Your Seemingly Harmless Fear Of Missing Out Can Lead To Anxiety, Burnout And Depression

September is Self-Care Awareness Month. To observe it, every week we’re speaking with experts in mental health and wellness to offer actionable ways to practice self-care that prioritize emotional wellbeing.

Have you ever looked at someone’s Instagram post or Story and found yourself comparing their social life, or overall life, to your own? As Theodore Roosevelt once stated, “Comparison is the thief of joy,” which is true. With that in mind, it can easily become the thief of good mental health if you don’t get it in check.

FOMO, or fear of missing out, has become a big issue in the social media age, as the highlight reels and good times people selectively share online can leave you thinking everyone is having more fun than you and you’re missing out. While that might not sound very serious on paper, looking at your own life as missing something, or a lot of things, can have far greater effects than we realize.

“It plays a role in our mental health because oftentimes at the root of anxiety is fear,” Gregory Scott Brown, MD, board-certified psychiatrist and author of The Self-Healing Mind, tells ESSENCE. “FOMO every once in a while is completely normal, but if it’s something that we’re experiencing most days, FOMO may develop into generalized anxiety disorder, a diagnosable mental illness, especially if we find that our FOMO anxiety is all-consuming and lasting for at least six months.” 

The feelings of anxiety, envy and even helplessness that can be stirred just by being exposed to the seemingly joyous lives of others and noticing the differences between what you see and what you’re experiencing can clearly do some damage. Brown says it’s important, in regards to self-care, to catch yourself early when you notice you’re experiencing negative thoughts.

“It’s important first to recognize when we’re experiencing it since most of us do at one time or another. FOMO anxiety can catch us off guard and that’s when it can actually be detrimental to our mental health,” he says. “When we allow ourselves to feed into FOMO, it can lead to more persistent anxiety, burnout, or even in some cases, depression.”

So what does FOMO feel like and how can we handle it?

“If you notice that your thoughts are racing or that you’re feeling jittery, ask yourself: What’s the underlying fear that’s making me anxious? This can help you stay one step ahead of FOMO anxiety,” he says. “If you are able to identify what the specific fear is then that can help you develop actionable steps towards overcoming it. Sometimes, we can quickly realize that the things we fear missing out on really aren’t worth our time worrying about.”

It can be difficult to avoid certain triggers that leave us feeling anxious about circumstances, but in the spirit of practicing self-care in a deeper way this month and onward, when it comes to facing FOMO, you’re encouraged to create practices, those actionable steps, that will help you change your mood and your outlook for the better. Log out and look inward.

“Self-care is all about developing techniques that help us adapt to life’s stressors,” says Brown. “Since FOMO is a common experience that can lead to mental health challenges like anxiety, burnout, or depression down the road, curbing FOMO is a self-care strategy that can improve mental health.”

He adds, “In those moments when FOMO anxiety is spiraling out of control, tapping into a breathwork practice, moving your body, or developing a routine meditation can help quiet that anxiety. If that doesn’t work, mental health professionals like psychiatrists and talk therapists are here to help.”

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