It happens on a daily basis. I routinely scroll through my Facebook feed while sipping my morning tea. That's when I see photos and status updates about people doing things: going to fabulous charity events, attending basketball games from the company box, brunching at the newest hotspot, or sipping mojitos on an exotic beach, and all with perfectly filtered photographic evidence to show for it. Thanks to the wonders of 4G, these friends’ day-to-day lives have somehow become part of my own too. It often stirs a jittery feeling inside me, and I sometimes find myself asking “Why am I not doing those things?”
I just received my 12-year anniversary notification from Facebook, and it has taken me about 10 of them to realize that what we witness on our screens is simply a “highlight reel” of our friends’ lives. Nevertheless, we can begin to doubt ourselves and our priorities. We wonder why our social and personal lives aren’t as robust as theirs, and how exactly we can achieve that elusive balance of living a productive, covetable, and vigorous life, all while remaining sane.
In 2013 the word “FOMO” was officially added to the Oxford Dictionary. This clever acronym, which stands for fear of missing out, was coined to describe that anxious feeling that can arise when you feel there is a more exciting prospect that is happening elsewhere — and unfortunately, you’re not there.
Face Your FOMO
I suggest a few practices that can help you come face-to-face with your FOMO — and ultimately, beat it.
1. Admit you have a problem.
Let’s get real, and say it with me: “I cannot be everywhere at all times and always be doing the coolest thing ever. And that’s OK.” Doesn’t that feel better? Admitting and accepting that you have anxiety can feel like your secret has been unleashed to the universe and the burden is off your shoulders. You’re acknowledging the insecurity, and with that recognition you can now tackle the problem.
2. Switch off the chatter.
For gosh sakes turn off your phone! Learn to redo your morning without your eyes glued to Instagram. It may not be viable to deactivate your social media accounts, but learn to limit your activity. One CBT (cognitive-behavioral therapy) technique prescribes setting aside a certain time of day to check all your social media outlets. Let’s say that you take the bus home from work every day from 5:30 to 6:10 pm. Make this your one and only time of day to check your accounts. Find a time of day that works for you to catch up with Facebook, and stick to it.
3. Practice mindfulness.
Mindfulness is a therapeutic technique that refers to a nonjudgmental observation or awareness that is focused on the present experience. Try this mindfulness immersion exercise: Take a mundane daily activity like washing the dishes and try to sense the muscles you use to wash, the scent of the soap, and the feeling of bubbles between your fingers. Rather than multitasking or hurrying up this task to get on to the next one, appreciate your current state of being. Mindfulness can help those with major FOMO enjoy what they are doing in the here and now, instead of yearning for what else could be.
Dr. Gupta specializes in CBT for anxiety and related disorders. She is Clinical Director at TherapyNest, A Center for Anxiety and Family Therapy in Los Altos, California.