5 Ways to Fight FOMO

Social media makes us feel connected and neglected. Savvy Psychologist Dr. Ellen Hendriksen offers five ways to conquer FOMO (aka the fear of missing out).

Ellen Hendriksen, PhD
4-minute read
Episode #92

Fear of missing out isn’t new. A generation ago, it was called “the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.”

But today, social media brings us up close and personal with all of our friends’ metaphorical grass.  We’re privy to pictures of their vacation in the Bahamas, the artisanal Charcuterie they ordered at that hot new bistro, and last weekend’s homebrew tasting party.

Enter FOMO—fear of missing out, which, in a first-of-its-kind study on FOMO from 2013, is defined as “a pervasive apprehension that others might be having rewarding experiences from which one is absent.”

FOMO comes in different flavors. To find yours, ask yourself, “If I did miss out, what would that mean about me?” Here are three of the most common answers:

FOMO Flavor #1: “I made the wrong decision.” FOMO causes anxiety by undermining confidence in your life decisions. The decisions might be as small as what restaurant you last tried, or as big as what career or lifestyle you’ve chosen. This type of FOMO feeds the unanswerable, anxiety-provoking questions of “if only” and “what if?” Indeed, that 2013 study showed that those who experience higher levels of FOMO also reported lower levels of overall life satisfaction.  

FOMO Flavor #2: “Other people are having a better time than me.” This is essentially envy, which is a mix of inferiority and resentment. This type is closest to what the term implies: that you’ve been left out, either unthinkingly or deliberately by others, or because you weren’t in the know, didn’t have access, or couldn’t muster the guts to go. 

FOMO Flavor #3: “I suck.” Or, for the extended version, “Because I wasn’t invited, didn’t know about it, couldn’t make it, etc. I suck.” You get the idea. This is essentially insecurity. Remember that everyone feels this way at least occasionally. When you get hit with waves of insecurity, you are not alone. That said, the researchers found that if individual’s “psychological needs were deprived,” they were more likely to seek out social media and experience FOMO.  What psychological needs did they mean? Specifically, there were three: feeling competent, making meaningful choices, and feeling connected to others. The absence of any or all of those laid fertile ground for FOMO.

What’s the cost of FOMO, besides feeling anxious, envious, and insecure? Well, in addition to the exhaustion of constantly comparing your experiences to others’ experiences, the result of FOMO is actually missing out. Hear me out on this one.  Pretend you’re at a restaurant with friends, or home having a perfectly relaxing evening, but when you check your alerts and updates to find a party you’re not at, your mind stops enjoying and starts comparing. The result? We neglect the present. We end up discounting and being distracted from the most important social experience of the moment: the one we’re actually in.

OK, so what to do?  How to turn FOMO into focus? Here are five tips to try.


All content here is for informational purposes only. This content does not replace the professional judgment of your own mental health provider. Please consult a licensed mental health professional for all individual questions and issues.

About the Author

Ellen Hendriksen, PhD

Dr. Ellen Hendriksen was the host of the Savvy Psychologist podcast from 2014 to 2019. She is a clinical psychologist at Boston University's Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders (CARD). She earned her Ph.D. at UCLA and completed her training at Harvard Medical School. Her scientifically-based, zero-judgment approach is regularly featured in Psychology Today, Scientific American, The Huffington Post, and many other media outlets. Her debut book, HOW TO BE YOURSELF: Quiet Your Inner Critic and Rise Above Social Anxiety, was published in March 2018.