4 tips to get over FOMO : Life Kit The fear of missing out isn't confined to our social lives; worrying about whether we're missing out on new experiences, content, trends and even investments can create an existential crisis. Psychologist Aarti Gupta explains how FOMO shows up in our lives and how to battle it.

How to overcome FOMO

How to overcome FOMO

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Photos by Simon Haven/Getty and Correia Patrice/Getty; Collage by Becky Harlan/NPR
Collage of a meerkat looking over its shoulder at other meerkats hanging out.
Photos by Simon Haven/Getty and Correia Patrice/Getty; Collage by Becky Harlan/NPR

Staying in on a Friday night feels like a good idea – you could really use the "alone time" after a busy week – until you get on Instagram. You see your friends having a blast at that cool bar you've been wanting to try, then comes a post from a buddy from college snuggling with their adorable new rescue dog and you start watching another friend's story before they set out on an exciting road trip.

Suddenly, that alone time you opted for doesn't feel so good anymore. You feel like you're boring for staying in – you may even question the purpose of your very existence. Don't worry, that anxiety spiral is common – and not that new. You're experiencing FOMO, or the fear of missing out.

Worrying about whether we're missing out on new experiences, content, trends and even investments can make us feel like we're falling behind. But we can actually overcome that feeling and be present with what we have. Here's why we experience FOMO in the first place, how to know when that feeling is serving us and how to move past it when it gets in the way.

When comparing yourself to others turns toxic, remember that there's plenty to go around

We are constantly comparing ourselves to people around us, and a lot of the time, doing so can actually serve us. Learning from the examples of others is an important way humans adapt and grow.

But sometimes, that self-comparison can lead to some pretty tough feelings. "FOMO is about having thoughts on missing out on opportunities which might increase our happiness," says psychologist Aarti Gupta, who's Clinical Director at TherapyNest in Palo Alto, California.

Gupta says there's a biological explanation for why we experience FOMO: "Humans are social beings and rely on each other to survive, and being left out or not being in the know could have, once upon a time, been a matter of life or death."

If you find yourself comparing yourself to others in a way that doesn't feel productive or oriented toward growth, Gupta recommends practicing an abundance mindset: "This means remembering that there are plenty of opportunities to go around for everyone, and just because someone else found success doesn't mean that you won't."

Next time you see someone else's win trigger a feeling of envy, try congratulating them instead of stewing in jealousy.

The stress response to FOMO is an old survival mechanism

A meerkat faces a tiger, growing stressed. The tiger turns into a phone and the stress dissipates.

Have you ever experienced a bodily reaction to FOMO? Your heart beats faster, you feel a knot in your stomach or tightness in your chest – that's your brain's survival mechanism kicking into action.

"Not feeling part of an event or in the in-group could be enough for someone's amygdala to engage and cause a stress reaction or a fight-or-flight response," says Gupta. That's because being a part of a community has historically been crucial to human survival.

The amygdala is the part of our brains that is tasked with detecting threats to our survival, and sometimes it confuses what might have been threatening in the past with a feeling that isn't actually a threat in the present.

Next time you feel a stress response to FOMO, take a moment to assess what "danger" you're really in. By identifying that your stress might not be in response to a real threat, but instead a biological holdover from the past, you can talk yourself down from that fight-or-flight response.

Know your triggers

Knowing what triggers your FOMO will help you get out in front of situations before they set off that alarm. You can expose yourself to less of the stuff that makes you feel like you're left out.

"One thing that might trigger you does not trigger someone else," says Gupta. For many of us, the biggest FOMO trigger is social media. For you, your trigger might be seeing yet another friend buy their first home. For Gupta, it usually comes up in parenting.

"I'm a newish mom. I have a three year old, and it's really easy to compare the way you're raising your kid to the way that others are raising theirs," says Gupta. She combats this by trying to minimize the parenting content she consumes.

When you find yourself thinking the grass is greener on the other side, remind yourself why you're watering yours

The next Friday night that you decide to stay in, keep in mind that we're always missing out on something. Choosing one activity or path inevitably means you'll miss out on others.

"Maybe [you chose to stay in] because you had a long week and you need to recharge with some alone time. Or maybe you have an early start the next day. Whatever the reason might be, it's important to remember that as humans, we live by making a series of trade-offs," says Gupta.

"I think the irony of all of it is it's called FOMO, the fear of missing out. But really, what it is doing is it's making you miss out on today and that warm and cozy bed that you're in right now, or the job that you're in right now or the relationship that you're in right now because you're so worried about what else is out there."

You can battle FOMO simply by being more fully present in and invested in the life you have today.

The audio portion of this episode was produced by Sylvie Douglis.

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