FOMO: the adolescent fear of missing out

Symptoms of social anxiety are very frequent in psychological consultation. In most cases, they are alarm signals, since they hide emotional deficiencies that the person has been coping with through different “avoidant” or “distracting” behaviors. According to the specialist in Psychology, Laura Martín de la Plaza, “within social anxiety, one of the most frequent symptoms is the need to be permanently connected and informed, most of the time in order to please others”. Author Patrick J. McGinnis called this “fear of missing out” FOMO. It usually hides a feeling of not belonging, of not being seen and of loneliness in those who suffer from it.

Symptoms of social anxiety

FOMO presents various symptoms derived from anxiety. Specialist Martín defines them as “constant worry and states of hyperactivity and alertness”. However, she adds, “the biggest problem is that our system is not prepared to be permanently on alert, so that, if the symptoms are maintained over time, they can lead to compensatory behaviors such as states of deep anxiety”.

Other frequent symptoms that usually develop in the face of social anxiety are the construction of a rigid personality, self-demands manifested under the “I should…” and the need for control.

FOMO in young people: a common problem

Adolescents are usually the social group that suffers most from this type of symptoms, since they are in the evolutionary process of identity and group belonging. According to Lda. Martín, “when their own characteristics do not seem to be sufficient to be part of a group, their own instinct leads them to create compensatory strategies to feel that cohesion and acceptance”. In addition, the specialist explains, “as they do not have a fully developed prefrontal cortex, they are more vulnerable to making invalidating judgments and to being more impulsive, so they are more likely to become hyperactive in order to maintain the link with their peers no matter what. FOMO or social anxiety presents a series of consequences in the behavior of patients. In general, they are people who have a distortion of reality, obsession, lack of self-care and healthy habits, low self-esteem, frustration and embarrassment. All these problems are due to the fact that the person is so focused on looking outward that he/she forgets to look inward.

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Causes of social anxiety

“There are multiple factors that can lead a person to develop social anxiety. One of the most frequent causes is early experiences of interpersonal trauma, either due to lack of attention or care from the family or due to school situations of exclusion, such as bullying. These traumas can result in wounds of abandonment, rejection or guilt,” explains Laura Martín. Faced with this wound, people often engage in compulsive and distracting behaviors that “cover up” the underlying situation, thus helping the person to survive the pain.

Working on self-esteem and tolerating rejection, the objectives of treatment.

Although all these symptoms are usually deeply rooted in the patient, with the help of therapy, the defense mechanisms developed can be made to evolve towards more adaptive strategies.

“The most important objectives of psychological treatment are, on the one hand, to develop a certain flexibility, accepting that not everyone can like you, and on the other hand, to improve self-esteem and tolerate rejection, understanding that not liking someone does not imply that you have something wrong with you as a person”, the expert points out. To achieve these goals it is very important that the specialist in Psychology determines when the symptoms of social anxiety were useful to the patient, to understand what function they fulfilled in the past and why they have been maintained over time. In this way, the person will be able to understand and overcome his or her wounds, developing positive coping strategies and achieving self-acceptance and self-love.