What is the fear of missing out?

by | Jun 28, 2023

You noticed on Facebook that two of your friends are taking a trip together. “Wait, why am I missing out on the fun?” And now you’re hooked on monitoring plans – that don’t include you.

And, bam, we begin to spend hours on platforms comparing, keeping score, and confirming our deepest insecurities.

Very few of us like the feeling of missing out.

But when not liking turns into fear, it’s time to take a long hard look.

Background

Came across a fascinating article on Psychiatric Times. “Understanding the Fear of Missing Out” was written by psychiatrist Dr. Rashmi Parmar.

I really didn’t know much about the condition and how troubling it can be. After boning up, I knew I had to bring it to you.

Dr. Parmar provided a wealth of quality information, primarily within the context of social media.

We’re going to do a two-parter. We’ll handle what the fear of missing out is in this piece. And we’ll talk about cause and what to do about it in part two.

The vast majority of what you’re about to read comes from Dr. Parmar’s work.

“Understanding the Fear of Missing Out”

Dr. Parmar doesn’t pull any punches coming out of the gate. She observes that social media feeds our need to live our lives through others. Of course, we have plenty of them at our fingertips, 24/7.

Hours can fly by as we stare at the screen, becoming all the more vulnerable to what Parmar calls the “sticky trap” of fear of missing out: FOMO.

By the way, FOMO is often associated with social media; however, it isn’t an exclusive arrangement.

Subtle beginnings

Parmar points out that FOMO is subtle in the beginning. Aw, seeing an image of friends enjoying time together or the “perfect” family taking a dream vacation. But what’s beginning to sink in is we’re not part of the picture – the fun. We may even believe we’ve been excluded.

And, bam, we begin to spend hours on platforms comparing, keeping score, and confirming our deepest insecurities.

Definition and characteristics

The term “fear of missing out” was coined in 2004, as image-based platforms opened the door to people’s lives.

It was defined in 2013 as a “pervasive apprehension that others might be having rewarding experiences from which one is absent.”

FOMO is associated with lack of sleep, reduced life competency, emotional tension, negatively affected physical well-being, anxiety, and a lack of emotional control.

It can be felt as a single episode, long-term disposition, or overall state of mind. Ultimately, it can lead to a deep sense of social inferiority, loneliness, or rage.

Touches upon our vulnerabilities

understanding the fear of missing out

“I’m not getting any likes – nothing. Guess that kind of makes me a loser.”

FOMO touches upon many of our vulnerabilities.

For instance, in adolescents with social anxiety, not having to go face-to-face on platforms, such as Instagram and Snapchat, makes it easier to satisfy unmet social needs.

Thing is, though, it sidesteps the hard and valuable work of talking to people in person – with unedited and unfiltered versions of reality – for personal validation.

Much of that validation comes from attracting likes and engagement. When it doesn’t happen, it can spark frustration and rage, leading to a distorted sense of self and reward.

The social media snare

It’s hard to fathom that we experience struggles when all we see are images of perfect bliss. Social media influencers are all over that with stylized content geared to build audiences, sell products, and keep us coming back.

According to Dr. Parmar, FOMO is a big reason people choose to follow influencers. Fact is, we don’t want to miss out. And social media platform administrators know it.

Really, we’re dealing with addiction dynamics. And cross-sectional studies indicate a strong correlation between internet addiction and mood, anxiety, and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorders.

The Instagram leak

Dr. Parmar shares that Instagram has long been accused of knowingly stoking the flames of FOMO. Their own internal research found that 66% of girls and 40% of boys have been confronted with negative social comparisons on the platform.

She goes on to report that In a 2021 leak, former employee and whistleblower Frances Haugen revealed that company officials knew of the app’s danger to teens but did nothing to address it – even after researchers offered suggestions.

Due to a subsequent investigation, Instagram’s parent company Meta (formerly Facebook) temporarily put on hold plans to launch Instagram Kids, an app directed at users aged 13 years and younger.

What?

As of this writing, the app isn’t available. However, Meta continues to launch parental supervision tools and privacy features. Many experts question their effectiveness and Meta’s intent.

For example, kids need to opt in if they want their parents to supervise their accounts. That allows parents to set time limits, track time, and see who their children are following and who’s following them.

But how ‘bout this? In an effort to “balance teen safety and autonomy” parents can’t see message content. What?

For much more on the dangers of social media: “Social media and youth mental health: An advisory” and “The truth about social media and teenage suicide: The Molly Russell story

On to part two

That’s a wrap for part one. Were you familiar with the fear of missing out and all that comes with it? Serious business, don’t you think?

More of Dr. Parmar’s informative work in part two, as we dig into causes and what to do about FOMO.

Dr. Parmar’s article on Psychiatric Times: “Understanding the Fear of Missing Out

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