FOMO, the fear of missing out, was added to the Oxford dictionary in 2013.
Witnessing social media snippets of other people’s lives often triggers comparison, envy and insecurity. If you feel anxious when you read or hear about something you are not involved in, you may be suffering from FOMO. You feel like you are missing out on an experience, opportunity or fun.
As people become obsessed with looking into other people’s lives on social media, excessive digital habits develop. It is linked to dopamine-seeking behaviours evident in addiction as people seek out their high.
Surveys in the US and UK have shown that young adults are compelled to commit to everything in case they miss out. Social diaries become overloaded as people commit to far too many engagements.
Unhealthy social media use has a negative impact on psychological health and can contribute to negative mood and anxiety. Recent studies have revealed links with fatigue, stress and sleep problems. Distorted social connections and a blur between reality and the virtual world may evolve.
It can churn up feelings of inadequacy as others seem to be having more fun, better lives, in happier families while looking like movie stars. Individuals may become so obsessed with checking the onscreen lives of others that real life interactions are neglected.
People can get angry, upset and resentful if not involved, and FOMO can interfere with the enjoyment of real life. There is often a negative impact on existing social relations when people avoid making commitments to keep their options open. This not only can aggravate others but can damage healthy interactions.
It is not only millennials that feel the effects of FOMO. It can feature in the workplace, at the school gates and even children may experience it.
Some people find it hard to switch off from work as a result of FOMO. They may be afraid of missing out on office gossip, information or work updates.
Even when on holidays or on sick leave, people have that urge to be kept in the office loop. This is often driven by a fear of not missing an important issue and getting into trouble. This information overload contributes to work related stress and burn-out. It is mentally exhausting keeping abreast with twitter, emails, whatsapp groups, smartphones and other digital hooks.
Parenting may be impacted by FOMO as social comparisons are made and benchmarks set with photos and posts. Decisions may be made, under social pressure, that are not in the best interests of family life.
Through social media and conversations, parents are aware that other kids may be having experiences that theirs aren’t. Playdates, games, extracurricular activities are more on show than ever before. Children too may feel their lives are not as interesting as their peers. They may be off form. feel low or anxious that they are missing out on activities, socialising or online video games.
So how can you reduce FOMO?
See it for what it is when it arises and stay present with your real life. Focus on what and who you have, and who and what really matters. While you may be stuck at home with a baby looking at all your friends out partying, focus on the joy your baby brings.
If your friends are all out in a lovely restaurant sending photos of tasty food and if you chose to stay home to study, remind yourself of the reasons why. It is important to be ‘social media smart’ and to be mindful that social media conveys the glossy versions and highlights of people’s lives. Be aware of distortions and assumptions such as “they are all having a great time without me”, “they have better lives”.
It helps to get busy, engage in activities, exercise, do some volunteer work or learn something new. Take a screen detox or allocate specific screen times to check your phone, facebook, instagram or snapchat.
Like any addictive behaviour, understand what is it about you that has you sucked into this and wean yourself off. Accept that experiences and events can happen without you. You can’t have it all and you can’t do it all.
Don’t say “ yes” to events for the fear of missing out, and keep a healthy distance from other peoples’ screened versions of their lives. For one week, log the amount of time you spend checking emails, texts or social media on a daily basis. What else could you be doing with that time?
With work FOMO, remember that you will be notified about anything of significant importance. No one is indispensable and be mindful of a work life balance. Try to delegate activities when you are not available and disconnect during non working hours.
Your aim is to fully live rather than being a slave to every detail that is happening without you. New technological advances with artificial intelligence are set to help employment practices.
Parents can step back and not get sucked into the hype or projected stories of other families. The fear of your kids missing out may not be their fear, and building resilience is not about fitting in and comparison.
Nurturing self-esteem and confidence will help them feel that they do not have to be involved with every social event or activity. Encourage them to have involvement with more off-screen real life experiences. Screen education helps them discern between online reality and fantasy. We can all enjoy technology in moderation and scroll through our lives instead of our screens.
It is another aspect of mental health protection.