Keeping Summer FOMO at Bay
Although it’s not exclusively a summer phenomenon, the Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) can be particularly strong this time of year. Suddenly, it seems like everyone you know is taking vacations to exotic locales, getting married in front of stunning vistas, and even having way more fun than you are right here in town.
It’s only human nature to make comparisons, and it’s also natural that those comparisons end up leaving us feeling sad, empty, bored, or worried that life is passing us by. But those feelings are often based on assumptions, negative biases, and incomplete data that only show part of the picture, leaving us feeling like we don’t measure up. The good news is that once we recognize that our FOMO is inaccurate and bad for our well-being, we can take action to find a healthier and more balanced perspective.
Practice critical thinking on social media.
By now you’ve probably read about research showing that social media has a negative impact on mental health, triggering feelings of anxiety, depression, isolation, and yes, FOMO. For that reason, experts and laypeople alike have recommended periodic social media breaks as a way to boost mood, health, and even body image. The “digital detox” is a fantastic way to reset and get some perspective on life outside our devices.
However, avoiding social media completely is not possible or even desirable for most of us these days. For better or worse, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Snapchat are part of how we connect with friends and family, stay informed, and do business. So it’s important to build skills for navigating our social media feeds critically. That means:
- Being deliberate about how and when we’re online. I use social media to stay in touch with friends, share photos, keep up with current events, connect with different communities, and promote my practice. At least, that’s my intention! But in practice, I can sometimes find myself mindlessly browsing and oops, two hours have gone by. Set a timer if you’re someone (like me) who tends to get sucked into a rabbit hole of hilarious cat videos and political news.
- Noticing when we’re making comparisons, and questioning them. Is it actually true that everyone’s having more fun than you are? Is it possible that this Saturday’s “cocktails on the beach” photo was preceded by last weekend’s three-day Netflix binge that didn’t make the cut for Instagram? The point isn’t to take your friends down a peg, but it is to keep in perspective that their lives ebb and flow, just like yours.
- Considering the intent behind posts. Most people on social media curate their feeds to feature interesting, fun or exciting shots that show the selves we want the world see. We don’t typically choose to share the mundane or the unflattering. So as “spontaneous” as those Snaps may seem to be, remember that they’re most likely chosen because they reflect a certain narrative. This goes triple for social media celebrities or anyone trying to get you to buy something.
There’s nothing quite like gratitude as an antidote to FOMO. Positive psychologists like Dr. Robert Emmons at UC Davis have been studying gratitude for over a decade, and have found a host of benefits to health and well-being. When we practice gratitude, we focus our attention away from what we might be missing out on, and instead pay attention to appreciating what’s going well and what we already have.
It’s ok if you’re not feeling particularly grateful right now – even if you think you “should” be feeling more grateful than you do. Although people may fall naturally at different places on the gratitude spectrum, this is actually an emotion and a trait that we can actively cultivate with practice.
One simple way to get started: Keep a list of three things you feel grateful for every day before you go to bed. I like to keep one on my phone, but plain old pen and paper work great too. Be specific! If you are most grateful for your amazing daughter, don’t simply add her to your list every day; over time, adding the same item can become rote and less likely to generate grateful feelings. Instead, try to find a moment that you feel particularly grateful for today, like hearing her say “I love you,” or getting to take a walk together.
Take one small step towards something meaningful.
When we’re caught up in FOMO, we’re reacting from a place of fear and scarcity. We worry that we aren’t good enough or that something important is missing in our lives. And yes, those reactions are generally based in distortions and assumptions as we discussed above.
That’s all true. And yet, there’s also a seed of truth that makes FOMO so powerful: We all crave connection, meaning, and purpose, and we’re not always getting those very real needs met. And so, a picture of our friends’ Napa tour might trigger envy and sadness at not being invited, but it’s probably not about Napa or even that specific group of people. More likely, it’s about our universal need for belonging and acceptance.
Instead of reacting to FOMO by letting our emotions run wild, we can react to those same emotions with curiosity and interest. They may point us towards areas in our lives where we might want to make a change. Do we need to adjust our priorities to allow for a better work/life balance? Is it time to join a Meetup or dating service to make new connections, or call up a friend you haven’t spoken to in a while? FOMO, used wisely, can help us realign our daily lives with our big-picture values. Once we’ve gotten clear on something that needs to change, we can take the first, small step towards a more fulfilling life.
If you’re stuck in the FOMO blues and nothing seems to help, it may be time to seek out some professional support. A trained therapist can help you challenge negative thought patterns and find new ways to move forward.
In the Bay Area, I am currently accepting new clients for Saturday and weekday evening appointments in Oakland and San Francisco. I work with women professionals and students, and enthusiastically support the needs of LGBTQ women, and women of color. Summer FOMO special: Mention this article for $160 total off your first 4 sessions if you schedule a first appointment before 7/31. Call 510-368-8153 to schedule a free 20 minute phone consultation today.