Social Media And The Fear Of Missing Out: Potential Effects And Solutions

Medically reviewed by Laura Angers Maddox, NCC, LPC
Updated February 25, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

With greater use of social media to observe other people’s lives, it can be easy to compare our lives to the ones we see represented on screen. We may be led to believe that other people have better lives and experiences than we do, whether it’s their relationships, social circles, careers, finances, or vacations. This belief might grow to include the perception that other people are doing more exciting, interesting, or fun things without us — leading us to feel fear or anxiety that we are missing out on a fun or popular event. This fear has become so common that it even has a name, an acronym, and an entry in the Oxford dictionary: FOMO, the fear of missing out. 

Read on to learn more about FOMO’s connection to social media, its impact on our mental health, and some ways to reduce FOMO and find greater satisfaction in our own lives. 

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Everyone feels left out occasionally

FOMO and its link to social media

The term FOMO was coined in the early 2000s as more people began to experience the feeling while viewing social media posts. Social media allows its users to create an attractive, curated portrayal of themselves that their audience may confuse with reality. Because we only see another user’s “highlight reel” of their life, we may be led to believe that their life is attractive, fun, and interesting all the time, or at least more often than ours. FOMO can set in especially if you belong to the same social circle as someone you are following but were not part of a particular experience they posted about.   

The effect of FOMO on mental health and how to cope

While social media is intended to create digital social networks and communities, it can also have the opposite effect of causing feelings of isolation from real-life social circles and experiences that the user feels left out from. This sense of isolation, coupled with FOMO, can lead to a stronger need to connect with other people through social media, creating a consuming cycle of constantly checking to see what others are doing. 

People with FOMO may experience feelings of loneliness, lowered self-esteem, social anxiety, feelings of inferiority, and depression. One study found that university students with high FOMO were more likely to text while driving, perhaps because they were less able to concentrate on the present moment.  

While there is still limited scientific research on the mental health impacts of FOMO, social media users themselves have provided a glimpse of public opinion on the matter. A 2019 national poll of American social media users found that 67% of adults polled believed that social media usage is linked to loneliness and social isolation. Only 5% of adults polled believed social media was positive for mental health in general. 

Reduce time on social media

If you’re experiencing FOMO from social media use and have noticed that it’s taken a toll on your mental health, it could be beneficial to reduce your dependency on social media. Not comparing ourselves to others might be easier said than done, so try an out-of-sight, out-of-mind approach if you want to continue enjoying the benefits of social media. Follow accounts that inspire you and unfollow or mute the accounts that trigger feelings of FOMO. Silence the notifications on your phone, so you aren’t reminded throughout the day about social media activity. 

Remember that not everyone you follow is a friend in real life. It may help improve your mood to focus on building real-life connections outside of social media. You may consider limiting the amount of time you spend each day on social platforms and swapping that time for activities that involve face-to-face interaction.

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Practice gratitude

One study found that people who were already dissatisfied with their lives were more likely to have FOMO. Gratitude may reduce feelings of FOMO and dissatisfaction by shifting our attention away from other people’s lives and focusing instead on the worthiness of our own. Practicing gratitude has been shown to increase feelings of happiness and reduce stress and symptoms of depression. Keeping a journal and writing down at least one thing a day that you’re grateful for could be a simple way to incorporate gratitude in your daily life. 

Find support in therapy

If you or a loved one are experiencing the negative effects of FOMO, therapy may be a helpful option for shifting your attention towards your own life. One study developed a method for managing and reducing FOMO, including raising a person’s self-awareness of why they felt FOMO and under which contexts, followed by learning to manage their expectations about interactions on social media. Participants also tested methods such as practicing positive self-talk, doing activities they enjoyed that distracted them from social media, and setting goals for changing negative habits related to their social media use. A therapist may be able to work with you in a similar way by discussing with you how and when you experience FOMO and what you can do to alleviate those feelings when they arise. 

An increasingly popular method for getting therapy is through online therapy platforms such as BetterHelp. Research has found that online therapy can be effective in treating an array of mental health conditions and illnesses, including depression and anxiety. One type of therapy now available with online therapists is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), a type of therapy that helps the patient manage and change negative emotions by changing self-limiting thoughts and beliefs. One study discovered no significant differences between the effects of in-person and online CBT in terms of post-treatment outcomes. 

An additional benefit of online therapy is from wherever you have an internet connection and smart device, such as a computer or phone. One feature of BetterHelp that may be helpful for people with FOMO is the option to message your therapist in between sessions. You and your therapist may decide to use the in-app messages to help keep you accountable to the goals you’ve set for yourself. 

Therapist reviews

Take a look below at a review of a BetterHelp therapist from someone experiencing similar issues:

“Nancy is very knowledgeable of the things causing stress/anxiety in our lives today (Covid, social media, addiction, self-love, money, family, etc.). She is a wonderful listener and a quick responder. She backs up her advice with factual evidence, and overall makes you feel better.”

Learn More About Nancy Distefano

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Everyone feels left out occasionally

Takeaway

It is natural to compare ourselves to others, but when this morphs into a fear of missing out on what other people are doing, we may lose sight of the worthiness of our own lives. Some ways to lessen our FOMO include disconnecting from social media and practicing gratitude. If FOMO is interfering with your daily life or causing symptoms of anxiety or depression, you may benefit from talking to a therapist about it.
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