Ugh, FOMO! How the fear of missing out is worse than we thought

Turns out it’s a legit thing and it hits us in the wallet too.

Turns out it’s a legit thing and it hits us in the wallet too

(Credit: Getty Images)

That one night you decide to stay in to enjoy some alone time… can sometimes suck! We've all spent hours in bed scrolling our feeds on the whereabouts of our friends and families, feeling like the entire world is having a good time without us. It's called FOMO — the fear of missing out — a prevailing anxiety we get that we've been excluded from important activities or social interactions. It's often triggered by the window that social media provides and it's not hard to see why: a timeline of what everyone you know is up to is the perfect recipe for it. But aside from its general acceptance online, is this a legitimate social phenomenon? Turns out it is and, according to recent research, its effects may be deeper than we realize.

A pair of studies from the University Of British Columbia examined the mental health effects that FOMO can have. The first surveyed 1,099 freshman students and discovered that 48% of them believe their friends have more close friends than they themselves do. Researchers hypothesize that this belief could be due the fact that, especially in a university setting, students would usually see their friends amongst other friends (eating, studying, playing sports, etc.), as opposed to seeing them alone.  Similarly, when we scroll our social media, we often see people socializing and project our FOMO to assume they simply have more friends than we do.

The second survey of just under 400 students revealed that those who feel less social than their friends also felt a lower sense of belonging and overall well being. While this places the effect of FOMO in a tangible context, researchers believe that, over time, this can be used as a motivating factor to actually be more social.

While the idea that FOMO can motivate us socially is encouraging, this quest to catch up can also drain our other resources. A non-academic survey of almost 900 Canadians found that 70% believe that nearly a quarter of their financial debt can be attributed to FOMO-fearing activities. 31% of FOMO-fearing dollars went towards entertainment and 24% on food, with 30% of participants going so far as to say they wouldn't give up eating out due to FOMO. 38% also cited FOMO as the reason they could not give up social media. Some doctors even believe that the combination of FOMO with the speed of social media can actually be impacting our brains at the neurological level. After the initial stimulation digital media can provide, the brain adapts quickly and continually seeks out the novelty of new information it can provide, placing us at a self-imposed state of stress that's hard to break. We're essentially seeking out FOMO without even realizing it.

While many of us may have experienced FOMO outwardly, these findings into the mental and financial effects demonstrate that it's impact is far deeper and tangible than we first realized and it's important we understand and remedy this now more than ever. It's worth noting that FOMO is a game hopelessly rigged in the poster's favour — studies have shown that many of us often alter, doctor or falsify the lives we're living just so we're better able to share them on social media, so it's woefully unfair to compare our worst moments to someone else's "best". 

The best remedy to FOMO may be the concept of JOMO — the joy of missing out. Yes, it requires unplugging. Being aware of the mounting pressures FOMO places on our lives might be the first step to realizing that the best way to save our money and our minds is by stopping the scroll and letting the world pass us by every once and a while.