A group of your college buddies are getting together before the year is over but a previous engagement prevents you from making it. A casual scroll through Instagram shows photos of your friends laughing over drinks and late-night snacks while you’ve missed out on all the action. Hashtags of #friendwhoarefamily #blessed #reunion spark unfamiliar reactions within, and suddenly sadness, anxiety, and regret take over. Fear not–these emotions are the result of a classic case of FOMO. We’ve heard FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) referenced in humorous ways on social media. But is FOMO real? Do people experience FOMO or is it just another media-derived concept that we’ve taken upon ourselves to play out?
The idea of FOMO, or social anxiety, has been around since socialization began, only there wasn’t a always name for it. With the explosion of social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, Snap Chat and Twitter, smartphone obsession and the rising popularity of apps, the fear of missing someone or something has turned into actualized anxiety of not living up to our full potential. One minute, life appears glorious. The next, we see a post about a friend’s recent engagement or baby news and we look for reasons to discredit and dislike ourselves, sending us into a tailspin. FOMO brings our insecurities front and center, making us second-guess our decisions. Carefully following other people’s social media activity nearly dictates what we feel about our own lives.
Social media, originally meant to serve as portal of communication for people, has evolved into a way of life. Live updates on peers, friends, family or favorite celebrities don’t leave much to the imagination. In an interview with The New York Times, Instagram chief executive Kevin Systrom said of Twiiter, “We aren’t used to seeing the world as it happens. […] We as humans can only process so much data.” FOMO occurs because we want to feel connected in an age of physical disconnection. It fuels our desire to want more; more success, more time with friends and family, more reasons to write on someone’s wall or tweet at them. Systrom agreed that social media is addictive, describing ‘liking’ a photo as being “rewarded and keeps you coming back.”
When we’re not there in the physical we feel a missed connection, a lost opportunity at social interaction and we imagine what it could have been if we were there. So how can we control the FOMO beast within? Here are four practical tips on how to handle a case of FOMO:
1. Put Down the Phone
The #1 rule to curing FOMO is to control your online intake. It’s hard to imagine life before Facebook, let alone cellphones. Our mobiles devices have become an extension of our body. Completely unplugging isn’t the answer but minor adjustments make all the difference. Make it a point to turn over your phone at least 3-4 times a day and walk away. Keep your hands busy with other activities like cooking, walking the dog or folding laundry. It may not be easy, but separating yourself from your phone is a necessary step to overcoming FOMO. Look up from that phone, there’s a whole world to experience
2. Measure your happiness
Remembering our accomplishing and goals are more important than caring about who posted what online. FOMO creeps up when we are at a weak point or feeling low. Find three things you’ve done or would like to do that make you happy. Measure your happiness for yourself and for other people. If you’re not at your happiest, ask yourself, what makes you unhappy for others? What can you do to become happier? Staying positive is important for a sound mind and body.
3. Focus on Yourself
The benefits of social media are plenty but there is an obvious downside to staying connected—we care too much about what other people are doing. When you find yourself obsessing over the lives of everyone else, stop what you’re doing and ask yourself whether what you are thinking about affects your life. Re-channel this energy to focus on your daily intentions.
4. Reduce Stress
When we do what we love, things that make us laugh and burst with enthusiasm, the body automatically creates endorphins. Stay physically active. Join a yoga class or running group, meditate, read. Anything that will steer your mind away from the happenings of your Facebook news feed will reduce your social (media) anxiety and create a happier you. Untagged photos be damned, go out there and get some me-time.
Also see: How to Overcome Social Media Anxiety