The following article is a reprint from Alice Schluger’s blog “Words of Wellness”; a blog featured at Psychology Today. Permission for reprint was given by the author.
By: Alice Schluger
Defining FOMO and FOGO
In the technological age of the 21st century, many individuals have developed an excessive reliance on various forms of social media. Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) is a pervasive feeling of worry that others might be having rewarding experiences from which we are excluded (Wolniewicz, Tiamiyu, Weeks, & Elhai, 2018). Since people tend to focus on what others think and do, this connects with our self-esteem and concern about the opinion of others regarding our lives. This is not a new concept, but the all-consuming nature of FOMO has risen dramatically with the widespread use of technology and increased popularity of social media (Abel, Buff, & Burr, 2016). FOMO can also contribute to anxiety and depression, particularly in young people (White, 2013). Struggles with both social and emotional dimensions of wellness may emerge, including feelings of inadequacy and difficulties surrounding a healthy self-image.
Agoraphobia is a specific type of phobia pertaining to an actual or anticipated situation which is perceived as difficult or impossible to escape (Star, 2019). It may encompass a fear of being outside alone, standing in line, being in a crowd, or being in either open or enclosed spaces. In layman’s terms, agoraphobia is generally referred to as a fear of going outside (FOGO). In either context, this “paralyzing” condition makes it a hardship for people to leave their homes.
Redefining FOMO and FOGO
The current mandate of self-isolation and social distancing resulting from the coronavirus outbreak is influencing our perceptions of Fear of Missing Out and Fear of Going Out. FOMO affects both teenagers and adults, as they constantly check their smartphones, Instagram updates, Twitter feeds, and Facebook pages. Before the pandemic, there was a constant fear of not being part of something more exciting or interesting than what we were doing. This led to the creation of “fake” personas that we wanted to present to the world, so others would “like” our posts and want to “follow” us on social media. In addition, the need for instant gratification has become an expected and accepted form of communication. The anticipation of receiving a new phone message or notification fulfills our desire for immediate rewards and makes us feel as if we are important to others.
FOMO is a powerful emotion that affects our social relationships and changes our behavior. Social media has taken on even greater importance in attempt to keep in touch with friends, family and the rest of the world as we shelter-in-place. It is also a means to stave off boredom and occupy our time as we remain isolated from others. On the plus side, there are essentially no outside activities to be missing out on! There are no parties, social gatherings, concerts, dance performances, or other forms of culture and entertainment to attend. We are all united in the quest to remain engaged in the absence of outside stimulation and face-to-face connections. Our new challenge has become keeping up with the onslaught of live webinars, dance and fitness videos, interviews, and musical performances that are popping up each day. This is a good problem to have since it involves activities that don’t create competitiveness or FOMO. We can feel a sense of connection to others and participate in numerous virtual platforms in the privacy of our own homes. There is no judgement from others, and we may even discover things that we’ve never tried before.
FOGO has taken on a whole new meaning during the COVID-19 pandemic. We are constantly bombarded with warnings from the media about staying inside as much as possible to control the spread of the disease. If we venture outside to shop for essential food or supplies, we have to wear uncomfortable masks and gloves to protect ourselves from this microscopic enemy. It is also a significant challenge to remain six feet apart from others as we wait in line and do our shopping. We have also been told to disinfect any items that we purchase, adding another layer of fear and apprehension. If you decide to go outside for a walk or a run, it’s tricky to keep the proper distance from other people. What’s the best time to go out? Is it safe to sit on a park bench? Where can I walk the dog? Endless questions, but few definitive answers.
Overall, going outside for even a brief period of time has become an unpleasant ordeal that we would much rather avoid. This is particularly daunting in large urban areas where it is more difficult to stay away from other people and crowded spaces. One healthcare worker remarked “if people saw what we are dealing with in the hospitals, they would never go outside again.” Ironically, the more we worry, the more susceptible we are to this disease. The constant psychological distress associated with this novel form of coronavirus is wreaking havoc with our immune systems and our sanity. Clearly, the challenge to our physical and emotional well-being is substantial in the face of this unprecedented pandemic.
FOGO in a broad sense is a real phenomenon when it becomes synonymous with a perceived threat. This also ties in with risk perceptions and how vulnerable we feel we are to this disease. FOMO is actually something we may be longing for as this crisis continues for an undetermined period of time. We have been thrown off balance so suddenly that the fundamental components of wellness are in jeopardy. At this moment, we are missing out on the “normal” lives we took for granted. Our sense of control over our lives has also been compromised. Having the freedom to go outside whenever we wanted and enjoying the company of others seems like a lifetime ago. When this critical situation has finally passed, we will be forever changed if we are wise enough to remember that nothing in life is a guarantee.
Abel, J.P. Buff, C.L., & Burr, S.A. (2016). Social media and the fear of missing out: Scale development and assessment. Journal of Business & Economics Research, 14 (1), 33-44. https://doi.org/10.19030/jber.v14i1.9554
Star, K. (2019). Agoraphobia symptoms and treatment options. VeryWellMind.com. https://www.verywellmind.com/agoraphobia-101-2584235?
White, J. (2013, July 8). Research finds link between social media and the ‘fear of missing out.’ The Washington Post. http://wapo.st/14Yjy8O?tid=ss_mail
Wolniewicz, C.A., Tiamiyu, M.R., Weeks, J.W., & Elhai, J.D. (2018). Problematic smartphone use and relations with negative affect, fear of missing out, and fear of negative and positive evaluation. Psychiatry Research, 262, 618-623.https://doi.org/10.1016/j.psychres.2017.09.058
Dr. Alice E. Schluger is an Associate Faculty Member at Ashford University. She has taught online Psychology courses since 2010. Dr. Schluger earned a Ph.D. in Psychology (Health Psychology specialization) from Capella University and a Master of Arts Degree in Community Health Education from New York University. She is also a Life & Wellness Coach and Certified Wellness Practitioner with an established Wellness Coaching Practice for non-professional and professional dancers (www.wellnessfordancers.com).