You promise yourself you’ll only spend a minute on Instagram, just to check your notifications, and then you end up spending hours online. The same goes for Twitter and Facebook. Then there is a “just one episode” moment that turns into you binge-watching Netflix all night.
Yes, the content is addictive, compelling you to scroll, click and like. Yes, the content is released simultaneously, meaning that you have access to all the episodes at once. Yes, the content is provocative, pushing, driving, enticing you to stay online for longer.
And yes, that fear of missing out is real.
This fear affects everyone. We can no longer say that it is only an issue for millennials, who have grown up with addictive technology. Everyone online feels this, at one point or another. And when you look closer at what’s on offer, you can understand why.
The online world offers a sanctuary, an escape from reality. It is the place you can choose to be who you want, what you want — whether it be the social media persona you have cultivated, the gaming avatar you’ve created, or simply the role you’ve chosen to play in any interaction.
You can connect with people from all over the world, who share your interests and passions. And if you no longer like where you are and what you see, you can switch to something else with just one click. Relationships can be as brief or as long as you want. And there are so many to choose. You finally feel in control of your life.
Spending time online, immersed in what makes you happy means that you are free. Free from your troubles, responsibilities and pain.
Besides, everyone is living a great life online, so why not you as well?
These reasons and much more are what keep us coming back, day after day, week after week. The addiction is delightfully dangerous, rewarding us with one dopamine hit after another. We feel good in this space. In total control.
Or so we think.
Why is it then, the moment we misplace our phone or can no longer access the Internet that we become so unhinged?
Why does news of our favourite show being delayed or worse, cancelled make us feel so ill?
Why do we feel this insatiable urge to stay online just a bit longer?
Are we afraid that things will happen without our knowing, that everyone will be there, except us, that if we missed out, then we’ll be cast out, no longer a member of our illustrious club?
Those lives we live online we may have spent years building, nurturing and cultivating each aspect of our community and ourselves to get everything just right.
Or we may have simply found ourselves part of a vibrant, thriving community. Here we are popular, our opinions matter and we belong.
It feels good to be part of something exciting, to be in a place where we feel as though we matter.
And there is power here.
One tweet, one comment, one carefully crafted piece can elevate us to the ranks of the famous, bring us great exposure, and even pave the way to financial prosperity.
The opportunities and possibilities are endless. And all we need to do is to stay online.
No matter how much we try, there is still another life waiting to be lived. This life may not be glamorous or popular, it may not bring power or privilege, and it may not even be one that we like very much.
Sometimes we are asked to choose between the two when we reach a point of being able to sustain neither. Sometimes, there is no polite asking as one life begins to crumble; then we find ourselves being pushed to make a decision.
Other times, we wake up and see things from a different perspective.
There are soul-searching questions we ask — of what brings us joy, of what truly matters.
Moments like these may be preceded by a significant event, a change in circumstances, something that is beyond our control.
Some people choose to take breaks from social media, television and other such platforms, promising to come back after a certain period has passed. Others try and say goodbye, closing an account here and there; downsizing, and prioritising those that are of greatest value.
In this day and age, it is almost impossible to quit for there are work emails to be answered, cloud-based platforms for meetings, schedules and appointments, and loved ones in all corners of the world.
There is just too much happening online for us to ignore it completely.
So what would help us bring in some form of balance?
This is the balance of getting enough rest, so we are not sleep deprived, moody and unwell.
This is the balance of spending face-to-face time with our loved ones and giving them our complete attention, rather than being glued to our phone in their presence.
This is the balance of recognising that there is a world we physically live in that needs our love, care and attention too.
With these things in mind, here are six ways you can overcome your fear of missing out and bring balance to your life:
When fear of missing out sets in, our thoughts go into overdrive, appearing in droves and tormenting us. Our breathing becomes more erratic, and we begin to feel as though something terrible is about to happen.
The moment you realise that the frequency of your thoughts is increasing, that they are multiplying and spiralling, pause.
Take deep, slow breaths to centre yourself. Focus on your breathing. This takes your attention away from your thoughts. If you find yourself getting caught up in your thoughts again, gently bring your attention back to your breathing.
As your breathing eases, watch your thoughts allowing them to come and go without identifying or attaching any value to them.
In this detached state, as thoughts appear and leave, ask yourself, “Are these thoughts true? Is this what’s really happening? What would happen if I just let them go?”
Detaching from your thoughts allows you to realise that while thoughts are important, they do not define you. We have thousands of thoughts every day, and it’s the ones that we focus on that manifest.
When we experience fear of missing out, we react, and over time, these reactions become automatic, so we feel as though there is no choice but to return to the online activities. The moment we realise that we can intervene by pausing, breathing and watching our thoughts, we begin to break this cycle and regain control.
The reason we get so caught up in fear of missing out is that of our emotional attachments. Our emotions are what drive our behaviours. We like being online because we are emotionally invested in it, because it releases feel-good hormones within our bodies, and because it makes us feel alive and wanted.
When fear of missing out strikes, our negative feelings begin to rise to the surface. It activates a primal part of our being; I call “the not-enough.”
This part of us is always complaining of not enough love, not enough time, not enough resources. It sees the world through eyes of deficit, of lack, of incompletion. Our negative feelings drive this part of our being. And as we focus on the fear, on the lack, and on the negativity, this is what grows stronger.
Releasing this emotional chokehold also requires us to step back from the emotional drama, noise and chaos swirling within us.
As with our thoughts, using breath as our focus point takes the energy away from our emotions and allows us to be present in the present moment.
When we breathe our way through our emotions, we are recognising that there is an imbalance and we are choosing to focus on being at ease once more. We are not hiding our emotions; nor are we filing, burying or stifling them. This takes courage, persistence and vulnerability.
Do a stocktake of how much of your time you spend online, whether it be on social media, binge-watching episodes or other sites. Often we don’t even realise how much time we have invested in these activities.
Apps make it easy for us to keep tuned in to whatever is happening, and our smartphones keep us connected even during those moments when we are looking to eat, sleep or spend time with loved ones.
Once you have worked out how much time you spend online, look at how this time is scattered across different platforms.
Chances are you are switching from one website, one app, one platform to another all in attempts to keep up with notifications and updates. And there are so many to choose from; Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook, Netflix, YouTube, Shopify, Amazon Prime, Apple TV…the list is endless.
Each one is designed to keep your attention on it for as long as possible. For where you invest your attention, is where you place your energy, your endorsement and your money.
If you are feeling brave, you can take a break from them all for, say, a week. Or this feels too big a task, then consider downsizing. Let go of apps, websites and platforms that don’t bring you any joy. Use some metric that works for you. The experience can be liberating. This way you choose only those platforms that are of most use to you. Your brain will thank you for this.
Fear of missing out means that we focus on everything we do not have. When we are driven by this lack mentality, our lives can feel incomplete and empty. By focussing on what we are missing out on, we forget the very things in our lives that are tangible and important.
Shift your thinking to one of gratitude.
List all the things in your life for which you are grateful.
It does not matter what you list for everyone will have different things.
There are no right or wrong answers.
Nor is this a competition.
Our gratitude lists reconnect us with what is most important. They help us pause and see situations in a different light. They help us realise the abundance we have in our lives.
One of the biggest reasons we get so caught up in fear of missing out is because we forget to be present. During these times, our awareness is no longer in the present moment for we are busy reliving something from our past, fantasising about the future or completely caught up in the web of our thoughts and emotions.
We can bring our awareness back to the present moment by focussing on our breath, by choosing to shift our thinking away from negative thoughts and moving our attention to considering the wellbeing of others.
These practices are grounded in meditation and mindfulness and help us let go of our fears, our anxieties and our thoughts.
Here is a brief breathing meditation you can use:
Feel the air moving in and out of your body.
Look around you.
This is your environment.
Your place of being in this moment.
What can you hear?
Allow the sounds to pass through you.
You are as much part of your surroundings, as your surroundings are part of you.
There is no separation.
Feel that smile flicker across your lips.
All is well.
When you let go of the online world, even if it is for a little while, there can be a sense of unease, not knowing what to do with the time that is now unoccupied.
Sometimes, we’ve spent so long with our eyes glued to screens that we forget the range of options available to us in the physical world that can be just as entertaining, exciting and educational.
Here is a list to help you get started:
Just like the online platforms, the options in the physical world are also endless.
We have spent so long in fear of missing out of what’s happening online; what have we missed out on in the physical world?
While we have been immersed in the lives of our favourite movie and television characters; who’s been living our unique life?
While we have been chasing thrills and adventures online, what priceless moments have we missed in our real lives?
Your greatest adventure, your greatest moments, your greatest victories can be happening right in front of you if you only put away your screen.
The online world is not the problem.
It is what we choose to do on it. It is what we choose to post. It is what we choose to view. It is what we choose to support. It is how we engage with it. It is how much of our lives we spend on it. It is how we balance our needs and wants online and offline.
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Thank you for choosing to read this story. If these words resonated with you, please share this moment with your loved ones. Yours, in appreciation, Alexandra
© Copyright Dr. Alexandra Domelle 2018
Originally published at journal.thriveglobal.com