Has FOMO Got You Down?

How to tune out social media and tune in to real life

Louise Stanger is a speaker, educator, licensed clinician, social worker, certified daring way facilitator and interventionist who uses an invitational intervention approach to work with complicated mental health, substance abuse, chronic pain and process addiction clients.

*Special shout out to David Stone for providing the inspiration to write about FOMO.*

We’re all guilty of it – drawn into the glowing wonder of a smartphone or laptop screen like a moth to the flame. We scroll through social media, fashioning posts about our latest adventures, liking, clicking, buying and even dating.

The amount of time we spend on our devices is growing. According to new data published in 2018 by the Pew Research Center, 77% of Americans go online daily and over one in four go online almost constantly. In the year 2000, 52% of U.S. adults used the internet. By 2010, the percentage had climbed to 76%, and in 2018 that number has reached 89%.

One explanation for this increasing online usage may have sprouted from the phenomenon called FOMO, or ‘Fear Of Missing Out.’ Not sure if you’ve experienced FOMO? A recent study on the subject, cited in a Time article by Eric Barker, defines FOMO as:

“The uneasy and sometimes all-consuming feeling that you’re missing out – that your peers are doing, in the know about, or in possession of more or something better than you.”

The FOMO phenomenon grew out of the social media revolution. Apps like Facebook & Twitter, Snapchat and Instagram keep our eyeballs glued to real-time updates about our friends, family and followers. As such, we’ve gotten caught in the hamster wheel of incessantly checking our social media feeds so that we don’t feel like we’re out of the loop – so we don’t feel FOMO.

Where does FOMO originate? “Our findings show those with low levels of satisfaction of the fundamental needs for competence, autonomy, and relatedness tend toward higher levels of fear of missing out as do those with lower levels of general mood and overall life satisfaction,” writes Time. In essence, FOMO comes from general unhappiness and the findings show it can lead to obsessive behaviors like checking social media first thing when you wake up in the morning, during meals, and before bed.

As an interventionist and social work clinician who works with clients experiencing substance abuse, mental health, process disorders, chronic pain and other physical maladies, I see parallels between FOMO and addictive behaviors. Addiction often starts with trauma, a wound or unhappiness and drives unhealthy behaviors to fill the hole with alcohol or other drugs, gambling, sex, food, shopping pills, etc. And just as the things we become addicted to do not lead us to the altar of fulfillment, constantly checking updates as a salve for FOMO does not work either, driving us into a vicious cycle of unhappiness.

How do we break the FOMO cycle

It begins with understanding that Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, Tinder and all the other digital platforms are not real life. People present themselves in highly curated forms on these apps, creating a fantasy version of how life is. In turn, we lose sight of our own reality.

“When you’re so tuned into the ‘other,’ or the better (in your mind), you lose your authentic sense of self,” says Darlene McLaughlin, M.D., assistant professor at the Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine and a psychiatry and behavioral health specialist with Texas A&M Physicians. “This constant fear of missing out means you are not participating as a real person in your own world.”

The key is to focus your efforts on living an authentic life. Still, you may be wondering how to achieve authenticity – rather than posting to Instagram – when real life may present itself as boring, sad or difficult. Try gratitude. 

Gratitude – in big ways and small – scientifically helps us feel happier. It’s true — “research suggests [a spirit of gratitude] is beneficial to our bodies and brains. People who are regularly grateful – who acknowledge the goodness in life and the sources of it – are generally healthier and happier,” according to Time. Here are ways to feel grateful for each and every day:

  • Wake up with enthusiasm – each morning and write 3 to 5 things you are grateful for. To help you keep on it, find a friend that you can do this with.

  • Write notes – little reminders around the house that say you are grateful for all that makes your home warm and comfortable.

  • Journal your gratitude – a place where you can write down three things you are grateful for each morning before you start your day.

  • Give thanks daily – to people on the street, family and friends, coworkers and bosses. When we give thanks to others, it shows that we care and truly value their contributions. Not only that, giving thanks helps us to remember the blessings that bring so much to our lives.

  • Be specific – about the things you are grateful and thankful for. For instance, if you share that you’re thankful when a friend organizes a group event, specifically thank them for this gesture and maybe it will lead to more.

FOMO may creep up in our ubiquitous digital lives. However, we have the power within ourselves to redirect and focus our behaviors on what matters most. When we do this, our lives grow in authenticity, stopping the fear of missing out dead in its tracks.

Let us know how you deal with FOMO and of course keep Falling Up!

To learn more about Louise Stanger and her interventions and other resources, visit her website.

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