You find yourself waiting somewhere – the doctor’s office, a grocery store checkout line, a red light (admit it, we’ve all done it!) – and you instinctively pull out your phone to mindlessly scroll through your social media feeds. Not me you say! Maybe not but Deloitte’s recent Global Mobile Consumer Survey found that consumers look at their phones an average of 52 times a day.
While you are busy doing mundane tasks including trying to earn a living, your feed is full of people that seem to be going on endless fun adventures, snapping that perfect image, hitting an impossible yoga pose, and a thousand other enviable things. And then it hits you: the envy you will feel when everyone else’s life looks perfect – and yours isn’t. Travel envy, career envy, food envy, body image envy. You name it and it is there and social media has only intensified what some call now the “age of envy”.
There is an overabundance of recent research that highlights the negative impact of social media on mental health. Social media has been described as more addictive than cigarettes and alcohol. As social media becomes more embedded in our daily lives, higher rates of depression, anxiety, feelings of loneliness and isolation, and low self-esteem have led many to condemn the prevalence of FOMO, or Fear of Missing Out.
The mental health issues caused by FOMO are nothing to blithely pass over either. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, half of mental health conditions begin by age 14, 75% of mental health conditions develop by age 24, and one in five adults experience a mental health condition every year. Rates of anxiety and depression in young people have risen 70% in the past 25 years, and depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide. Any wonder why it seems like half of the paid advertisements you see today relate to some form of mental health therapy or medication?
It is no coincidence that FOMO is most common in people ages 18-33, the same demographic that, according to the Pew Research Center, uses an average of four social media platforms on a daily basis.
The research has spoken: the ability to easily and constantly see other people’s “highlight reels” has created a sense of inadequacy and dissatisfaction in our own lives, leading to an increase in mental health disorders.
But with all the negative conversations focused on FOMO, I want to assert that there are ways that you can take back control of your life and create some mental guardrails for your own peace of mind and stability.
How? By encouraging you to step outside of your comfort zone, to explore the unknown, to get off your couch and seek adventure by doing and being, not watching someone else’s beautifully curated Instagram feed.
Allow the feelings of having a “stagnant life” motivate you to get out and expand your comfort zone. Go to the networking event or party you’ve been avoiding. Take classes and learn new skills—languages, computer programming, dance, painting. When you jump headfirst into something new, you often have a steep learning curve. This forces you to grow, adapt, change, and develop. The very act of taking on something new helps you become a better person, even if the venture fails. Research shows that experiences matter more to us than things. Invest in them. They become part of your identity and story.
If all those images of exotic locales and exhilarating activities leaves you feeling dissatisfied, then unbridle the wanderlust lurking inside you and explore the outdoors yourself—walking, jogging, hiking, camping, playing sports, taking a trip. According to the American Psychological Association, spending time in nature can help relieve stress and anxiety, improve your mood, and boost feelings of happiness and wellbeing. Don’t know where to start? The American Heart Association provides a list of 10 relaxing nature activities to get you going.
Spending hours scrolling through social media feeds for fear of missing out on something or finding yourself experiencing nomophobia—that intense feeling of anxiety you feel whenever you can’t find your phone—are bad things. But that doesn’t mean that social media and your phone are inherently bad and must be avoided. Like with everything in life, it’s all about balance. If you need a little guidance, the National Alliance on Mental Illness provides steps you can take to have a healthy relationship with social media.
When you experience FOMO while scrolling, stop and remind yourself what sparks joy in your life, and invest your time and energy in those things. Remember, it’s important to your mental health (Mental Health America). When you reframe your perspective, you may discover that FOMO can be one of the best things to happen to you.