fear of missing out

In a world where social connections are just a tap away, and every moment seems to be captured and shared, one emotion plagues the minds of many… FOMO  

Fear of Missing Out, or FOMO, has become an epidemic in our modern society

But what is it about FOMO that makes us constantly compare ourselves to others and feel anxious about missing out?

The fear of missing out

For anybody who isn’t aware of what FOMO is, it stands for fear of missing out. 

It refers to the anxiety or unease one experiences when one believes others are having enjoyable experiences without them. It is characterized by a strong desire to stay connected and be present in all social activities and events.

People often experience FOMO due to their fear of being left out, being isolated, or missing out on exciting opportunities. 

What causes someone to feel FOMO?

The phenomenon of FOMO is triggered by various factors in today’s interconnected world. 

Some of the reasons mentioned below are why people have a fear of missing out. 

  • The prevalence of social media — The rise of social media has created a constant stream of updates and highlights from other people’s lives. We are always staring at an endless feed of photos and videos of different lives. From friends, and acquaintances, to even strangers, we sit in our room, almost like a bystander, watching as these people appear to participate in exciting activities or social events. This inevitably leads us to wonder whether we are living our life to the fullest, and inevitably compare. 
  • Comparison culture — Seeing others’ curated and idealized lives online can make individuals feel inadequate or left out. Everything is comparable these days, whether its achievements, appearances, possessions, or social status — this incessant comparison cycle is fueled by social media, advertising, and a hyper-connected world that promotes constant comparisons and competition. We feel pressure to meet certain standards or expectations set by society or their peers, leading to feelings of inadequacy, jealousy, and anxiety. And social media platforms have amplified this culture, as people curate and present carefully selected aspects of their lives, creating an illusion of perfection.
  • A feeling of regret — Nobody wants to live a life they regret. We want to do the things we dream of, see the places we imagine, and live a life with no regrets. This is so deeply ingrained in us that we make words like ‘YOLO’ (you only live once) to justify decisions — even if they’re downright stupid —  out of the hope to not regret. The fear that if one doesn’t participate in a particular event, that we may regret it later, is one huge trigger for FOMO.
  • The need to stay connected — Much like the feeds of photos and videos of events going on, there is also a constant bombardment of information and content. In the past, we received the news on the TV at a given time. But now, the news cycle is always going, as we are deluged by an endless stream of important news, updates, or trends. And if we aren’t able to keep up with certain topical conversations amongst our peer group, we feel we are lagging behind. Thus, creating a sense of anxiety and triggering a constant need to stay connected.

The psychology of FOMO

Beyond the causes, however, what is it that inherently makes us succumb to FOMO? 

Hedonic Treadmill

It is possible that the fear of missing out can be influenced by what’s known as the hedonic treadmill phenomenon

Also known as the hedonic adaptation, this psychological phenomenon states that after experiencing a positive or negative event, humans tend to quickly return to a relatively stable state of happiness or well-being.

Humans are said to have a natural set point for happiness that is determined largely by genetics and personality. When a person gets a promotion, buys a new car, or goes on vacation, they may initially feel happy and excited. But this feeling adapts over time, and soon enough, the initial boost in happiness diminishes as that baseline learns to adapt.

So despite the significant changes in circumstances, nothing is ever the same.

Whether it’s gains or losses, positive or negative, the feeling we have at that moment can become a new norm, and the initial happiness or sadness fades.

Need for Belonging

Having a sense of belonging and connection is one of the most fundamental needs of humans.

According to evolutionary theory, humans evolved to be social creatures who live in groups and rely on social bonds to survive. Belonging to a social group provided protection, resources, and increased reproductive success. It is the best way for us to survive as a species, and so the need to belong has become ingrained in our psychological makeup.

Belonging to some group or tribe also offers social support — whether thats emotional, informational, or intellectual. Social support plays a crucial role in our needs, as it gives us a sense of intimacy and psychological safety. This helps people cope with stress, navigate challenges, and in general, promote a better sense of well-being. 

And finally, the need to belong is also linked to shaping and forming our identity, as well as self-esteem. Being part of a social group helps individuals define their identity, which contributes to our self-concept. If we belong to a group that shares our same values, interests, or beliefs, this can reinforce a positive sense of self and nurture confidence.

How to deal with FOMO

So with all that, how do we go about managing and reducing our fear of missing out? Since we can’t always be tied down to this constant need to belong and anxiety about what we should be doing or being somewhere that perhaps we don’t truly need to be. 

Some of the ways you can learn to deal with FOMO better are:

  1. Prioritizing and setting boundaries – Clarifying personal values and priorities will help individuals make conscious choices about how they spend their time and energy. It gives them the flexibility of mind to focus on what is truly important to them. If we don’t have any boundaries of when to say ‘no’ and being okay with that response, we will always feel anxious that we’re missing out. 
  2. Limit social media use — Considering that social media is one of the key factors that cause FOMO, it’s important to take breaks from using it. We need to reduce exposure to all of these carefully curated representations of others’ lives and be aware that, social media is not reality. Ultimately, social media should be used as a tool, instead of our daily go-to
  1. Cultivate genuine connections — Quality over quantity in relationships is everything. We don’t need to have the most amount of friends and be a part of every single event out there. If you foster the right, genuine connections with people that matter, this can help reduce the fear of missing out on social interactions.
  2. Know yourself — Always learn to reflect on who you are, look deep within yourself, and discover who you truly are. Practicing mindfulness can be one way to do that, but also learning to appreciate what you have, who you are, and exploring the limits of yourself can teach you more about the world, than any number of events that, ultimately, don’t really matter. 


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