A Guide to Managing Your Introverted Fear of Missing Out (FOMO)

An introvert experiences FOMO

Sometimes introverts have FOMO, when they feel they “should” do something social vs. do what they really want to do, like stay home.

One of the biggest challenges for introverts is managing the battle of the “shoulds” — which is akin to an introverted Fear Of Missing Out (FOMO). This is the constant struggle of deciding whether or not you follow your instincts and do what you want to do — like stay home with a good book — or go with the social norms and do what you “should” do — like attend a friend’s birthday party where you won’t know anybody. 

It often comes down to a question of stretching your comfort zone, something you feel that you are constantly doing anyway, or retreating to the solace of your thoughts, solitude, and quiet time.    

In this article, I will highlight strategies you can use as you face your battle of the “shoulds” and break down this whole FOMO thing a bit… because, despite the recent use of the term, the concept has been around for a long time and takes on a unique twist for those of us who are introverts. In fact, these are some of the same strategies I use in my everyday work as a mental health professional, where I must balance the support I provide with my own strategies to recharge. 

How the Introverted FOMO Is Insidious

FOMO is most often discussed as one of the downsides of the age of social media. However, it was around long before we had Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. I can remember countless times in the ’90s and early ’00s when I struggled with the decision to go out or stay in, and obviously, it had nothing to do with social media. It was a private battle, laden with the fear that I would be missing out on some crucial life experience, like an essential bonding moment with my group of friends, that would then leave me feeling like even more of an outsider than I already felt I was.  And it was an experience that I was opting out of, otherwise known as the introverted FOMO.  

Today’s FOMO is highly connected to what we see on social media, which creates envy and the feeling that you are missing out on life. It’s the idea that, regardless of what you are doing, introverts and extroverts alike are left with the feeling that someone is always doing something more, something better.  

However, for introverts, FOMO is not simply the idea that your life is boring or less-than, but that you are choosing not to participate in the events going on around you. The additional layer of introverted FOMO is the feeling that even with as much as you are doing, which is already a lot for your energy level, there is always so much more that you “should” do, which is an untold burden in and of itself.    

FOMO Pressures of Youth

I have to say that when I was younger, it felt like a heavier choice, deciding to stay in or go out. Every time I said no, I wondered what great thing I was missing out on. But I wondered if I was missing out on a connection, an incredible life experience, a job opportunity — all of which led me to beat myself up with self-doubt. The question at hand was always, “Do I step out of my comfort zone, take the risk, and open myself up to life? Or do I chill at home?” Yep, introverted FOMO strikes again!  

Today, however, in my 40s, with the pace and demands of my professional life, the decision to have a night out or a quiet night at home is a lot more about self-preservation than the risk of being a “party pooper.” My weeks are way more draining than they ever have been and the weekends are absolutely needed to recoup so I can be the high-functioning person that work-life demands. And I admit, as I have gotten older, it has gotten a little easier to say “no” — but that introverted FOMO still comes up from time to time.   

However, if you’re someone who experiences FOMO a lot, remember that this particular pressure will get a little easier as you get older. One of the benefits that come with age is security and self-assuredness. You will increasingly be more secure in what you need and what is good for you, you will likely have a more solid footing in your career, you will have already lived quite a bit and had many of those “youth experiences” that will all make it a little easier to say, “No thanks.” And, therefore, you will have a little less FOMO when you turn down a social invite.  

But it won’t go away completely. The introverted FOMO will still pop up, which is okay.

The first question to ask yourself is: Who are you doing this for? Is it to please someone else? Or is it because you want to push yourself and get out there? Below, I give some examples of times to stretch your comfort zone and when to say “no.”

3 Ways to Stretch Your Comfort Zone and When to Say ‘No’

1. On vacation, you may need to have a “When in Rome…” philosophy (at least sometimes).

As they say, “When in Rome…” and, in this case, it might be literally. When you are on vacation, this is definitely a time when it is worth the extra push to check out the night scene in some far-off land, a place that you may or may not get back to. In truth, these situations have typically been easier for me; however, traveling can be exhausting for us introverts!    

To make the most of your travels, keep these tips in mind: 

  • Make sure you build in downtime. Regardless of whether you are with friends, family, your significant other, or traveling solo, it is super important that you find your downtime to recoup and re-energize, even if it means that you break from the group for a bit. Planning ahead will also help to ensure you have this time factored in along the way, whether it’s making time for a nap, walk, or alone time at the spa.
  • Practice mindfulness. One of the best things about mindfulness is that it can be practiced anytime and any place. Mindfulness is about being present in the here and now and connecting your physical self with the world around you, the very opposite of discontent, which is most often rooted in the past or future.  A simple way to practice mindfulness is through your 5 senses. Identify something you smell, hear, feel, taste and see in your surroundings in any given moment, do this as you slowly breathe in and out, pausing and reflecting.  It will help you enjoy your travel experience and restore lost energy.     

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2. When family and friends come to visit, you may need to give them some of your energy. 

When it comes to extended visits with friends or family, the option of “saying no” may not always be there, especially around holiday time, like Thanksgiving or Christmas. Visits with family or old friends are often centered around an occasion or event which will most likely entail socializing with people that you don’t see often. Finding the right balance here will be essential, and it will have to be handled in a fairly sensitive manner.  

Advice to survive the family and friends visiting: 

  • Be open and transparent. During a visit with family or friends, it may be odd if the host or a guest disappears on you. If you need a break, that is perfectly okay — take it — but make sure you communicate with your guests or hosts. For example, you can inquire about the afternoon or morning plans while saying that you would like to take a walk or go for a jog at some point. That way, you can incorporate it into the larger plan or simply say that you are going to do your own thing for a bit and will be back for the next part of the larger group activity. It is completely fine to take an afternoon nap or break away from the group for a bit; just make sure to talk about it and know what the plan is for the rest of the time together.    
  • Mindset. If you have planned to have a visit with family or friends, then you most likely know what to expect. This will help you be mentally prepared for the social commitment. If you are attending an event or weekend with a partner and are not as familiar with the people you will be meeting, allow room to discuss this in advance. Keep in mind your need for alone time and what will be expected of you. This will ease anxiety and help you enjoy the visit, maximizing your experience and your relationship.   

3. Look at work functions as opportunities and have an ally attend with you. 

Work-related situations can be tough, as it can feel like a lot is on the line. Depending on your line of work, it may very well be the case, but then again, it may very well not be the case. The bottom line is, you know which it is — and it is likely that if you are faced with a high-stakes situation, then you will be able to figure out which social events you need to attend and which you can sit out.  

If you need to muster up the energy to get through it, review the strategies above and you will be okay. Trust yourself, knowing that you are the expert on yourself and you didn’t get to where you are by accident. However, if it is not a high-stakes situation and one of those “It would be good to go, but…” situations, then keep reading.

  • Assess and find the balance that makes the most sense for you. Is this a matter of short-term pain for long-term gain? If you go, will you be able to take a break tomorrow to recharge? If the answer is yes, then maybe it’s worth pushing yourself and chalking it up to an investment in yourself. However, if your social battery is already on empty, then maybe it is worth cutting your losses and making a commitment to go to the next one. Remember that this will most likely not be the last chance to meet with colleagues or attend a networking event — there will be others.  
  • Find your allies so you feel less alone. If it helps, find an ally, friend, or date that will help you feel less alone at the event. This way, you’ll have someone to lean on when you need to stand off to the side and break away from all the small talk for a bit. Plus, having someone there with you will also make it more fun!    

If this information resonated with you, please check out my blog, UpsideDownFlan.com, where you can learn how to manage the ups and downs of life, plus access my free mental health tools and resources.

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I am a mental health professional (Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker) with 20+ years of experience as a social worker, educator, therapist, and community organizer. My passion is turning life's challenges and roadblocks into opportunities and strengths that drive us forward, creating new and exciting possibilities. My website and blog, UpsideDownFlan.com, reflect this strengths-based approach to life that I work to bring to my clients and staff. I am a graduate of the Boston College Graduate School of Social Work and recently earned an Advanced Certificate of Graduate Studies from Salem State University in Educational Leadership. I am a proud introvert, a lifelong learner, a wanderer, and someone who knows what it’s like to have their life turned upside down! For more, you can follow my Instagram account: @upside_down_flan.