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How to fight FOMO


The fear of missing out, or FOMO, can derail even the most assured and confident of us. Worrying that we're missing out on new experiences, activities, relationships and even investments can create a crisis out of thin air. These anxiety spirals are super common. And overcoming FOMO is key to being more present in our own lives. Frank Festa with NPR's Life Kit is here to walk us through how.

FRANK FESTA, BYLINE: After a killer week at work, staying in on a Friday or Saturday night feels like a good idea to relax and recharge. That is, until you get on Instagram and everyone's exciting life is in the palm of your hand. You've got a front-row seat to some friends having a blast at a baseball game. Another buddy is snuggling with their adorable rescue dog. And someone you barely know is about to set off on a road trip. Suddenly, staying in doesn't feel so good anymore. FOMO can have us questioning every aspect of our existence, but sometimes the constant comparison game we play can be a good thing.

AARTI GUPTA: Humans are social beings and rely on each other to survive, and being left out or not being in the know could have once upon a time been a matter of life or death.

FESTA: That's Dr. Aarti Gupta, who's clinical director at TherapyNest in Palo Alto, Calif. She says that while we're no longer fighting off sabertooth tigers, comparing ourselves to other people and wanting to fit in remains an important part of bettering ourselves. When that comparison game turns toxic, Aarti says we should practice getting into an abundance mindset.

GUPTA: This means remembering that there are plenty of opportunities to go around for everyone, and just because someone else found success doesn't mean that you won't.

FESTA: It turns out that the anxiety induced by FOMO has a lot to do with how the amygdala functions as our brain's guard dog. It's been working the same way for thousands of years, triggering the fight or flight response that has kept us around this long. But the amygdala hasn't exactly adapted to modern times, which is why it can confuse mailmen for burglars.

GUPTA: It can often feel like a stress response, a swirling of negative thoughts, going down a spiral, accompanied by a physiological reaction of increased heartbeat and heavier breathing, a knot in your stomach, tightened chest, things like that.

FESTA: Next time FOMO knocks on your door, take a moment to assess what sort of danger you're really in. Knowing what triggers your FOMO is an important part of keeping it at bay. For many of us, including myself, social media happens to be the biggest trigger, where the slightest thing can set me off. But what triggers me might not trigger you. Maybe you're particularly salty about yet another friend buying their first home. For Aarti, this usually comes up in parenting.

GUPTA: I'm a newish mom. I have a 3-year-old. And it's really easy to compare the way you're raising your kid to the way that others are raising theirs.

FESTA: She combats this by trying to minimize the parenting content she consumes. She also stressed how important it is to remember that we're always missing out on something. Choosing one activity or path over another inevitably means you'll miss out on some, and that's OK.

GUPTA: I think the irony of all of it is it's called FOMO, the fear of missing out. But really, what it is doing is it's making you miss out on today and that warm and cozy bed that you're in right now or the job that you're in right now or the relationship that you're in right now because you're so worried about what else is out there.

FESTA: FOMO is all about perceived happiness, and the keyword there is perceived. So when you find yourself thinking the grass is greener on the other side, remind yourself why you're watering yours.

THOMPSON: That was Frank Festa with NPR's Life Kit. For more tips and life hacks, go to npr.org/lifekit. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Frank Festa