You’ve settled on the couch with a glass of wine, a yummy snack and the latest Netflix flick. You’re pumped to start a new binge-worthy series with your significant other. But before hitting the play button, you decide to do a quick scan of your social networks.
Twenty minutes and too much time stalking Facebook, Instagram and Twitter later thanks to your smartphone addiction — aka nomophobia — and you’re suddenly doubting not just tonight’s choices but everything leading up to this point. If you had chosen a different job, would you have been invited to that party your friend posted a photo of? How is it that the young actress you follow on Instagram is half your age but already so much more accomplished? Should you even be watching this TV show — everyone on Twitter is abuzz about that other new show.
You have FOMO.
What Is FOMO?
Technology is designed to help us feel more connected to one another. All these social networks and ways to keep in touch are supposed to help us build and maintain relationships. You can reconnect with old high school roommates or share photos with your grandmother who lives 2,000 miles away.
But with all the apps and connectedness come the inevitable comparisons to other people, as well as the fear that, by choosing one thing, we might be missing out on something else, something better. FOMO, or fear of missing out, isn’t necessarily a 21st-century problem.
After all, hearing about a friend buying his first house over dinner while you were still living with roommates might have given you a pang of uncertainty 15 years ago. But today, everything is magnified — all these other choices are in your face, with notifications, constantly. Enter FOMO.
Then there’s the fact that our apps are designed to reward us when we share pieces of our lives. After all, these are businesses that want to keep you coming back for more. We’re given instant gratification when we post something and it gets 20 likes, much like we can get depressed if no one “hearts” our latest Instagram photos. And if no one liked it, did it really happen?
FOMO can also have more serious repercussions. One Australian study found that one in two teens in the country feels like he or she is “missing out” on the perfect lives friends seem to be having via social media. Teens with heavy social media usage were also likelier to be more anxious and depressed than their smartphone-free peers. (1)
Adults aren’t immune, of course. Those with FOMO feel less competent and — irony of ironies — less connected than those without. (2) In addition, a 2013 report found that 56 percent of social media users suffer from FOMO. (3) Further, according to a 2014 survey from self-service ticketing platform Eventbrite, 69 percent of millennials “experience FOMO when they can’t attend something that their family or friends are going to.” (4)
And is it any wonder, when we’re inundated with information and data at a speed never before seen in human history? But there’s no reason you have to let FOMO control your life.
What Can We Do About FOMO?
It’s unrealistic to think we won’t occasionally doubt our choices or get a little jealous when friends meet up without us. There are, however, ways to minimize the damage and ensure our time on social media leaves us feeling good, not down in the dumps.
Step 1: Accept Your Status
It’s OK — in fact, it’s encouraged! — to admit that you feel like you might be missing the next awesome thing. It’s kind of a relief to say that aloud, isn’t it? You might find your mind-set changes if you chant that to yourself while scrolling through your news feeds. For fun, take this quiz that will rate your FOMO level.
Step 2: Realize You’re Looking at the Greatest Hits
The same way you (hopefully) refrain from alerting the Twitterverse that you’re currently in a family feud, realize too that everyone else only shares his or her biggest hits as well. It’s easy to show off your best self online and glaze over everything else. Remember that just like you posted that ocean photo without showing the flat tire your car got en route to the beach, everyone else plays the same game.
It’s also good to remember that it’s crazy easy to manipulate “reality” — in fact, one student convinced her family and friends that she was on a trip to Asia without ever leaving her bedroom, through a few tricks. (5)
Step 3: Disconnect
Not only might you be suffering from nomophobia, or smartphone addiction, but chances are you’re receiving way too many notifications that serve no purpose other than to alert you of someone else’s life event.
So go ahead and turn off notifications for your social apps — yes, even those that alert you to “likes.” Use a browser add-on to limit your time on FOMO-inducing sites. And if there is a person in particular who sets your FOMO on fire, don’t be afraid to unfollow that person to save your sanity.
Step 4: Live in the Present
Use your time wisely. Make a list of all the things you wish you had time for: learning a new language, finally reading the book club selection, volunteering. Now, for the next week, document every minute you spend on stalking social media. That’s all time you can never get back! By wasting these precious moments keeping tab on everyone else, you’re missing the opportunity to create and enjoy your present.
So get out there and start living your life — but please, don’t post about it, lest you fuel someone else’s FOMO.
- One in two teens in Australia feels like he or she is “missing out” on the perfect lives friends seem to be having via social media.
- 56 percent of social media users suffer from FOMO.
- 69 percent of millennials “experience FOMO when they can’t attend something that their family or friends are going to.”
- You can minimize FOMO by accepting your status, realizing you’re looking at the greatest hits on social media, disconnecting and living in the present.
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