Overcoming FOMO – The Culture Project

Imagine this: you have some free time and you don’t have anything planned. It’s kind of a dull moment and you wonder what other people are up to. Suddenly, you go onto social media and all you see is post after post of all your peers doing fun things. They all look like they’re having the time of their lives; you, on the other hand, start to feel left out. You feel like you’re not part of the inner circle. You feel more alone than before. 

If you’ve ever used social media, you’ve struggled with this at some point in your life. You could be the most popular person you know, and you’ve dealt with this problem all the same.

I’m speaking, of course, about FOMO. 

“FOMO,” an acronym for “Fear Of Missing Out” is yet another creation for which we have Gen Z to thank. It’s thrown around in common conversation like it’s a disease; to the removed listener, a person would seem just as likely to “catch a cold” as “catch FOMO” in the wrong conditions. The phraseology works so well because, like the cold, everybody has “caught” FOMO at some point. It’s universal; everyone knows the feeling right away. It touches upon a desire in everybody’s hearts: our desire for connection. 

Let’s pause for a moment and address something crucial. That desire for connection we have is good! It comes right from Upstairs. People were never made to be alone. We would not be designed by God to be so complex and social if that were not the case! Why else would we be given the ability to speak? There’s a reason that something seems off when we see someone talking to himself; I know this chiefly because my sisters kindly remind me whenever they hear me thinking out loud. If only they knew how riveting my conversations with myself were! Their loss.

Right off the bat, we have to acknowledge that it’s normal to feel like you’re missing out. This FOMO that we all encounter one way or another is a direct result of our desire to participate in the human experience. Nobody wants to be excluded! It’s healthy not to want to miss out. 

Bearing that in mind, we have to acknowledge that social media presents unique challenges for us. Normal as it is to have a little bit of FOMO when you feel like you’re excluded from something, our digital age has exacerbated this fear to heights previously unseen. We have never had anything close to this kind of technology in our world’s history. For thousands of years, human society has passed on information at a far slower pace. News took a while to get around. Unless something happened in your immediate surroundings, you wouldn’t know about it for a while; if it was a major world event, it still could have taken months to catch wind of it at all. You may have gotten the news about world events a bit faster if you lived in a bustling city, but you still had to be content with not knowing everything right away. 

Fast forward to the last 20 years. After a few decades of warming up to the TV and the telephone, the internet’s arrival broke the floodgates open. In an instant, we were given immediate access to more information at once than ever thought possible. You could instantly search for results that would have required you to dig through an entire library in the past. You could message people in real-time.

Then social media entered the scene. For the first time, you could log on and instantaneously see a never-ending stream of peers, celebrities, and more upload what they were doing. On apps like Snapchat and Instagram, these uploads could only be so long, so you’d be seeing only snapshots, and those snapshots would almost always be their best moments. If it was your peers, you’d be seeing post after post of the most interesting thing they did in recent memory. If it was the celebrities or influencers you followed, you’d see a microcosm of their seemingly perfect lifestyles: money, wealth, status, friends, seemingly in endless supply. These social media apps quickly became a digital highlight reel of life. 

This isn’t a highlight reel we’re neglecting, either; it’s integral to almost everybody’s daily routine. 85% of Americans own some kind of smartphone; 95% of teens have one and access it at least daily. As our culture has gone all-in on the smartphone, it’s also gone all-in on social media. Even for those brave souls who have remained faithful to the flip phone, in sickness and in health, being enveloped in a culture that’s so heavily influenced by social media will still carry enormous weight. 

Just how much has the digital highlight reel affected us? 99% of social media users reported feeling left out or excluded to some degree using social media. That is far from a chance circumstance! Of these people polled, 70% reported that their well-being wasn’t in a good place, and 29% did. While we can’t conclude that pressure from social media is the only cause of their poor well-being, we’d have to admit that there’s at least a strong connection. Another observation worth making is that even the 29%, who reported having a healthy sense of well-being, felt excluded on social media. Everyone is going through this!

This leads us to our next point: our unnatural circumstances are exacerbating the problem. Some FOMO is healthy. The exaggerated FOMO we have from social media is not. Social media has presented a doctored, touched-up image of life that isn’t accurate and has caused us all to compare ourselves to an unattainable standard. We are fundamentally not used to having the world at our fingertips like this and are even more unprepared to handle the black hole of endless comparison and insecurity that social media has to offer. 99% of people are not being excluded all the time, but are made to feel like they are. They’re convinced that there’s always something more interesting going on than their everyday lives. They constantly compare themselves to what they perceive to be an endless party, where everybody is happy and constantly surrounded by their friends–except for them.

I remember struggling with FOMO badly in college. So many of my peers were publicizing their life highlights on social media for all of their acquaintances to see. I would go through lonely spells and then instantly go onto social media to try and snap out of them. As I scrolled through the posts and watched the stories, all I saw was the highlight reel: people having a blast with their best friends. “Those people have it figured out” I would think. They didn’t appear to have any dull moments, and they never seemed to be alone. The more I ruminated on this, the more convinced I was that I was constantly missing out. I felt a constant pressure to be doing something “noteworthy.” No matter where I drew my attention, I felt like there was always a better use of my time elsewhere. Even when I was surrounded by people, I often felt lonely. 

On social media, everyone seemed to have an unattainable life. They seemed to always have something interesting to do, to always have friends around them, but, most unrealistically, they appeared to have lives that had no vulnerability. Every post would show nothing but smiling faces. Rarely, if ever, would someone publicize a life struggle. Social media led me to compare the genuine loneliness I was going through to a never-ending feedback loop of people that seemed to be living perfect lives. I started believing the lie that I was the exception. I believed that something was wrong with me because I felt sadness, and thought that being vulnerable with people would reveal that I wasn’t good enough.

Social media is not real life, and I wish I had taken that knowledge to heart when I was feeling so lonely after going on social media. Everybody is going through something. No matter what someone’s social media presence may suggest, nobody lives a life without struggle. The next time we’re in our feelings after going on social media, let’s stop and ask ourselves: “Is this real?” Compared to the 24/7 social media highlight reel, whose life would seem normal? How could we possibly set ourselves up for success when our standard is a carefully curated, artificial duplicate of real life? We know the answer to that question. I encourage all of you to step back and remember a few things:

Your life story matters. You may not feel like it when comparing yourself to everyone around you, but it’s true. You are a child of God, made in His image. That means something! God looks at you with love and admiration He does not tire of you. He does not grow indifferent or bored with you. Should we not strive to see other people as God sees them? No matter who you are, you’re worth getting to know. Your inherent worth as a child of God will never be taken away or diminished by those around you. No matter how lonely you may feel because of social media, your life will always have immeasurable worth. You will always matter, no matter how hard it may be to believe sometimes. You deserve to take time away from social media to focus on your own life. It’s good to be connected with others, but there are limits. To live a fulfilling life, it will be necessary that you develop a degree of removal from social media to focus on your own life. You have a story of your own to tell! You have passions and interests that are part of what make you unique. Take some time for yourself and devote it to the things that bring you life. It’s amazing how God speaks to us when nobody else is watching! Taking some time away will be challenging at first, but it’s never a decision you’ll regret! Remember that vulnerability does not make you weak. It makes you strong! It may be hard to remember in this social media climate, but we need vulnerability to live a happy and holy life. It can feel like you’re the only one that’s going through something, but opening up to other people will quickly show you that you’re not alone. I know the pressure to put on a brave face and be strong for those around you, but showing vulnerability is an act of courage. It’s amazing how just one person opening up can make a world of a difference. Other people will be able to relate to you, feel supported, and find strength inside them that they never knew they had. 

Your prayer life is more important than anything social media could have to offer. Relationships with other people are necessary, but a relationship with God is most important. God is our only life source–everything good comes from Him. Only He is capable of making sense of our lives. If we’re going to live good and fulfilling lives, we must be devoted to serving God. Social media is a tool–nothing more–to help us become the people we ought. It should be connecting us to people in a healthy way, making us kinder, more compassionate, and more equipped to serve God. It should be a source of grace, not anxiety! We see it take on that inverse role when we place social media in the role of God. For many, social media is far and away their biggest influence and their biggest daily concern. It could very easily take on the role of a God for the unaware. We need to remind ourselves that true peace can only come from the Lord. However tempting it may be to turn to social media whenever we want to drown out the necessary silence God has given us to pause and reflect, we need to persevere in those moments and choose Him. 

Your desire to connect with people is sincere. Your fear of loneliness is valid. By your very nature, God designed you to form bonds with other people. By recognizing that this desire for community is a beautiful gift (not a burden) and that our current social media climate presents an unrealistic depiction of life, we can take steps to express our desire for friendship healthily. It’s up to us to take charge of our lives and take the necessary steps to cut out what we must to ensure our mental well-being. We have it in our power to curb our excessive social media use and live our lives confidently, knowing that God has put us here for a reason. It will take discipline and follow-through, but it will be worth it.

I encourage you to take heart, know of the great plan that God has in store for you, and act on it! Don’t let our obsessive social media culture stop you from living the joyful and fulfilling life you were always meant to live. Lastly, in your moments of doubt, remember that you’re not alone. You’re not the only one who feels anxious. You’re not the only one who experiences loneliness. Know that there are people out there who are going through it with you, want what’s best for you, and are praying for you!

IG Carousel Format

It feels like everyone struggles with FOMO today.

It’s so easy to think that we’re the only ones who are feeling lonely. 

We need to remember that we’re never truly alone, and we’re never the only ones going through this. 

Our social media culture is also exacerbating the problem: we’re being made to believe that we’re more lonely than we are.

Social media is a digital highlight reel of everyone’s lives and convinces us that we’re the only ones who feel loneliness or sadness.

We need to acknowledge this and take pride in living imperfect lives!

We can’t compare the reality of human life to a filtered and edited highlight reel. 

Our stories and our lives are worth investing in; we can’t let social media get in the way of the full lives we were called to live!

IG Bio Format:

On social media, everyone seemed to have an unattainable life. They seemed to always have something interesting to do, to always have friends around them, but, most unrealistically, they appeared to have lives that had no vulnerability. Every post would show nothing but smiling faces. Rarely, if ever, would someone publicize a life struggle. Social media led me to compare the genuine loneliness I was going through to a never-ending feedback loop of people that seemed to be living perfect lives. I started believing the lie that I was the exception. I believed that something was wrong with me because I felt sadness, and thought that being vulnerable with people would reveal that I wasn’t good enough.Social media is not real life, and I wish I had taken that knowledge to heart when I was feeling so lonely after going on social media. Everybody is going through something. No matter what someone’s social media presence may suggest, nobody lives a life without struggle. The next time we’re in our feelings after going on social media, let’s stop and ask ourselves: “Is this real?” Compared to the 24/7 social media highlight reel, whose life would seem normal? How could we possibly set ourselves up for success when our standard is a carefully curated, artificial duplicate of real life?

fomo • the culture project