FOMO for all: Fear of missing out is more about loneliness, not your age

PULLMAN, Wash. — Social media allows people to enter different settings without physically being there. In turn, the fear of missing out (FOMO) has become a common phenomenon in modern society. Despite the stigma FOMO is something that only affects social media-driven adolescents and young adults, Washington State University researchers find FOMO can strike people of all ages. The study concludes that the fear of missing out is more about personal loneliness than what’s going on elsewhere in the world.

“FOMO is not an adolescent or young adult problem, necessarily. It’s really about individual differences, irrespective of age,” says lead author Chris Barry in a university release. “We expected FOMO to be higher in younger age groups, particularly because of the tremendous amount of social development happening at those times, but that’s not what we found.”

The WSU team examined psychological aspects of 400 people from around the United States. The group, ranging in age from 14 to 47, answered questions about their social media use, life satisfaction, and self-perception.

Does social media really drive FOMO?

The results showed that social media use was not good at predicting FOMO. For instance, two people with the same engagement level on their social accounts can feel FOMO’s impact differently. However, social media may worsen symptoms of FOMO.

“We’re not all equally prone to the Fear of Missing Out, but for those who are, social media can exacerbate it,” Barry explains. “Social media allows you to witness what other people are doing and what’s going on in their lives. If there’s already concern about missing out, then there will be distress at seeing that on social media.”

Barry’s suggestion is to cut back on social media usage or do away with it all together if you feel as though you’re missing out. Barry adds more helpful tips for those who suffer with FOMO, low self-esteem, and low self-compassion.

“To do something about FOMO, individuals can foster a greater sense of real connectedness to others which will lessen feelings of isolation. You can also try being more in the moment, concentrating on what is in front of you as opposed to focusing on what else is going on out there.”

Study authors note the importance of concentrating on what’s happening in front of you, rather than the connection to things you can’t control or be a factor in. There’s less FOMO involved when you increase mindfulness.

The study is published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships.

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