Social Media and the Fear of Missing Out (FOMO)

Whenever I find my mind wandering and unfavorably comparing what I’m doing, or worse my entire life to someone else’s, a quote from Teddy Roosevelt floats into my head.

I know. It’s odd to rely on the 26thpresident of the United States for comfort. But Teddy wisely reminds me, as he once famously said, that: “Comparison is the thief of joy.”

Granted, Teddy didn’t have to contend with Facebook, Instagram or SnapChat – to name just a few of the social media giants that prompt Fear of Missing Out or FOMO. He wasn’t lured to look at curated selfies of friends living it up on wild boar hunts in Borneo while he attended to the drudgery of running the nation. But he instinctively knew that losing our focus and fearing what we think we might be missing out on was a trap that could ensnare us in self-loathing, loneliness and lament.

Nowadays, FOMO is an undeniably real phenomenon fostered by social media use and capitalized upon by marketers to sell us everything from Uber rides to watches.

As many as 70 percent of adult Millenials fear missing out on something marvelous happening somewhere they’re not, according to a study from J. Walter Thompson Intelligence Communications.

In case you’re one of the outliers whose never experienced it, FOMO is that niggling anxiety that arises when you feel that something exciting or interesting is happening elsewhere while you’re at home paying bills. It’s that sour feeling you get in your stomach when you’re on Facebook and see a picture of your friends whooping it up at the bottom of the ski run in Mammoth, Ca. It’s the envy you feel when a colleague texts you a picture of herself at Disneyland with the parting line: “Wish you were here!” 

Honestly, who among us wouldn’t feel as though we’re missing out on something after taking in more than one of those posts a day? 

The reality is that we often serve ourselves a steady diet of FOMO when we mindlessly swipe, click and binge on our devices. The average person spends two hours a day on social media platforms, according to Social Media Today. And much of the time we’re unaware of the FOMO fallout. If you feel mildly disgusted after a social media session- a bit as if you’ve eaten a bag of sour gummies by yourself – FOMO might be at play.  

But don’t be too hard on yourself. Social media giants notoriously designed their platforms to hook into our brain’s reward center and keep us clicking away. Many tech companies are now trying to help us break our bad device habits. Apple, for example, offers a screen time feature that lets you know just how much time you spend on various apps, websites, etc. 

That’s helpful. But there’s a decidedly less high-tech way to regain your focus and avoid FOMO and that’s by practicing mindfulness. Mindfulness is about paying attention to the present moment, on purpose, without judgment. And in the face of FOMO, it’s a powerful ally. We can use mindfulness to purposefully engage in social media, to notice how it makes us feel and to appreciate our lives – even the small moments that aren’t Instagram worthy.

Here are three ways to apply mindfulness to your social media use and find your focus and joy in the New Year: 

Intentionally Use Social Media: Social media isn’t inherently bad. It’s an incredible tool that can help us connect and care for each other. But studies show that when we mindlessly engage with social media it can heighten our anxiety and depress us. Before going online, stop and take a breath. Think about how you’ll use your time on social media and for how long. While online, avoid reflexively clicking on links that unconsciously siphon your time and lead to social comparison. Taking advantage of tracking features such as Apple’s screen time also can give you feedback on whether and how you might need to limit your use.

Pay Attention to Your Body: There’s an expression that says the body doesn’t lie. If we tune in to how we physically feel in any given moment, we often can get a sense of how we’re emotionally fairing. While using social media, check in with your body. Does your body feel heavy or drained? Do you notice a sour feeling in your gut or tightness in your chest? If so, investigate the sensations a bit further and see if they’re connected to your emotional state. Do you feel anxious or a bit blue? Over time, such physical check ins can give you a somatic roadmap that quickly directs you to how you’re feeling, letting you know if it’s time to log off or if your time online has been well spent. 

Savor the Good: Few of us will ever post a picture of ourselves having a nice chat with a neighbor or going for a quiet walk alone in the park. But these are often the moments that make us feel good on a daily basis. Sure, a trip to Paris would be nice. But whenever you feel FOMO creeping up on you, stop, take a breath and redirect your attention to the smallest things you have to be grateful for in the present moment. Right now, for example, the feeling of the keyboard under my fingertips is as pleasant as playing a piano sonata. My chair is comfortable. And, my cat Peter, who is soundly sleeping at my feet, is the picture of peace. You can have Paris. Right now, this moment, in all its plainness, is pretty hard to beat. 


Sometimes applying mindfulness to your social media use takes practice and that’s ok. Visit eM Life to access on-demand content, expert instructors, and a community of support. Start learning mindfulness skills that can help become more intentional as you scroll the never-ending newsfeeds of social media. Learn to become more attentive to your bodies queues so you can let go of the FOMO feeling and savor the sweet moments of life.

About the Author
Kelly Barron. M.A., is a certified mindfulness facilitator, at UCLA and writer. She teaches mindfulness for UCLA’s Mindfulness Research Center as well as for corporations, schools and private groups. Kelly has worked as a mindfulness teacher with eM Life since 2016. She came to learn the value of mindfulness as a deadline-driven journalist. Now, she’s passionate about sharing mindfulness with others to help them live with more ease, clarity and joy. You can learn more about Kelly and read her blog at www.kellybarron.com.