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Feeling Socially Disconnected? Fear of Missing Out after Social Isolation

Author: LIN BING JIE, Intern @ ARKCC

Date: 29 Jan 2022

Feeling Socially Disconnected? Fear of Missing Out after Social Isolation

You look at others’ photos posted online, and cannot help but wonder: They seem like they are having better lives. How much fun are they having without me being there? Will there be any inside jokes that I miss? This feeling of apprehension that others might be having more fun, better lives and experiences is “Fear of Missing Out”, also termed FoMO (Scott, 2021). It is certainly not a good thing as the basic premise of FoMO is just like the name implies: you have a fear that you are going to miss something if you do not participate. Although FoMO is a relatively new term, the feeling itself is not. Due to the advancement of technology, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic and forced social isolation, social media and smartphones have gradually penetrated our lives more than ever before (Fumagalli et al., 2021). In this case, FoMO can be problematic to some people.

FoMO and Social Media during isolation induced by COVID-19 pandemic

Did you know that FoMO is often exacerbated by social media sites? Based on research, FoMO includes two processes: 1) Perception of missing out, and 2) A compulsive behaviour to maintain the social connection (Gupta et al., 2021). Along with the mandates to social distancing, wearing masks, and forced isolation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the increased FoMO level may have reinforced individual’s attitudes of connection through online communication (Fumagalli, 2021; Gioia et al., 2021). From social aspects, one explanation is that social isolation increases individuals’ feelings of loneliness, and thus, strengthens their needs of belonging and formation of strong and stable interpersonal relationships through alternative ways. The need to belong and fear of social exclusion further give individuals the impetus to the increased effort in social media to not miss out on anything and end up in a vicious cycle of compulsive checking and engagement on social media (Gupta et al., 2021).

Especially during the implementation period of “lockdown” such as Movement Control Order (MCO) in Malaysia, social media (e.g., Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter) which provides easy communication instantaneously (Huang et al., 2014) acts as a compensatory medium for people with social anxiety addresses their unmet needs of physical communication (Bhagat, 2015; Gupta et al., 2021). In view of this, the problems come when individuals highlight and compare other people’s best and picture-perfect experiences with themselves (Gupta et al., 2021; Gioia et al., 2021; Scott, 2021). This will lead individuals to wonder what they are lacking, causing their sense of "normal" becomes skewed (Scott, 2021) as they are uncertain about whether they are doing enough or where they should be at the moment of life (Rifkin et al., 2015). Eventually, greater engagement with social media will increase the level of FoMO and make one feel worse about themselves and so their lives.

How FoMO affects our lives

Knowing that FoMO is not a good thing but how does it exactly affect our lives? Feeling socially disconnected and keep wanting to update oneself with the latest information of what others are doing involves a sense of helplessness. This kind of feeling can occur anytime, even exist as an episodic feeling that occurs in mid-conversation (Gupta et al., 2021). In light of this, it is not difficult to foresee an individual experiencing emotional tension, social anxiety, a lack of sleep, reduced life satisfaction, and reduced self-esteem in his/her daily life (Altuwairiqi et al., 2019). Moreover, research shows that the nature of social networking feedback can act as a crucial factor of adolescents’ identity development, including sociability and self-esteem (Spies Shapiro & Margolin, 2014), suggesting that what adolescents have received from social media, whether it is positive or negative, may affect their self-identity and self-esteem accordingly. Ultimately, the negativity in life and self-loathing may further affect our self-perception and self-worth.

Additionally, there is other research about FoMO and purchasing behaviour that has been done in Malaysia by Kaur and colleagues (2020). The findings confirmed that fear of missing out is one of the important variables that could affect consumers’ purchasing behaviour of essential goods during the first MCO in Malaysia. This is, according to the researchers, due to the heightened severity of the pandemic by the mass media and social media, which heightened the fear of the consumers and thus resulting in a chain effect of purchasing behaviour.

Symptoms of FoMO

During the pandemic, when we let ourselves be preoccupied with others’ lives more than ever before through social media, FoMO can lead to many problems, from the behaviours to mental health aspects. Are you wondering if you are also struggling with fear of missing out? Below are some of the symptoms. Do not panic if you find yourself having the symptoms of FoMO, it is not an official diagnosis, FoMO is just something that becomes increasingly common today!

  • Excessive use of social media (to not miss out on anything)

  • Feeling frustrated when you cannot be part of social plans due to some reasons

  • Feeling upset when others are talking the events or activities that you were unable to join

  • Feeling anxious when you are not aware of what friends and family are doing

  • Concerned about other people’s opinion (e.g., clothes, hair style, etc.)

  • The urge to be surrounded by others

  • Low life satisfaction

  • Fast paced lifestyle

How to minimise FoMO

After understanding what FoMO is and how it could affect us, it is now the time to learn to deal with it. Here are some tips for individuals to minimise FoMO (Gordon, 2022; Scott, 2021).

(1) Be realistic

When you live through virtual filters, you are more likely to experience FoMO. Photos can be deceiving. You are encouraged to always recognise that you have limited time and cannot possibly be everywhere and do everything. There must be parties, events, or activities that you cannot attend but this does not mean that you are necessarily missing out on something. By increasing awareness and being realistic of your actual life, you may be able to avoid embracing the faulty belief that others’ lives are better and your life is boring.

(2) Take a break from the screen!

Turn off your smartphone, tablets, and laptops and do something else. You may do anything that allows you to focus on other than social media. Some activities that are not online, for example, bake cookies or cakes, exercise, keep a journal, etc. An alternative to turning off the technology will be to schedule specific times each day to check social media. This allows you to avoid repeating the cycle of frequent engagement in social media.

(3) Seek out real connections.

As we know, the feelings of loneliness, and fear of social exclusion makes us want to seek out greater connections with others and to feel a sense of belonging. In this case, rather than trying to be “friend” with more people on social media and hoping for "likes" passively, actual meet up and sending messages to friends may be more beneficial. This is because it is not the quantity of social interaction that combats loneliness and the fear of missing out, but the quality.

(4) Practice, practice, practice.

Take home message

Remember, people are just sharing pictures of events and activities that show their most idealised selves on social media. Start prioritising yourself and stop seeking satisfaction through the lens of virtual filters of the social media world. You can start focusing on your own and seek out real connections in the actual world!


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  3. Fumagalli, E., Dolmatzian, M. B., & Shrum, L. J. (2021). Centennials, FOMO, and loneliness: An investigation of the impact of social networking and messaging/VoIP apps usage during the initial stage of the coronavirus pandemic. Frontiers in psychology, 12.

  4. Gioia, F., Fioravanti, G., Casale, S., & Boursier, V. (2021). The effects of the fear of missing out on people's social networking sites use during the COVID-19 pandemic: the mediating role of online relational closeness and individuals' online communication attitude. Frontiers in Psychiatry, 12, 146.

  5. Gordon, S. (2022, January 6). How FOMO impacts teens and young adults. Verywell mind.

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  8. Kamaljeet, K., Mageswari, K., Jaspal, S. J. S., Selvi, S., & Sukjeet, K. S. (2020). Impact of the first phase of movement control order during the COVID-19 pandemic in Malaysia on purchasing behavior of Malaysian consumers. Journal of Humanities and Social Sciences Research, 2(5), 131-144.

  9. Scott, E. (2021, April 25). How to deal with FOMO in your life. Verywell mind.

  10. Shapiro, L. A. S., & Margolin, G. (2014). Growing up wired: Social networking sites and adolescent psychosocial development. Clinical child and family psychology review, 17(1), 1-18.

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