How to confront FOMO (the fear of missing out)

If you have been around anyone who is savvy with a smartphone or device, you will notice that they oftentimes use acronyms. Popular sayings such as: “I don’t know” is shortened to IDK and “Thank You” is known as TY. Many other similar phrases have gone through this shorthand transformation.

Recently, a new acronym started to pop up on my smartphone conversations: FOMO, which stands for “Fear of Missing Out.” The financial advice website called moneyselfie.com defines FOMO in texting as “a type of a social anxiety that develops when you are seeing someone else enjoying life and you can’t help but wonder if you should partake in the fun.”

This website cites a Credit Karma study that found many people are going into debt because they want to keep up with friends, or didn’t want to feel like they were an outsider. The 2016 American Psychological Association also published an article about this condition, citing that it can lead to depression and even physical symptoms. As I read more about this topic, I couldn’t help but wonder what the effects of this condition has on our families and relationships.

What is it that one fears they are missing out on? Typically, but not always, this condition is triggered by social media. A person will see something that is posted and their thoughts will quickly turn to comparison. It is easy to start down a path wishing your life was like someone else’s, or that you need something you don’t have, or even feel dissatisfaction, jealousy and envy with the people or things that are around you.

Anxiety can build up in an individual and thoughts can easily be consumed by negativity. This, of course, can lead to a reaction where a person might be motivated to keep up with his or her neighbor, either by buying things they may or may not be able to afford, or even by being overly consumed with what everyone else is doing.

Of course, this message is as old as time. As we remember, the ninth and 10th commandments direct us to not covet our neighbor’s wife or goods. St. Paul also reminds us in 1 Corinthians 13 that true love from Christ does not envy, nor is it jealous or boastful.

There are some very simple things we can do to overcome this fear and anxiety that can so easily creep into our consciences. A blog article from Psychology Today titled, “10 ways to overcome fear of missing out” offers some tremendous tips for our daily lives. These tips include:

  • Slowing down our lives and learning to practice a bit of discernment.
  • Decide what is truly important to you.
  • Be willing to enjoy experiences and relationships over things and decide to not have it all.
  • Be mindful of what you are doing each day and learn to savor the moment.
  • Take life one day at a time and cultivate an attitude of gratitude.

When I read this article, I had to stop and take a serious look at my own day and see how I personally fall into these traps. I would add one more tip to this list: put down your devices. When I looked at how my computer, smartphone and other such technologies (which I love) were interfering with the precious relationships and moments in my day, I couldn’t help but conclude that it was necessary to put them down — at least more than I was doing. Even in the name of work and productivity, we can be overly consumed with what everyone else is doing and miss out on the blessings we have in our own lives.

Even though Lent is past us we can still put a lot of time and attention into building up our personal and relationship skills with our spouses and families. One such skill to adopt is the daily examination of conscience.

Ignatiunspirituality.com describes the daily examen as “a technique of prayerful reflection on the events of the day in order to detect God’s presence and discern his direction for us.”

The website instructs the reader in this simple method: 1. Become aware of God’s presence. 2. Review the day with gratitude. 3. Pay attention to your emotions. 4. Choose one feature of the day and pray from it. 5. Look toward tomorrow.

There are many other versions of this online and could be a great way to share with your spouse how God is working in your life. The beauty of the examination of conscience is that it keeps God first in our daily lives and gratitude in our hearts, which is the perfect remedy for whatever fear or anxiety may creep up when we think we are missing out on something.

Tremblay is Marriage and Life Ministries director for the Diocese of Green Bay.