Science Says Some People Struggle With FOMO More Than Others, So Here's How To Cope

by Julia Guerra

It’s a Saturday night at the beginning of spring, and the weather outside has finally started warming up. Your best friend is throwing what’s expected to be the rager of the season, but the plans were spontaneous, and you already had babysitting duties on your calendar. Once the kid goes to sleep, you’ll inevitably find yourself searching the party's hashtag on Instagram, bitterly liking each photo while you're left to rot in the corner of your sister’s couch, watching a rerun of Friends, feeling like you have none. Figuring out how to deal with FOMO can feel borderline impossible when you’re in the heat of the moment, and having unlimited access to social media doesn’t exactly help the situation. So when you can’t be in two places at once, how do you suppress the irritable gut feeling that you’re missing out on something epic?

Tempting as it may be to place all the blame on social media, though, your Instagram and Facebook feeds are only a fraction of the problem. According to a recent study performed by researchers at Carleton and McGill Universities in Canada, it doesn't really matter how word gets around about a party or social event you missed out on; whether you hear about Beyoncé's performance at Coachella from a friend's Snapchat story or a stranger's blog, Business Insider reports it all produces "the same amount of FOMO."

FOMO can stem from literally anywhere, but the question is, why? Why are you and I so concerned about not having been at that party, concert, or Sunday brunch with the squad? According to research uncovered by marketing communications company, James Walter Thompson, FOMO is trigged by a personal lack of satisfaction with your own social life. Long story short, if you already feel kind of meh about your plans for Friday night, catching Becky with the good hair snapping a pic with your peeps without you is still going to make you a little salty.

It sucks, sure, but FOMO doesn't have to sting as much as you let it. Here's how to cope with that deep-rooted fear of missing out when your friends are MIA because, the truth is, doing your own thing isn't so bad.

Focus On Being Present In The Here And Now

Trust me, friends, I am in no way, shape, or form a stranger to the effects of FOMO. When I first left the busy city life to pursue a remote position in the suburbs, I was always on my phone, scrolling through profiles of people still in the heart of Manhattan, enjoying lavish events and perks exclusive to the city that never sleeps. But then I remembered why I made the switch, and how lucky I am to have the opportunities that I do.

The grass always seems to be greener on the other side, but that's likely because you're so busy admiring someone else's lawn that you neglect to water your own. Rather than obsessing over someone else's highlight reel, Linda Bloom, L.C.S.W., and Charlie Bloom, M.S.W., wrote in Psychology Today that it'll prove more beneficial to be more mindful in yours. Enjoy the moments you're living in and the people around you, and I can guarantee being more mindful of these details will make you feel grateful, not resentful.

Don't Stretch Yourself Too Thin

The funny thing about millennials is that most of them (myself included) think they're professional multi-taskers when, in reality, there's no such thing. Sorry to burst your bubble of pride there, but research from Stanford University shows multi-tasking isn't just impossible to master; juggling a bunch of different tasks or events in a single day is actually less productive than sticking to one project and giving it your full, undivided attention.

When you think about it, this makes a lot of sense. Let's say, for example, you have three term papers due at the end of the week. If you dedicated one day to collecting research for all three topics, the next day writing the introduction for each assignment, and so on, chances are, you're going to get the information all mixed up. But if you split the week into two days per assignment, you'll be able to dedicate enough time and focus to each topic.

Spend Less Time On Social Media

As someone who grew up while social media was evolving into this sort of necessary life staple before my very eyes, I think a simple concept that's pretty difficult to grasp for many of us is that the digital world and the real world are not one and the same. The more time you spend on social media or looking at your phone, the less time you're spending on being an active participant in the real, tangible world.

This blurs the lines of authenticity, and according to Darlene McLaughlin, M.D., a psychiatry and behavioral health specialist with Texas A&M Physicians, you can really lose your sense of self in the process. She told Science Daily,

The problem with FOMO is the individuals it impacts are looking outward instead of inward. When you're so tuned in to the "other," or the "better" (in your mind), you lose your authentic sense of self. This constant fear of missing out means you are not participating as a real person in your own world.
Remember That Social Media Is An Exaggeration

Take a second to quickly scroll through all of your social feeds — what do they all have in common? Most people take to social media with good news (think new job, engagements, baby announcements, photos of a new car or home), and make a big deal out of even the most minor successes. This isn't to say you shouldn't share good news with your peers, but people post these things for the public to make their lives look wonderful, purposely leaving out the hardships in the process.

John Grohol, Psy.D., founder and CEO of Psych Central, wrote in an article for his outlet that, more often than not, you and I (and everyone else with social media accounts) filter our posts to "present only the best side of our lives." In other words, your online persona is mostly an illusion, an exaggerated version of your best self. Of course your cousin's new golden retriever pup is ah-dorable, but you know what's not so ah-dorable? Desperately trying to clean up the brown droppings he left on her white rug without leaving a stain. Remember, a picture is worth a thousand words, but you're only reading a few of them.

Accept The Fact That You Really Can't Do It All

Try to replace that fear of missing out with the acceptance of missing out. This might be my introverted side showing, but you don't always have to follow the pack to have a great time. Rather than adopting this all-or-nothing mentality, think of all the things you can do as opposed to all the things you can't.

According to Josh Steimle, a TEDx speaker and founder of the digital marketing agency MWI, one of the best ways to squash FOMO is to realize you're not actually missing out on much, because there are countless alternatives to consider. He wrote in a guest article for Entrepreneur,

Whatever the choice is that you're considering, find two other options that are just as alluring and ask yourself which one you would most prefer.
I find that when I do this often I don't choose any of the three, because it awakens my mind to the possibility there may be a fourth option I haven't yet thought of, and maybe I should wait for it to manifest itself.