ending up in an irrational self-validating cycle? First, remind yourself you're seeing only the best parts of people's lives online, says Kozak. After all, you wouldn't think you were missing much if you knew I was sharing my Central American bungalow with five backpacking strangers.

Then try to turn your darker instincts around: Instead of chastising yourself for being boring or left behind, use your FOMO as a catalyst to set realistic goals (an adventurous trip, an action-packed girls' night). Remember that people are happiest when they're embracing their most authentic selves, so as hokey as it seems, try to stay true to who you really are and avoid knee-jerk self-reassuring reactions, says Kozak. "You can use what other people are doing as inspiration," he advises. "Just leave out the 'I'm not doing that now, so I must be defective' part." (Also keep this in mind: If someone's post leaves you feeling lacking, give yourself 10 minutes to process your mood before responding. You'll often think better of it.)

If--despite putting things into perspective--you just can't shake FOMO's negative effects, reframe the way you think about missing something. Instead of thinking, I'm not going to the party and I'm going to miss all the fun, try, I'm not going to the party because I'm hanging out with my brother. Having a "yes" alternative (and acknowledging you made a conscious choice) prevents you from feeling like, Ugh, I'm totally missing out. Your goal is to let FOMO inspire you to live better, not let it ruin your fun.

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