In case you didn’t have enough to worry about, there’s a new mental health syndrome on the horizon with a funky acronym. It’s FOMO: the Fear of Missing Out.

Missing out? But on what? On what other people are doing. They’re having exciting experiences that you’re not. They attended the hottest concert in town and you didn’t. Their kids have been accepted into Ivy League schools and yours weren’t. And the beat goes on, and on, and on.

FOMO is especially strong for those who are hooked on social media. Why? Because they’re constantly aware of what others are doing. Visit Facebook and you’ll view your friends’ faces with ecstatic smiles. Read their posts and you’ll find gushing descriptions of their awesome adventures. Person after person is having the time of their lives. And you? Well, not so much.

Teens with FOMO are highly anxious that “everyone’s” chatting about a FB post and they were the last to know. Or, “everyone’s” hanging out at a party house and they were excluded. Or, “everyone” received a hundred “likes” to their posts; they only received a paltry 22. On social media, everyone’s flaunting what they’re doing, with whom they’re doing it and posts are loaded with exclamation marks!!! With such pressure, it’s no surprise that teens are checking their phone every two minutes to make sure they’re not missing out on anything “important.”

Though adults may view the teen version of FOMO as a “kid can of worms,” they often don’t recognize their own version.

Do you have to attend the hottest concert, sporting event or show because you wouldn’t be able to stand it, if everyone was talking about how great it was, and you missed it? Do you have to go, even if the price is outrageous and it means racking up more credit card debt?

Do you feel that you missed out on an incredible adventure when you see your friends posing in front of the Eiffel Tower? Or when you view their incredible safari shots? Or listen to them gush about the fabulous diving trip they took to the Cayman Islands?

Do you feel bad about yourself for not doing those things even though you thoroughly enjoyed your vacation visiting friends in Colorado?

Do you check your social media posts so frequently that your spouse (or even your kid) complains that you’re not listening? Do you go on the defensive, saying, “I am listening,” even though your eyes are still glued to the phone? If so, it’s time for you to listen up. Your loved ones have a point. You can’t be fully there with them when your attention is divided.

If your fear of missing out is strong, it likely will spill over to your kids’ psyche. A 10-year-old boy I was working with was terribly unhappy with himself. “Why?” I asked. “Because I don’t always get the best grades,” he replied. “What’s so important about getting the best grades?” I inquired. “If I don’t,” this sweet boy answered, “then I won’t get into the best college.” “And if you don’t get into the best college?” “Then,” with tears in his eyes, he replied, “I’ll miss out on getting the best teachers, the best jobs, the best friends.”

Wow! What a burden has been laid on this young boy.

If your anxiety is triggered by the fear of missing out, here’s what you need to keep in mind to live a good life:

  • Remind yourself that nobody’s life is perfect, even if it looks that way when you see all the great things they are doing.
  • Let go of comparisons that stir up anxiety for you. Instead, focus on what you want from life.
  • Don’t miss out on what’s in front of you for fear of missing out on what other people are raving about.
  • You can’t have it all. You have to say no to some things in order to say a meaningful yes to others.
  • Relax, enjoy and appreciate what you do have instead of always looking at what others have and feeling bad about yourself.

©2015

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