Fear of Missing Out (FoMO) in the Context of Singapore
Published on 30th December, 2019 by Muhammad Haikal Bin Jamil
Singaporeans are no strangers to queueing up for the latest food fad or trend and you’ve probably heard of Singapore’s Tiger Mums who spend an exorbitant amount of money on sending their children to multiple tuitions and learning centres. These are behaviours that we would typically describe as ‘kiasu’, a colloquial term that can be highly associated with the Fear of Missing Out (FoMO). FoMO is defined as a pervasive anxiety that others may be experiencing a rewarding or enjoyable experience without you.
The term ‘FoMO’ initially applied to the fear of missing good times with others, and was easily exacerbated by the advent of social media. Social media enables one to be easily updated by the enjoyable experiences of others with postings of the scenic holiday destinations and other ‘Insta-worthy moments’ (think #wanderlust and #foodporn). A study by Przybylski, Murayama, DeHaan and Gladwell (2013) found that undergraduates who are high in FoMo possess a level of social anxiety to know what others are doing. They are more likely to use their mobile phones to be on social media when they were in lectures as well as when they were driving.
In recent years, FoMo has extended beyond holidays and social gatherings to academic achievements and career progression. A study by the World Economic Forum (2018) on youths across Asean that found that FoMo affects the youths in Singapore significantly in the outlook of their future. In fact, young Singaporeans possess the highest level of anxiety and pessimism about their careers and financial stability in the region.
Why is FoMO prevalent in Singapore?
Humans are social animals with a desire to belong, as our early survival depended on us being a part of a social group. Being a member of a social group ensured that we had access to food sources and information on nearby threats, FoMO is hence part of our survival instinct.
Looking in to our history, Singapore made remarkable progress since our independence due to the hard work of our forefathers and in order to lay the foundations for what we have today. Success definitely did not come easy and the mindset that hard work equates to success, continues to be conveyed even till today.
With rising affluence and competitiveness to do well, working hard may seem insufficient. You now have to work harder than the other person. It fuels a competitive society where people strive to one-up the other and encourages a fear of missing out in Singaporeans. Is it no longer good enough to score ‘A’s, but you now have to score ‘A’s and also have a long list of extra-curricular activities to set yourself apart from the crowd.
When does FoMO becomes a problem?
1. Social fatigue
It is good to stay socially connected and to have a strong support group, but the problem arises when maintaining these social interactions become too overwhelming and taxing on one’s wellbeing. For instance, when all you really want to do this Friday night is to rest at home reading a good book, but you cannot seem to turn down your colleagues’ dinner invitation. You are afraid that you will be missing out on stories shared during dinner, but you know that you will not have as much fun at the dinner as you will have at home. It is unhealthy when you constantly prioritise going out with people at the expense of your own self-care needs, leading you to be socially exhausted.
2. Social comparison
Another problematic aspect of FoMO is when you inevitably pit your own experiences against others’. Social comparison has its roots in evolutionary biology as well, when it was adaptive to rival a competitor group’s performance with one’s own to ensure survival (Dumas, Fagot & Claidière, 2017). There are two aspects to social comparison - upward social comparison and downward social comparison. Upward social comparison refers to comparing one’s performance with someone who is better, thus fuelling self-improvement and performance, while downward social comparison refers to comparing to someone inferior and it buffers one’s self-esteem.
FoMO mainly involves making upward social comparisons. You constantly compare yourself to others who have experiences that you do not have and you fear to miss out on any more experiences because of the urge to ‘catch up to the competition’. But really, this is a rat race with no true winner. Social media exacerbates the problem. When you see your friends post their travel photos, their workout routines and share about their good grades - you start to wonder if you are living hard enough, if you are getting out enough and wondering if you are good enough. Read more on how social media impacts self-esteem here.
3. At risk for depression and anxiety
Studies have shown that FoMO is linked to symptoms of depression and anxiety (Dempsey, O’Brien, Tiamiyu & Elhai, 2019; Wolniewicz, Rozgonjuk & Elhai, 2019). When you are constantly comparing yourself to others and feel that you are not good enough, you become at risk for developing depressive symptoms, such as self-loathing and feeling hopeless at your situation. The nagging worry or fear of missing out on something may cause feelings of anxiety as well, feeling jittery that you might be missing out in any way.
If you think that your FoMO is tiring you out and it has been a while since you have taken some downtime for yourself, here are some tips you can follow to manage FoMO:
1. Limit your time on social media
Social media usage has been linked to increased feelings of FoMO (Hunt, Marx, Lipson & Young, 2018; Taylor, 2018). When using social media, it is helpful to keep in mind that you are more likely to post a picture of you enjoying your friend’s party than a picture of you lying on the bed, feeling sick. Likewise, the social media users tend to portray only the best moments of their lives online. Limiting your time online and spending more of it offline keeps you in touch with reality - that on social media, all that glitters is not gold. Read here to find out more on the negative effects social media has on your psychological well-being.
2. Prioritise your needs
FoMO creates a feeling of wanting to be at every gathering, to participate in every activity you know, but often, these gatherings or activities are not as fun or engaging as one would have imagined them to be. Making a list of priorities and knowing what you truly want to go for will help in making the best use of your time and energy. Plan a schedule to manage your time better and always remember to leave some time off for a self-care session to recharge yourself.
3. Keep a gratitude journal
Be it your family, your friends, or something small that happened earlier this week, remind yourself to be thankful for what you already have. This is helpful to manage those feelings of envy or jealousy when you compare yourself to others. Ground yourself in being thankful and satisfied with what you are given and keep feelings of FoMO at bay.
It is easy to feel overwhelmed with FoMO when there is so much happening around you and you feel like you have to be a part of it all. Or getting overwhelmed with feelings of inadequacy when you look through social media. Remember that you are your own individual and nothing good will come out of comparing yourself to what you see online. Going for parties, and meeting with friends - they are all fun and good but do remember to set aside some time for yourself.
Barker, E. (2016, June 7). How to Overcome FOMO: Fear of Missing Out. Retrieved from https://time.com/4358140/overcome-fomo/.
Dempsey, A. E., O'Brien, K. D., Tiamiyu, M. F., & Elhai, J. D. (2019). Fear of missing out (FoMO) and rumination mediate relations between social anxiety and problematic Facebook use. Addictive behaviors reports, 9, 100150.
Dumas, F., Fagot, J., Davranche, K., & Claidière, N. (2017). Other better versus self better in baboons: an evolutionary approach of social comparison. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 284(1855), 20170248.
Hunt, M. G., Marx, R., Lipson, C., & Young, J. (2018). No more FOMO: Limiting social media decreases loneliness and depression. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 37(10), 751-768.
Przybylski, A. K., Murayama, K., DeHaan, C. R., & Gladwell, V. (2013). Motivational, emotional, and behavioral correlates of fear of missing out. Computers in Human Behavior, 29(4), 1841-1848.
Taylor, D. G. (2018, June). Social Media Usage, FOMO, and Conspicuous Consumption: An Exploratory Study: An Abstract. In Academy of Marketing Science World Marketing Congress (pp. 857-858). Springer, Cham.
Wolniewicz, C. A., Rozgonjuk, D., & Elhai, J. D. (2019). Boredom proneness and fear of missing out mediate relations between depression and anxiety with problematic smartphone use. Human Behavior and Emerging Technologies.
World Economic Forum. (2018). ASEAN youth and future of work [Media briefing]. Retrieved from http://cdn.seagroup.com/webmain/static/resource/seagroup/mediaresource/research/Youth%20survey%20media%20briefing%20%28Sept%202018%29%20-%20Final.pdf
Article written with Jasmine Kuah. Jasmine is a psychology undergraduate from the National University of Singapore (NUS). Jasmine is an aspiring clinical psychologist who wishes to help individuals improve their quality of life with better mental health. She is currently on internship with ImPossible Psychological Services under the supervision of senior clinical psychologist, Haikal.