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What is FOMO? – Social Media & Mental Health

This week a variety of words were added to Oxford Dictionaries Online. The words likely have no meaning to many digitally-uncool adults, but teens and the technologically savvy (usually the same thing), however, are all too familiar with words due to their frequency of use on social media sites.

Due to the limited number of characters in a tweet most of the words represent shortened or abbreviated slang. “Vom”, short for vomit, “selfie,” a picture one takes of self from a smartphone, and “squee,” an exclamation of great excitement name a few of the dictionary’s new additions. How can we forget this week’s most famous term, “Twerk,” the butt up, face down, gyration made popular by Miley Cyrus on Sunday’s MTV Video Music Awards?

The Facebook Blues Revisited

Although most of the terms will never grace the lexicon of those over thirty, one was particularly of interest from a mental health prospective.  FOMO, most often seen as #FOMO, means:

“fear of missing out: anxiety that an exciting or interesting event may be happening elsewhere, often aroused by posts seen on a social media website.”

While the Internet and social media are applauded for the speed at which we can get information and for keeping us socially connected there is growing evidence that social media can be doing more harm than good. Research has linked social media use and abuse to decreased self-esteem, increased anxiety, and depression. These are even higher for those with preexisting self-image and/or mental health issues. Teens, of course, are most susceptible to anxiety, depression and self esteem issues and are the most likely to be using the Internet frequently, a combination that can be disastrous.

Teens are not the only one’s at risk for FOMO. A new survey conducted by MyLife.com revealed 56% of people are afraid of missing out on events, news and important status updates if they are away from social networks. An infographic on Mashable speaks to this powerful addiction, noting 52% of people report wanting to take a break from social media accounts this year but only 24% of those even believe they can follow through. Cited as the reason for giving in…FOMO, naturally.

FOMO is so powerful because of the immediacy of social media. Its one thing to be disappointed you were not included when you learn of a coworker’s weekend party over lunch later in the week. It’s an entirely different scenario to see a party unfolding over Instagram pictures, Facebook status updates, Foursquare check-in’s and tweets and to know you are (the seemingly only one) sitting at home, behind a computer screen, missing out on all of the fun. Loneliness, regret, and self-criticism facilitate an emotional feeding frenzy that allows depression, anxiety and other mental health issues to grow and take shape.

As with any other mental health diagnosis a beneficial way to reduce negative thoughts is to replace them with adaptive, positive alternative thoughts and behaviors. An important rule of thumb is it takes 5 positive thoughts to outweigh each one negative.

For example, if you are thinking “My life sucks, I’m 28, single and living in a rented apartment. Everyone else is married with babies.” You can challenge this by reminding yourself “My life is flexible, I have the money to take a trip whenever I want,” “I have the freedom to travel often,” “I am too busy for the responsibilities of a house” and “who wants to spend a grand on a new roof when I can go to Europe.”

Try taking pictures of your escapades and posting them online. You will likely feel better, though you may transfer FOMO to some other unexpecting internet-friend.



Murphy, Samantha. Report: 56% of Social Media Users Suffer From FOMO http://mashable.com/2013/07/09/fear-of-missing-out/ July 9, 2013.