Fear of missing out in a social media-saturated worldCounselling psychologist Tashi Gurung explains FOMO, its roots in childhood experiences and its varied effects on different age groups.
When social media came into existence, it solidified and brought forth a slew of complicated issues and mental health is a significant one. Internet addiction is under discussion within mental health communities as a potentially serious issue, although it is not listed in the DSM-5, a diagnostic tool used by mental health professionals. Studies on social media and its impact on mental health have shown associations with anxiety and depression, particularly affecting young adults who may experience low self-esteem and a negative self-perception.
Amid these challenges, another phenomenon that has risen up in recent decades due to social media is the fear of missing out (FOMO).
Tashi Gurung is a counselling psychologist at Happy Minds. In this interview with the Post, he delves into the complexities of FOMO and its effects, especially in a social media-saturated world.
What is FOMO?
FOMO can be understood in two aspects. The first is the perception that everybody else is doing much better than you. Feeling a sense of inadequacy in one’s life when perceiving that others are participating in more enjoyable activities. This observation may trigger compulsive behaviour to fill the perceived void. To put it simply, if I see friends hanging out without me, I might question why I’m not with them, leading me to accept invitations to various social events and even go out of my way to connect with people.
The persistent desire to always ‘be there’ can become overwhelming, driving individuals to consistently pressure themselves to be overly involved. In essence, this is what we refer to as FOMO.
FOMO has existed long before social media, but how has social media amplified its impact?
Social media, in general, has significant implications for mental health. With the world at your fingertips, the tendency to frequently check your social networking sites (SNS) has risen. Seeing people on social media living their lives may lead you to feel that your own life or identity doesn't measure up to those strangers on your feed, making FOMO prevalent. This can result in compulsive behaviour, such as obsessively checking your social media feeds.
How does FOMO affect people across different age groups?
In my experience, this phenomenon is more widespread among adolescents and young adults. In youth, the desire for belonging and connection is intense, making individuals more vulnerable to low self-esteem and a negative self-image. The transition from being a teenager to an adult is transformative and can trigger feelings of inadequacy, especially when observing peers accomplishing new things. While FOMO can affect older adults, its impact may be more pronounced in teenagers.
Are some people more prone to FOMO than others?
The roots of most mental health issues, including FOMO, often trace back to childhood experiences. In my work with patients, I’ve observed that individuals who have faced constant criticism from a parental figure during their formative years may internalise a sense of inadequacy. Those who grow up feeling that their efforts are never sufficient might find themselves caught in a cycle of feeling the need to constantly do more. For such individuals, the impact of FOMO can be particularly pronounced.
In what ways are FOMO and internet addiction similar?
Internet addiction can intensify FOMO, although the reverse is not as common.
How does FOMO affect interpersonal relationships?
When consumed by the fear of missing out, individuals may overlook real-life relationships, missing the true value of meaningful connections. If someone is constantly focused on perceived shortcomings, they may fail to appreciate the positive aspects of their real-life relationships, leading to potential strain and distance in these close connections.
At what point do the effects of FOMO warrant treatment?
As a psychologist, I recommend therapy at any stage in one’s life. Given that FOMO is common among adolescents and teenagers, seeking therapy can be beneficial for addressing self-image issues stemming from FOMO. A stable support system from an adult and a healthy environment where young individuals can openly discuss their feelings contribute significantly to fostering a positive mindset regarding mental health and addressing FOMO.
Is there a specific type of therapy and treatment you would suggest for FOMO?
In general, talk therapy proves helpful in addressing FOMO symptoms, provided the therapist establishes a strong and trusting relationship with the patient. Creating a stable environment where patients can freely share their thoughts is crucial in talk therapy.
During these sessions, we typically begin by exploring the ‘what’—understanding the patient’s symptoms and their thought process during those moments. We then delve into the ‘why’, often tracing back to the patient’s childhood or other formative experiences that have influenced their mindset. After thorough discussion, the focus shifts to developing positive behaviours as an alternative to their compulsive ones.