Why you should say no to FOMO, according to an expert

Confession: I have terrible FOMO. I thought I might have grown out of it by now, but at 24, I still haven’t been able to shake the feeling of needing to say yes to every plan, party, coffee or drinks meetup that comes my way. When I am invited somewhere, it is my automatic reflex to say “yes,” and that’s not always a good thing. More times than not, the fear of missing out drives me to be exhausted and borderline burned out.

FOMO: noun, an acronym for "fear of missing out," officially recognized by the Oxford Dictionary in 2013 as "anxiety that an exciting or interesting event may currently be happening elsewhere, often aroused by posts seen on social media."

As it turns out, I’m far from alone. Dr. Melissa Gratias, a productivity expert who literally wrote a children’s book about the phenomenon, says that FOMO is pervasive and widespread across different cultures, ages, and personality types. It is also strongly correlated to social media use, which is unsurprising. But overall, everyone experiences it to some degree—and we mean everyone.

Where does FOMO come from?

At its very core, the fear of missing out comes from our deep human desire to be connected, Gratias explains. It’s a classic psychology theory called social comparison, which basically means that we determine our own social and personal worth based on how we stack up against others. Do we know we shouldn’t compare ourselves to others? Of course. But is it easier said than done? Absolutely. It’s also driven by a fear that our own life experiences aren’t good enough, which sparks a cycle of both anxiety and negativity.

How many times have we been in situations where we say no to plans with friends or make the choice to hang at home in our PJs, only to open our phone a day later and see dozens of photos and Instagram stories of other people having what seems like the best time? It’s a yucky feeling. Because, if nothing else, “FOMO is envy,” says Gratias. And despite what our parents might say, it’s far from a new phenomenon. It’s just being seriously exacerbated by how much access we now have to the experiences of other people (cough, cough social media).

Why we should say no to FOMO:

Besides perpetuating a dangerous mindset that our lives aren’t good enough, FOMO has been proven to have negative effects on both our health and productivity levels. One study found that FOMO translated to fatigue, stress, and decreased sleep. Another found that FOMO was associated with lower mood and life satisfaction, which is a major bummer. That’s why it’s so important to break the cycle.

How we can say no to FOMO:

1 Accept it.

Instead of beating ourselves up for feeling a certain way, we should remember that it is part of being human. In other words: feeling a bit of FOMO is totally normal! We are not weak or jealous just because we find it difficult to say no to that friend or family member who invites us to an outing or obligation.

2 Shift your mindset.

“For every ‘yes’ we utter, we are always simultaneously uttering a thousand ‘no’s,’” says Gratias. “Most of the time, we are saying no to our ability to rest, have flexibility in our schedules, follow things we are passionate about, and allow for some margins in our lives,” she explains. Once we understand that we can never say yes to everything, and that all parts of life need to be prioritized, we give ourselves the power to refocus and to say yes only to things that really matter and will bring us joy.

3 Reduce time spent on social media.

Dr. Jean Twenge advises in her book iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy—and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood that we should try (emphasis on try) to spend no more than one hour a day on social media. There are plenty of apps like Offtime, Flipd, or Moment that can help you set timers and reminders when you’re starting to hit your limit for the day.

4 Practice gratitude.

When we’re constantly comparing ourselves to people on social media, we’re viewing our own lives through a lens of negativity, which breeds unnecessary anxiety. Instead, Gratias suggests considering gratitude not as an emotion or a feeling but as a concrete practice. Putting this in action can be as simple as journaling about a few moments, people, or experiences you are thankful for every day or week. This can help tremendously in seeing how wonderful your life is—even when you occasionally “miss out.”

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