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Confronting the fear of missing out

By: Rose O. Sherman, EdD, RN, NEA-BC, FAAN

This addictive habit can lead to leader burnout.


  • Fear of missing out (FOMO) can lead to extreme stress and an inability to make commitments.
  • FOMO is a type of anxiety disorder experienced when individuals have a pervasive apprehension that others may be having rewarding experiences from which they’re absent.
  • Some experts believe that FOMO is exacerbated by social media.
  • Overcoming FOMO requires behavioral change.


Natalie* has been the manager of a surgical unit for 6 months. It’s her first leadership role, and she’s exhausted. Most of her day is spent attending meetings and other hospital events. To meet the many demands of this position, Natalie frequently works late, and instead of relaxing on weekends, she has a fully booked social calendar with family and friends. While talking with her director, Natalie realizes that she struggles with a fear of missing out (FOMO), both in her personal and professional life. Her overcommitment to events and initiatives is leading to stress and burnout.

Time management is challenging for many nurse leaders. Like Natalie, they struggle with trying to be “everywhere” at work and at home, out of a belief that the only way to stay in the loop in their organization or social circle is to attend all the meetings and events. Not doing this might mean they’re missing out on the latest news or exciting experiences that others are having. Some leaders even measure their value by how many meetings they’re invited to attend and feel stressed when they’re not included in everything.

The pace that Natalie has set for herself isn’t sustainable. Responding to FOMO consumes a lot of mental, emotional, and physical energy, so unless Natalie can confront her fear, she’s at high risk for burnout. Attending all the meetings and maintaining a full social schedule may make Natalie feel like she’s productive, but it’s not a wise use of her time. To become more effective in both leadership and life, Natalie will need to view her FOMO as an addictive habit that must be broken.

FOMO origins

The term FOMO was popularized in 2004 by Patrick McGinnis, then a graduate student at the Harvard Business School and reporter on the school paper. He used FOMO in an article as the rationale for the packed social schedules of many business students who were motivated by a fear that they would miss out on professional opportunities if they weren’t present. This fear, McGinnis contended, was leading to extreme stress and an inability to make commitments. Experts describe FOMO as a type of anxiety disorder experienced when individuals have a pervasive apprehension that others may be having rewarding experiences from which they’re absent.

Some experts believe that social media—where we can view what others are doing in real time—has made FOMO more severe. Individuals with FOMO frequently spend significant amounts of time on social media to feed a need to stay connected to what others are doing. Researchers have linked FOMO to rumination, distracted learning, depression, and an overall decrease in life satisfaction. It’s also believed to impact decision-making in leaders like Natalie because they tend to continue to seek more options. (See 10 signs of FOMO.)

Strategies to control FOMO

FOMO has been compared to the old trope about keeping up with the Joneses. In generations past, parents warned their children about the dangers of social comparison. And experts today remind us that FOMO begins from a place of unhappiness, so eliminating it may help us lead happier, more content lives. Controlling FOMO will involve changing where we place our attention, being more content with our lives, and reducing our choices so decision-making is easier.

The good news is that Natalie is aware that she has a problem. She can overcome it if she’s willing to view it as an addictive habit and make some behavioral changes. However, this may not be easy. Researchers at the Neuro­Leadership Institute contend that awareness alone can’t effect behavioral change because of something psychologists call the “intention-implementation gap.” Studies have found little to no correlation between a person’s intention to do something and actually doing it. Other components must be present for change to occur. The first is effectively identifying one’s blind spots. In Natalie’s case, she may not recognize how her overbooked schedule is impacting her leadership effectiveness and may eventually derail her career. The second is to focus on specific behaviors resulting from FOMO that must be changed and put new systems into place to control them. Steps that Natalie could take to begin her behavioral change include the following:

Compile and review a list of all meetings and events attended during the last month to determine what’s essential. The first place Natalie can begin is with her calendar. She can use her director as a sounding board to review all the meetings and activities she currently attends in her organization. The goal should be to eliminate everything that’s not essential. For each event or meeting, Natalie and the director can discuss whether her presence is necessary. The director should remind Natalie that while she’s attending a meeting she’s not doing something else in her area of responsibility during that time. Some options include sending another staff member to the meeting or being present for only part of the meeting. Natalie should apply the same decision-making to her personal life. Committing to what’s essential is important, as is learning to say no. Natalie needs to stop trying to do everything and instead participate in fewer but more meaningful activities.

Let go of the comparisons that trigger anxiety. Social comparison theory explains our natural tendency to compare ourselves to others. We make these comparisons to foster self-improvement, self-motivation, and a positive self-image. The challenge today is that many of these comparisons occur through social media, where people post what’s frequently described as the highlight reel of their lives or a perfect digital version of themselves and their experiences. What we see on social media may look like everyone else is having fun and living a problem-free life. Natalie can dig into her nursing background with patients to remind herself that nobody’s life is perfect and that everyone has struggles. She can use habits like gratitude reflection to help her be content with what she has.

Reduce her use of social media and tech­nology. Researchers have found that frequent use of technology such as smartphones along with time spent on social networking sites exacerbates FOMO and increases anxiety. To help reduce FOMO, Natalie might want to consider what Cal Newport, associate professor of computer science at Georgetown University, describes as a digital detox or decluttering. She could begin by monitoring her screen time and setting boundaries on how connected she is. She should reflect on how platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram impact her time and increase her anxiety, and then consider eliminating some of them. Newport contends that reducing screen time also enables us to do more of the deep work that’s required in leadership to make good decisions.

Learning to be content

Mark Twain wrote that “comparison is the death of joy.” However, learning to be content with our own lives can be challenging. Like many young leaders today, Natalie grew up as a digital native with continuous access to social media, so she’s at high risk for FOMO. Working diligently to overcome her fear will be the path to a happier and less stressful life. It also will help her be a more effective leader.

Rose O. Sherman is adjunct professor at the Marian K. Shaughnessy Nurse Leadership Academy, Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, and author of the book The Nurse Leader Coach: Become the Boss No One Wants to Leave. You can read her blog at

*Name is fictitious.


Change methodology. NeuroLeadership Institute. Change methodology.

Dempsey AE, O’Brien KD, Tiamiyu MF, Elhai JD. Fear of missing out (FoMO) and rumination mediate relations between social anxiety and problematic Facebook use. Addict Behav Rep. 2019;9:100150.

Graham LH. Is fear of missing out instrumental in understanding health outcomes related to social media use? Am J Med Res. 2018;5(1):67-72.

Leon Festinger’s Social Comparison Theory. The Psychology Notes HQ. February 13, 2020.

Newport C. Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World. New York: Portfolio/Penquin; 2019.

McGinnis PJ. How to dump FOMO in 2018.

Przybylski AK, Murayama K, DeHaan CR, Gladwell V. Motivational, emotional, and behavioral correlates of fear of missing out. Comput Human Behav. 2013;29(4):1841-8.

Reiche S. FOMO and FOBO that leaders should be aware of. Expatriatus. April 23, 2019.

Schreckinger B. The home of FOMO. Boston Magazine. July 29, 2014



1 Comment. Leave new

  • Samantha Blanc, RN, BSN
    May 5, 2020 8:18 am

    I am writing in response to an article written by Sherman “Confronting the fear of missing out.” The article is based upon leadership burnout and discusses the strategies to alter behaviors to help deal with the mentality of the fear of missing out (FOMO). Although the article did demonstrate ways to alleviate this anxiety provoking thought, the article was lacking in portraying the impact that leaders dealing with FOMO can have on team members. I believe in order to get the point across and accurately explain the devastation it can have on the individual then the impression and environment created by said leader needed to be illuminated. Some individuals do not understand the impact of their addictive behaviors, as FOMO is expressed by the author, until the clarity of the damage the actions have on others is brought to light.

    The fear of missing out has significantly increased with the development of advanced technology and having social media available at the drop of a hat. As indicated in the article, FOMO can cause anxiety, depression, distracted learning, decrease satisfaction, and can drastically impact the decision making ability; however, the personalities impacts such as irritability and lack of self-esteem were not explored even though these are significant to a leader’s ability to lead others while creating a healthy work environment. Individuals who experience irritability can become hostile and the lack of self-esteem can impact their ability to motivate others as well as remain confident in their leading abilities. These toxic behaviors can impact not only productivity of the group, but as health care leaders it can impact the care provided to our patients. Aligning the person’s thoughts to understand the impact it can have on patients and team members will motivate the change needed to confront the fear of missing out indicated by the author. As nurses, we want to help others and realizing the impact our actions on others can be the driving force needed to start the journey towards a better leader.

    Samantha Blanc, RN, BSN
    Orthopedic Surgical Service Line Coordinator


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