FOMO is the ‘fear of missing out’ and is commonly associated with our compulsive need to check and re-check social media and online media. Basically, we seek to stay informed at all times.
It becomes a ritual of chasing the next piece of information, the next interaction- the next little tid-bit that makes us feel as though we’re a part of something.
And while it may be as innocent as pulling out your phone as you wait for the bus and checking your social media, there is increasing medical research indicating that our desire to stay connected and our FOMO could be doing significant damage to our mental pathways and information processing. Not to mention the impact all this has on work stress.
Do you have FOMO or know someone who does? It’s time to take the difficult and confronting journey into the land where not knowing is creating anxiety and paranoia. Or is it?
The definition of FOMO
FOMO is defined as a social anxiety disorder where the desire to remain informed manifests into a compulsive concern that life is passing you by.
It’s that sense of disconnection and isolation you feel when you accidentally leave your phone at home. It can be the anger and frustration you feel when greeted with a Fail Whale or Facebook outage that you can’t shake.
It’s the continual need to share aspects of your life in a social media setting to gain attention, peer validation and seek out positive reinforcement of your life and your actions.
What causes FOMO?
The same sort of brain work that causes us to be interested in and/or addicted to games such as Candy Crush or Poker Machines is the same sort that creates FOMO. The mind seeks continual and constant engagement while moving towards a passive state of intellectual study.
In short, our brains become less likely to think deeply and pay attention, and more likely to chase emotional highs and triggers.
Like a lab rat who learns the button they press gives them reward, our own thinking is reformed to chase the heady high of social approval.
Who has FOMO?
If you find yourself unable to go to bed without checking all your social media channels first and/or the first thing you reach for at times of boredom, anxiety and when feeling isolated is your phone, chances are you’ve got FOMO, or you’re on the road to FOMO land.
A study conducted by Andrew K. Przybylski entitled Motivational, Emotional and Behavourial correlates of fear of missing out also discovered the following markers in students affected by FOMO.
- Associated with lower need satisfaction, mood and life satisfaction.
- Robustly linked to higher levels of social media engagement.
- FoMO mediated links between individual differences and social media engagement.
- Associated with distracted driving and use of social media during lectures.
In summary, those who were susceptible for FOMO usually fell in a pattern of requiring a higher level of attention, were found to have lower self esteem and a lack of emotional resilience, and would exacerbate the compulsive checking of information through their own attention chasing actions.
FOMO is not all about emotional fitness
While this certainly makes a lot of logical sense – emotionally depleted people will require more affirmations of their self worth than those who are in a safer, more confident emotional state- it also leaves a yawning cavern between what we know about social media usage and how FOMO increases this usage.
In the online world, we create personas. We deliver pieces of ourselves scattered across multiple platforms. We are the J. Alfred Prufrock’s of our time, complete with mask for all occasion. So what triggers our usage of one social media may not be the trigger for another. FOMO manifests itself during moments of isolation and stress. So it stands to reason that if you are stressed about work, your compulsion to check email, phone and LinkedIn will be greater than other web 2.0 properties. Yet that compulsion, having not satiated the need, may be replaced with a positive interaction on Facebook or Twitter. The issue at hand, the underlying cause of the search, is not resolved. Yet the desire to feel connected is satiated for a short period.
It is as situational as it is psychological.
FOMO is not driven by tools
We all have that person in our social media spheres who has a never ending thirst for attention. They may have a prolific output and feel the compulsive need to run multiple channels and post the exact same information. Perhaps the desire to be talked to and appreciated becomes such a driving force, they’ll say anything, share anything, argue about everything and seem to live in the online world 247.
Pretty soon, time with the family, real life conversations and chasing social proof of their online activity takes an edge of vanity, narcissism or show cracks within mental health. Foundations of the abnormal, low functioning and unhappy personality become clearly evident.
But it is not the tool that creates the problem. It merely acts as the distribution and magnification channel for already inherent personality glitches. A person does not become a candidate for histrionic personality disorder through using social media. You simply get a much sharper vision of the inner workings and issues within the personality involved.
Twitter does not make you a narcissist. It can however encourage the usually hidden to become frighteningly visible. Without the gloss coating of human connection, history, physical and emotional response to guide the viewer, the narcissist broadcasts the inner sanctum to a wider, less controlled audience.
The nature of humanity means everyone of us can be indulging our baggage and emotional foibles to an audience of thousands who feel incredibly connected to us while they are in reality, simply rubber-necking the car crash that is our mental fragility.
And by sharing your delicate self, you invite rejection and anxiety through risking far too much of yourself online. If un-checked, this becomes a vicious cycle of feeling isolated, chasing approval and disappointment when the desired response is unobtainable.
Curing your FOMO
FOMO cures rely on retraining the mind and learning that your requirement to be connected is actually limited.
You don’t need Mindful in May to kick the process, but the lessons you can learn there can help. Take the opportunity to remove the intrusion of interaction and borrow a leaf out of the 80’s rule book and let the answering machine take the call. Don’t let your mobile devices and Apps control the conversation. Switch off notifications and choose when you wish to consider someone’s post, not let your phone or computer decide.
Tell the boss (or yourself) that no one ever died from not answering emails late at night, on the weekend or on holidays. And that some have died from being constantly chained to their desk, waiting for the next cyber ball to drop.
Go digital free a day a week. Leave your phone at home. Institute a policy that says the digital world cannot be checked in the last and first hour of your day. Look for the triggers where you engage your FOMO just as a smoker would during the quitting process and cut out the things that trigger a FOMO craving.
If you are really struggling, work on your emotional fitness. Look to people you care about and interact in the real world as opposed to online followers for your every day guidance. Make a point to engage with real people.
And most of all, re-frame your perspective. Realise that a fan or a follower will never replace the value of an actual friend. And that while your own connection to the information you put online may be incredibly deep and meaningful, the person on the other end may not remember what you said 3 seconds post hitting the like button.
FOMO is difficult and challenging, but entirely manageable.
Are you or someone you know dealing with FOMO? Have you kicked the FOMO habit?
Rebekah Lambert makes her living as marketing, content creation and copywriting freelancer, Unashamedly Creative. She is also the head of Disruption for women’s portal, Discordia Zine. Rebekah has just begun a mission to improve the mental health and wellness outcomes for freelancers and entrepreneurs as one half of the Hacking Happiness team. You can follow her journey via Twitter, Facebook and Google+.