FOMO: How to Live Your Best Life

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Humans thrive on socialization and connection with other people; having a strong sense of community with people who have similar values and ideals can help to improve a person’s life in many ways! It’s no surprise, then, that as technological advances have continued to progress throughout recent decades, social networking has continued to be a priority. These advances have had a lot of positive outcomes for people but have also had some setbacks. When assessing the pros and cons of our constant social access, the pros are pretty obvious: we have unlimited ability to connect with and socialize with others! With just the swipe of a hand, we have access to all of our friends, family, and loved one’s information, thoughts, feelings, and can even see and/or talk to them as well! This opens up the ability for many who struggle with socialization due to anxiety or other mental concerns to have a place where they can reach out for socialization in a controlled environment and can also help people stay connected with friends and loved ones if they are not geographically close.

While there are many pros to this all-access socialization, every pro comes with a con. One particular con is directly involved with the instant access that was also mentioned as a pro! Having constant access to the whereabouts and happenings of our friends and family can be a good thing, but research has found that it has also made it harder for people to perspective take about their own lives, often causing people to feel poorly about their lives if they aren’t doing the same fun and seemingly exciting things that they see others doing on their social media feeds. The looming feeling is often called “FOMO”, which stands for Fear of Missing Out. This feeling, similar to jealousy, can consume a person’s thoughts and cause them to fixate on how poor their life is compared to those around them. People report that this constant wondering about what others are doing and how it compares to what they are doing takes over their life, causing them to incessantly check social media to reaffirm how they are doing… which can cause a person to feel almost constant unhappiness and sense of worthlessness that can bleed into their in-person life as well.

FOMO doesn’t usually come out of nowhere. Often, a person who is dissatisfied with their life will look outwardly to assess how they are doing. In this assessment, they end up being more critical of their own lives and see others’ lives as much more amazing and glamorous than it may really be. This is especially the case because people generally only post their most happy and happening moments, thus painting the picture that their lives are always the way their pictures or videos portray. No matter the cause, a person who is feeling poorly about their own life is likely to experience more FOMO, thus more anxiety and sadness about their life than those who can identify ways their life is going right.

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Researchers find that a person’s inclination to reach out to social media to distract from and avoid their feelings about their lives actually makes their sadness and feelings of worthlessness worse. FOMO feelings can create a self-fulfilling prophecy that reiterates all the negative thoughts and feelings a person is experiencing, thus contributing to more and more of those negative things. When a person feels unhappy with their own life, they can often retreat to the social media world, thus neglecting their own face to face relationships. This, in and of itself, can increase the feelings of isolation and loneliness, only continuing to affirm negatives about a person’s life. So, how can you live your best life and avoid the constant FOMO feels?

Here are some steps that can be helpful in improving your perception of your own life and avoid the anxiety and sadness that comes from that dreaded FOMO:

  • Take a Hard Look at Your Life!
    • The first step in improving the way you feel about how your life is going is to thoroughly examine it. Often, when someone is feeling sad, worthless, and generally unhappy, they can get stuck in a funk where they make assumptions or draw conclusions about how things are going without evidence to back them up. So, the answer to this is relatively straightforward… Take a hard look at your life and search for evidence for your beliefs about how you’re doing. Are you really performing poorly in your work or relationships? Are you really doing less fun and interesting things as your friends? If in this discovery you find that the answers to questions like these are yes”, the next question is an important one… Are there things you could do today that could help to improve these areas? Often small changes are all that’s needed to feel better about our lives. If you feel like you are poorly performing at work, maybe you need to make a habit of getting more sleep so you feel more motivated to get things done in your day! Or, maybe a discussion with your boss about your workload could benefit you. Taking a hard look at the problem areas of your life could help you to identify small areas to improve that would make a huge impact!
  • Search for the Good
    • Researchers who study mood and behavior continue to find over and over that people who generally think positively end up feeling more positive and have more positive things happening in their lives. If you think negatively about your life and its circumstances, you’re likely to feel negatively as a result. A good way to combat this is to search for the positives in your life and focus on those. While you may have things you would like to improve, most people can identify at least one thing that’s going right. The practice of taking a moment (or several) each day to be gracious for the things that you have and the ways things are going well will help you to feel more positive and able to tackle the things that need improving.
  • Get Some Support (In Person!)
    • While social media is a great way to connect, people still need and crave in person relationships and support to help them thrive. If you’re finding yourself stuck in a rut where nothing is going right, ask yourself how your in person social life is going; have you seen your friends recently? If not, this is a great place to start. Scheduling social events is a great way to experience a boost in your feelings about your life in general and when you’re out doing fun and interesting things, you will have less FOMO!
    • If you are struggling severely with getting yourself out to socialize and continue to feel hopeless and worthless and cannot seem to find positive things to think about your life and yourself, you may need some help from a mental health professional to help guide you through some techniques to help you cope and feel better about your life. Mental health professionals can assess your feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness and determine if it’s something that is just a phase that will pass or if you are experiencing a mental health condition that may need treatment to improve. Either way, having an in person (or online!) support system to help you get your life on track is always a great idea, and mental health professionals are experts on getting you to a place where you can live your best life.
Dr. Shannon McHugh is a Licensed Clinical and Forensic Psychologist in Los Angeles, California. She specializes in assessment and treatment of children, adolescents, and adults who have developmental and social delays, behavioral difficulties, and those who have experienced traumatic events