The other night I scrolled through my Instagram feed, and with each passing photo, I found myself being bombarded by a number of persistent questions.
“Should I also be studying abroad in Paris this summer? Why aren’t I on a beach vacation with my [non-existent] boyfriend? Why didn’t I purchase those tickets for the Beyoncé concert again?”
If you’re an avid social media user, then you have definitely experienced similar thoughts. Depending on the severity of these thoughts and feelings, you could be experiencing “FoMO” – the fear of missing out on fun and rewarding experiences. This fear drives our social media addiction and motivates us to constantly remain socially connected. With the rise in smartphone and social media use among the current generation of teenagers and young adults, research is starting to focus on the negative impact that excessive social media engagement can have on our psychological well-being.
I first heard about FoMO when a friend of mine decided to delete all of her social media accounts before her four-month trip across Europe. For months, I had been looking forward to vicariously living through her Instagram account; a dream that would no longer become a reality. Shortly after the breaking news of her social media absence, I discovered that FoMO had been the cause.
FoMO is typically experienced by overly active social media users, and has been linked to degraded mood levels and a lowered satisfaction with one’s life. These feelings can then contribute to symptoms of depression and anxiety. With youth being the most active on social media sites, it’s no surprise that levels of FoMO are highest within those between the ages of 13 to 29, and especially so in males according to Psychology Today. Those with FoMO tend to find it essential that they understand the in-jokes of their friend groups and are extremely bothered when they are unable to attend planned get-togethers. Other symptoms of FoMO include feeling worried when they know their friends are having fun without them and fearing that their friends are engaging in more rewarding experiences.
Those high in FoMO tend to access social media before they go to sleep, immediately after waking, and during meals. Research on this phenomenon focuses on its presence in college and university students; not only are they prime social media users, but those long hours spent studying and in lecture make it easy to feel as though they could be missing out on more enjoyable experiences.
In a study carried out by Psychology Today’s Michael Hogan, university students were asked to rate statements depending on how representative they were of the consequences of FoMO. Hogan and colleagues grouped together the highest ranking statements based on the particular consequence they represented. They found that pressure, paranoia, loneliness, negative self-image and jealousy were among the many consequences of FoMO. Students felt that these side effects led to a decrease in their concentration and caused them to unfairly judge their friends, peers, and acquaintances.
If you feel that you may be experiencing symptoms of FoMO, here are some tips to help you prevent or overcome them:
• Take a brief vacation from social media and rather than wishing you were having the same enjoyable experiences as others, go out and make your own!
• Gather some pals and go out to dinner, the movies, or enjoy a nice hike. Having adventures of your own will toss away those restless and lonely feelings, making you feel proactive about your life.
• While out with friends, consider putting a social media ban on the outing. This will keep all your friends focused in on the now and you won’t be tempted to inquire about what’s happening in the digital world.
• If you’re a student and find yourself distracted by social media during lectures or while studying, there are apps that you can download to temporarily lock your phone out of your other apps. This will help keep you focused and strengthen your level of self-control.
Although I’m still disappointed that I won’t receive live updates on my friend’s Europe trip, I completely respect her decision. Not only is she sparing me from experiencing FoMO, but I admire her ability to disconnect and live in the moment. If we could all detach ourselves from our smartphones and not be so concerned with sharing our life on social media or feeling the urge to constantly be informed about what others are doing, I’m certain that we would enjoy those Facebook Life Events and Instagram-worthy experiences all the more.