why do we get fomo? we asked a psychologist

Practical advice for dealing with the Fear Of Missing Out, from real life psychologist Dr. Lauren.

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15 May 2018, 7:58am

The only thing to fear is missing out -- at least according to a new study, which claims a third of people aged 18 to 34 have got into debt trying to keep up with their friends.

Over a quarter said they felt uncomfortable saying “no” when one of their pals suggested an activity they couldn't afford, while two-thirds claimed to have experienced deep regret after forking out more than they should have on a social situation. The survey was conducted by Credit Karma and was in no way meant to encourage cash-strapped millennials to join personal finance services such as their own.

The scientific reason for all this is, of course, FOMO -- the niggling, pervasive anxiety that comes with feeling as though something better is happening somewhere. But what exactly is the cause of the dreaded Fear Of Missing Out? And what can we do to combat it? We spoke to licensed psychologist Dr. Lauren Hazzouri to find out.

Hello Dr Lauren! What is FOMO please?
The dictionary definition of FOMO is “anxiety that an exciting or interesting event may currently be happening elsewhere”. However, I’ve heard FOMO used in a more general sense too, from social activities to material things, social status and career success. In this context, FOMO would manifest as a fear of making the wrong decision -- the one that will leave you feeling like you’re missing out on what could have been. This can happen socially by saying “Yes!” to coffee with mom [Dr Lauren means “mum”, but she’s American] when the next invite might possibly be for the super-fun party with all of the cool cats. It can also be saying “Yes!” to the dress, when the more beautiful dress that makes you look like the rockstar you are is in the next boutique.

What are the main symptoms of FOMO?
1. Overcommitting yourself to the point that you can’t be present anywhere you are because you’re always readying to hop off to the next thing. Overcommitment also creates anxiety, not knowing how you’re going to do all you have planned in the day or worrying if your company might be disappointed when you ditch out early to make it to your next event.

2. Not committing to anything for fear of losing out on something else. Often times, people who suffer from FOMO never say, “Yes!” or do so last minute, so as to keep options open. This way, they’re always disappointed with what they’re actually doing because that next imaginary great thing never came along.

3. Feeling bad for missing a social gathering, which leads to negative emotions. When sufferers see the snaps and stories on their phones, as they sit home and study for an exam or take care of their sick mother, many experience feelings of disappointment or even regret.

4. Engaging in the comparison game. Who knew that everyone had all of these amazing lives? People with FOMO have difficulty focusing on being happy. Instead, they focus on being happier than… The problem is there’s no such thing as being happier than a perfectly curated feed. Someone’s Instagram feed doesn’t necessarily correlate with mood.

5. Checking your phone every three minutes to make sure you’re not missing anything can create feelings of restlessness, anxiety and distractibility. When FOMO is ruling your brain, you’re unable to live your own life in real life. If there’s a recipe for mood concerns, the inability to be present and a lack of gratitude is it.

What are the causes?
It’s said that those with a history of anxiety or depression are more at risk of suffering from FOMO. However, from my perspective, low self-esteem is the most significant contributor. Think about it this way, only someone who doesn’t recognise their own value would feel they had to be connected geographically to others all the time. Those of us with healthier self-esteem have the ability to connect in a meaningful way. Meaningful connection is felt as much in physical absence as it is in presence. Healthy self-esteem helps us to understand that out of sight doesn’t mean that we disappear or lose value. We are simply present elsewhere.

So what can we do to lessen the impact?
1. Manage that stinkin’ thinkin’! Thoughts lead to feelings and feelings lead to behavior. Each of us has many thoughts, up to 70,000 per day! The goal is to get so familiar with your thoughts that you can instantly recognise the thoughts that are bringing on the FOMO. Once you know which thought patterns cause the unwanted feelings, you can change them. If you change how you think, you can change how you feel and how you behave.

2. Take two minutes to relax IRL! Your body cannot be anxious and relaxed at the same time. So, consciously relax your muscles. Taking a couple of minutes to stop, breathe and get present can reduce stress, increase mood and decrease anxiety in an instant. Focus your attention on your breathing, exhale slowly. Scan your body for tension. Loosen the cramped body parts, letting go of anything you’re holding too tightly. Recall a good memory, favorite place or event. Continue to breathe, exhaling slowly. Repeat, as needed.

3. Use your senses to practice mindfulness. Use your senses -- sight, sound, touch, taste and smell -- to get present. Look at the project at hand: the black and white words on the page of your book, the icons across the bottom of your computer screen. Listen to the buzzing of the motor, the conversation between the couple next to you at the coffee shop. Feel your hands on the steering wheel as you drive your bestie to your favourite hangout. What fabric is on your seat? Is it smooth? Taste the mint in your mouth, really taste it, savour it. Smell the flowers blooming. Being in this very moment, instead of worrying about missing out on other moments. Doing so will decrease stress and increase mood. Get present -- and awaken to now.

4. A little perspective please! Spend less time painting a public-self portrait and more time becoming your ideal-self (the person you want to be). Of course, you can document your journey with several selfies, but it’s important to be aware that this journey is on you, for you -- not about you, for your followers. You’ll see. When you’re living your best life IRL, you’ll be less concerned about how others are living theirs.

5. Get in the flow! Flow, a term coined by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, is the result of being so engaged in an activity that your awareness of time disappears, and you are almost one with what you are doing. I’m sure you’ve heard an artist talk about losing herself in her art. She's describing flow. To achieve flow, you need to be able to do three things: engage for an ample amount of time on one task, focus wholeheartedly and with intensity, and finish the task to completion. Ready, set, flow!

Dr. Lauren Hazzouri is a licensed psychologist and founder of HeyLauren.com and The Practice, a community of women getting radical with their own being in relentless pursuit of self.