FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) is (still) not a recognized mental illness, but merely describes a mental abnormality, the manifestations of which include smooth transitions from “still normal” to pathological dependency. FOMO is the fear of constantly missing out on something important that happens elsewhere and of being excluded from it. The feeling behind FOMO is not new, but it is strongly promoted by modern communication technologies in connection with online social networks.
What is FOMO?
According to gradinmath.com, FOMO is an acronym derived from the Anglo-Saxon expression Fear of Missing out. The term stands for a not precisely defined psychological state that arises from the constant fear or fear of missing out on something important that is organized by friends or acquaintances elsewhere and from which one is excluded.
FOMO subsumes psychological behaviors that result from the fear of missing out on something. Such feelings are normal to a certain extent and can promote cohesion and a sense of belonging in a group and have accompanied humanity since the beginning of its social order.
FOMO is being promoted enormously thanks to modern communication technologies, which have made it possible to develop and set up several so-called social networks, and show a clear tendency towards wider dissemination. A generally applicable definition for FOMO does not (yet) exist.
Some authors list various symptoms that are typically seen in people who are obviously affected by FOMO. A distinction is sometimes made between FOMO without technical devices and FOMO in connection with devices with which remote communication via the Internet is possible (smartphone, laptop, tablet).
The fear of missing out on something or of experiencing something that is much less fun or much less thrill than what friends have experienced and done is to a certain extent natural and normal. The feeling can fuel one’s ambition to do something more creative and challenging than what friends have done.
The situation can change quickly for people who are constantly browsing social networks online. This can lead to a large number of well over a hundred “friends” or “followers”. There is a risk that the experience horizon of individuals constantly stands out from a large group and can convey the feeling that you cannot keep up yourself.
In addition, it is very likely that someone from the crowd of friends is constantly experiencing something exciting and beautiful that one cannot participate in due to work or family obligations. Constant tracking of social networks can therefore greatly promote the emergence of the FOMO.
Symptoms, ailments & signs
A variety of symptoms can indicate FOMO. They range from certain psychological sensitivities that are not easily perceptible to outsiders to typical and conspicuous behaviors of those affected, which are also perceptible to the outside world.
Psychological sensitivities typically express themselves in sadness and frustration, because friends or followers are experiencing something great that you cannot participate in or that they are just having fun while you are only confronted with the dreary everyday life as an experience. Such feelings, in turn, encourage addictive anxiety and fear of missing out even more.
Often the psychological sensitivities result in a kind of addiction and compulsion to constantly have to check and follow messages in certain social media and to have to post their own experiences – even if they are merely banal. Affected people flee from reality in the virtual world of their “friends”.
FOMO can even lead those affected to invent and post experiences to enhance themselves. The behavior becomes conspicuous and even dangerous when it leads to obvious distractions and concentration disorders in professional life and in other everyday life. The communication behavior in direct dialogue – without a smartphone – can be significantly disturbed as a result.
Since there are no clear criteria for the presence of FOMO and the transitions from “still normal” to mentally conspicuous FOMO are fluid, the diagnosis must be based on several parallel symptoms.
One of the most important criteria that indicate FOMO is the dependence on social media, the compulsion to constantly follow messages from friends and followers and to have to constantly post them yourself.
The dependency, which is comparable to typical addictive behavior, can become so strong that the behavior in the real world in direct contact with real people and the ability to perform and concentrate in everyday working life and in other everyday life are impaired.
FOMO can cause various complications that can damage the body both mentally and physically. As a rule, those affected appear sad and depressed when an event or a meeting is missed. This can lead to inferiority complexes and depression.
In the worst case, the feelings of sadness are so strong that it leads to thoughts of suicide and ultimately to suicide. Often times, FOMO occurs in connection with severe stress. This leads to sleep disorders, severe exhaustion and headaches. A life without a smartphone and other digital media is unimaginable for those affected.
It is not uncommon for aggressiveness to occur when accessibility cannot be guaranteed. Complications can arise if the person concerned suffers from concentration disorders due to illness and is thus restricted in their work or in learning.
Treatment is usually done by a psychologist and deprived of social media and constant communication. In many cases, the disease progresses positively. However, FOMO can also occur later in life and limit the everyday life of the person concerned.
When should you go to the doctor?
A doctor should always be consulted at FOMO. The symptoms of the disease do not usually go away on their own and continue to get worse, so that those affected are dependent on medical treatment. The doctor should then be seen if those affected experience persistent sadness.
The sense of achievement is often associated with followers or virtual friends. Persistent fear and the fear that the person concerned might miss something is also indicative of FOMO and must be examined by a doctor.
Often those affected do not realize that they are suffering from FOMO. In these cases, it is primarily the parents and relatives who must lead the person concerned to treatment. In severe cases, a stay in a clinic may be necessary. A permanent compulsion to update the news on social media also very often points to FOMO.
This can lead to disturbed communication with the patient in everyday life. Usually, FOMO can be diagnosed and treated with a psychologist. However, it often takes a long time for those affected to admit the disease to themselves.
Treatment & Therapy
It is hardly helpful to recommend that people with FOMO avoid using social media altogether. A more promising therapy can be to help those affected to reflect on the use of social media and to put it on a more rational level.
This can lead to the realization that most posts are hardly relevant and there is practically no risk of missing something if, for example, the online visit is limited to certain times. It is also helpful to strengthen self-confidence to the extent that independence and self-determined activities are more satisfying than constant adaptation to the mainstream.
Outlook & forecast
The prognosis of the irregularities is based on various criteria that are directly related to one another. Although FOMO is not yet a recognized disease, the symptoms can still be influenced by the person affected. If therapeutic support is used, there is a good chance that the symptoms will be alleviated.
As soon as the causes of the fears or fears are clarified and changed, the person affected experiences a decrease in impairment. His active cooperation is required. Free of symptoms and thus a full recovery are possible under these conditions.
If the person concerned does not seek help, there will be a steady increase in the number of irregularities in a large number of cases. This significantly worsens the prognosis. An anxiety or panic disorder can develop in the further course, which results in a significant reduction in the quality of life. In severe cases, it is no longer possible for the person concerned to pursue everyday obligations and thus to fulfill professional or private tasks.
Withdrawal from participation in social life develops and reduces well-being even more. The development of the FOMO also depends on the individual personality of the person concerned. If a generally increased anxiety is anchored in the patient, the risk of an increase in symptoms is increased.
The most important preventive measure is to reflect on the use of social networks as early as possible. Social networks can be very useful and helpful. Only the unreflected use can lead to a dependency that is difficult to overcome.
At FOMO, the options for follow-up care are severely limited in most cases. As a rule, this disease can only be treated marginally, so that a complete cure cannot be guaranteed. The affected person is therefore often dependent on lengthy therapy in order to permanently alleviate and limit the symptoms.
In many cases, this also requires the help of friends and family to alleviate the symptoms of FOMO. The relatives must understand the disease correctly and be able to empathize with the patient. In general, loving care and support for the patient has a positive effect on the further course of the disease.
As a rule, the patient should be careful not to spend time on social media, as this behavior can significantly increase the symptoms of FOMO. Friends or their own parents can also pay attention to the use of social media and prevent those affected from using it. If possible, the person affected should also meet other people in real life and distract themselves from using social media. A complete handling of FOMO can also include the complete deletion of such a profile.
You can do that yourself
The sick can help themselves in everyday life with many behavioral tricks and possibilities to deal better with the existing complaints. Regular breaks, when there is no digital availability, ultimately promotes well-being and reduces the experience of stress. During rest phases and night sleep, it is helpful if the telephone and digital availability is interrupted.
Well-organized participation in recreational or sporting activities also helps to improve well-being and focus on other areas of life.
Discipline and good self-reflection for one’s own behavior are important in order to gain knowledge and understand connections. Through cognitive training, checking one’s own emotions and observing the reactions of other people, the sick person can perceive a lot about the triggers of his complaints and make improvements. The willingness to change one’s own behavioral structures should be given so that the disease can be alleviated.
By performing relaxation techniques, the patient can reduce their own stress and existing fears. Methods like yoga or meditation help to achieve mental relief and to achieve inner balance. In many cases, talking to the elderly is beneficial because another person’s life experience can provide new ways of thinking.