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How FOMO affects mental health & financial decisions

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6 mins

For Baby Boomers, “fitting in” was a big anxiety producer when they were growing up. Getting your parents to let you wear bell-bottom jeans, wear your hair long, or have the latest Beatles album was seen as mandatory to being considered part of the “In Crowd.”

Today, millennials and their younger counterparts aren’t worried about fitting in; they’re worried about missing out. FOMO — Fear of Missing Out — is a real phenomenon that is arguably producing higher levels of stress for people today than fitting in ever did.

How is FOMO influencing your mental health? How is it affecting your financial decision-making? How can you steer clear of FOMO? Let’s bring a bit of clarity to something that has sociologists, psychologists, and economists buzzing.

How does FOMO affect mental health?

It’s human nature to compare how we measure up to others. Ever since we were in elementary school, we came to envy people who were more popular than us or had better grades than we did. We developed the belief early in life that others had it better than we did — they had more friends, more toys, and were having more fun than we were.

Social media has only served to fuel our compulsive desire to make sure we’re not lagging when it comes to activity and achievement, that we’re not missing out. We’ve become addicted to Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter because they provide an ever-widening window into the lives of others.

Multiple studies show that FOMO ultimately leads us down a path of extreme dissatisfaction with our lives and has a detrimental effect on our physical, emotional, and mental health. We’re experiencing increased:

  • Mood swings
  • Loneliness
  • Feelings of inferiority
  • Reduction of self-esteem
  • Social anxiety
  • Levels of negativity

Depression levels are teetering at an all-time high, and the use of anti-depressants is rising sharply.

Not only is FOMO causing us to feel bad, but it’s also causing us to act out. We’re spending money we don’t have on things we don’t need to keep up with people we don’t know, or even like. It’s gotten to the point where our own reality has become so unacceptable to us that we’re seeking virtual reality experiences to deaden FOMO’s fallout.

Thanks to the media, social and otherwise, we’re well aware of what FOMO is doing to us, and we’re desperately seeking solutions. Unfortunately, we’re asking for help from the very sources of our discontent: TikTok, YouTube, Instagram, and Facebook Groups.

[ Related: Why companies must prioritize mental health in the workplace ]

How does FOMO affect financial decisions?

Keeping up with The Jones’ has now become keeping up with The Kardashians. The names have changed, but it still takes spending money to live the lifestyle everyone else seems to be living.

Credit Karma and Qualtrics conducted a study several years ago that revealed a significant percentage of American millennials are putting themselves in debt just to keep up with their friends.

They surveyed 1045 people, and about 40% of them admitted that they had spent money they didn’t have so they could participate in activities with their friends, like shopping for clothes, drinking, and dining out.

They rationalized this was acceptable behavior because their peers could afford to do it, but they didn’t tell their friends about the financial stress FOMO had created:

  • 36% were afraid that they wouldn’t be included in future activities
  • 27% didn’t want to feel like an outsider
  • 26% didn’t want to lose friends
  • 23% didn’t want to be judged

Their primary fear: if they didn’t join in the festivities, others would think they were boring, and they would miss out on future invites to be part of the crowd.

Have you heard of “Investment FOMO”? Maybe not those exact words, but if you’re familiar with the online brokerage Robinhood and GameStop stock, you witnessed Investment FOMO at its finest.

In this particular instance, on January 28, 2021, Robinhood had to shut down GameStop trading because of a frenzy of activity sparked by FOMO. The craze was attributed to members of a social media site, Reddit, extolling the virtues of the stock and chastising people who were either not buying it or were selling it to lock in a profit.

Cryptocurrency’s rise in popularity is also a case study in FOMO. If the world’s richest man — Elon Musk — says it’s good enough for him, how could it not be good enough for the rest of us?

[ Related: The biggest financial trends & stories to watch in 2022 ]

How to deal with FOMO

If you’ve seen yourself in some of the FOMO scenarios we’ve talked about, take heart. You’re certainly not alone, and you do have control over how deep FOMO will get its hooks into you.

Here are a few suggestions to keep FOMO in check:

Learn JOMO

Some people have found that an effective way to counter FOMO is through JOMO (Joy Of Missing Out). It’s a mental shift that takes concentrated effort, but it works.

For example, if you hear about a party that’s going to be happening and you weren’t invited, instead of worrying about who’s going to be there and what they’re going to be saying about you, focus instead on how you now have the chance to do something more beneficial for your self-esteem, like spending time with family or a close friend, and enjoy doing that. In other words, “Wherever you are — be there.”

Do a social media fast

Stay offline for a day, a week, even a month. There are countless examples of people cutting themselves off and waking up to what the real world has to offer. Use all of your new spare time to read, meditate, work out, write...all of the things you’ve wanted to do but were watching someone else do them.

Use software to combat FOMO

There are apps available for you to see how much time you’re spending online, and they allow you to set time limits. We all know how intending to check our social media feed for five minutes can take us down a rabbit hole for hours, so try apps like Forest for iOS, Space for Android, RescueTime for Windows, or SelfControl for Mac to regain control of your digital life.

As a last resort, if FOMO has totally taken control and you need a full-on intervention, enroll in a digital detox camp like Camp Grounded. It’s located in Northern California, and the counselors there will help you get in touch with your pre-smartphone self. No work, no outside food, no watches, no booze or drugs, and no digital technology.

Final thoughts

Remember, just about everyone experiences FOMO to some degree at some point in their lives. Accept that it’s happened to you, but find positive ways to deal with it and be happy and content with who you are. After all, why try and be like somebody else when there’s already one of them?

The information and content provided herein is for educational purposes only, and should not be considered legal, tax, investment, or financial advice, recommendation, or endorsement. Breeze does not guarantee the accuracy, completeness, reliability or usefulness of any testimonials, opinions, advice, product or service offers, or other information provided here by third parties. Individuals are encouraged to seek advice from their own tax or legal counsel.

— Published February 3, 2022
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