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What Happens When FOMO Strikes?

Posted: October 17, 2020

Over time, different age groups have been affected by FOMO. It’s just that we now have a formal nomenclature to describe this anxiety.

My 24 year-old irritates me immensely when he tells me to “Chillax”! More than the action, it’s the expression that annoys me! But then, there’s a rule of thumb you should know if you are in any way linked to social media or its devotees. You need to be familiar with the list of trendy acronyms lest you feel out of place.

Just recently, my niece Neha shared an article with comic strips, showing how “FOMO” has become a persistent problem these days. What is FOMO? It was not too long ago that I became familiar with this jargon which translates to “Fear of Missing Out”.

A peek into FOMO

What is the psychology behind FOMO? It is the principle of loss aversion. Cognitive psychology talks about the tendency of human beings to try their best to avoid any losses which affect them much more than equivalent gains.

FOMO works in two ways. While one group of people suffers from this misery themselves, the second class works to give it to others. I had heard the story of a lady who had gone for a GDO (Girl’s Day Out) with two of her friends and had decided to post pictures of the outing on Facebook right from the venue. I really don’t know whether I should call her sadistic or shamelessly honest, for she said that she wanted to make someone jealous by making that person realize how much she had missed out on the fun!

FOMO has been there since time immemorial!

Is FOMO a malaise induced only by social media? Not necessarily! You will come across individuals who are in no way connected to Facebook, Instagram or any similar platform, yet they suffer from this fear of missing out on anything interesting that might be happening.

That’s just an inherent trait in their nature. Rain or shine, be it any obstacle coming their way, they will beat all odds to be present in a gathering because they want to be current on all the latest gossip or juicy tidbits circulating in the air. Hence, the desire to always be in the loop and to be part of every activity is not at all a new phenomenon.

Scientists at Carleton and McGill University conducted a study to examine the social-psychological basis of FOMO. The researchers came up with findings where FOMO was discovered to be associated with negative outcomes such as fatigue, stress, sleep problems, and psychosomatic symptoms.

Social media platforms have aggravated the problem!

Psychology Today carried a thought-provoking piece called “The Science of FOMO and What We’re Really Missing Out On”. The article emphasizes that the ubiquitous feeling that one is missing out actually pervades almost everyone.

Over time, different age groups have been affected by FOMO. It’s just that we now have a formal nomenclature to describe this anxiety. And since social media allows glimpses of what is happening in other people’s lives, we talk about it a lot. To quote the author: “The explosion of social media has launched our young people headfirst into the FOMO experience”.

We cannot ignore how social media has brought people together and helped us to share information. It brings so much joy when we are reconnected with long-lost friends and relatives who were once so close to us. However, like a double-edged sword, there are downsides too, and the problem arises when people get addicted to these platforms.

It’s a very common sight when we see people (we ourselves may belong to this class) in a party or a social gathering checking their cell phones an umpteen number of times to see if there are any updates! We want to be so involved with whatever is circulating.

In this digital age, we have a plethora of information at our disposal just at the click of a button. Good! We need to have the general awareness of events around us. There’s nothing to worry if the news, be it personal or otherwise, does not affect us in a negative way. But if for instance, you suddenly get those cramps learning and thinking about the excitement at a function that you were not a part of, it’s really pathetic!

It is not all rosy always!

What is the reality? The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. It does not need a genius to figure out that whatever glimpses you see of others in social media are obviously snapshots of the best moments and not a complete picture of their lives. No one wants to advertise their dull and boring moments. That is absolutely fine. An individual has the choice to tell others what he or she wants, and it is not necessary for people to wash their dirty linen in public.

Act smart, be mature!

The ball is in our own courts. We need to rationalize and focus more on what we have achieved rather than brooding over what we might have missed out. We need to be wiser. The guiding mantra here is NOT to compare our lives with others. There is no finish line if you aspire to design your life on the basis of someone else’s. If your parameters for life’s happiness are based on how much fun someone else is having or how included you need to feel in that extravaganza, you are steering your ship in the wrong direction. Besides anxiety and worry, it does not bring anything else.

Social relationships form the baseline of humanity. Our interactions with our fellow beings weave the fabric of our existence. The thought of leading a life like Robinson Crusoe is something not to be entertained.

So be happy, make friends, enjoy life to the fullest, but act mature. For instance, do not let your blood pressure rise when you discover that you have not been invited to that party where you would have so loved to put your dancing shoes on! You may have missed that teeny bit, but your life will still go on!

Photo by ELEVATE from Pexels

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Born in India, Rashmi Bora Das moved to the United States in the early nineties.

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