Diagnosis: FOMO (that’s ‘fear of missing out’)
From fretting that friends are having all the fun without you, to worrying that you’re not on the right rung of the career ladder – FOMO is everywhere, so what’s it all about?
FOMO is officially a big deal right now. The acronym was added to the Oxford English Dictionary last year and is defined as: ‘Anxiety that an exciting or interesting event may currently be happening elsewhere, often aroused by posts seen on a social media website.’
Indeed, a recent Australian study found that FOMO is sparking a sleep crisis. Researchers at the Woolcock Institute of Medical Research in Australia reported that 70 per cent of teenagers are experiencing sleep problems due to FOMO-fuelled screen time before bed and it’s causing them to lose precious hours of sleep.
Few of us are immune to the niggling concern that everyone else is socialising, working, loving and laughing better than we are. When University of Oxford academic Andrew Przybylski published a study on FOMO in the journal Computers in Human Behavior last year, he found that around two-thirds of us experience FOMO. He and his colleagues even devised a quiz so you can work out your levels of FOMO (see ratemyfomo.com).
What is it?
‘Our research indicated that FOMO is based in thwarted basic psychological needs – the universal needs for competence (sense of efficacy), autonomy (meaningful choices), and relatedness (feeling a sense of belonging),’ says Przybylski. ‘Seeking out psychologically fulfilling experiences, such as spending time with friends and family and building these relational resources may be a good place to start in combating FOMO.’
Yet even the most rational and levelheaded among us can relate to this anxiety. ‘On the most basic level, it’s envy, a powerful emotion that can take over and leave us feeling that we’re lacking. We imagine that everyone else is having better relationships, is at a better party, has a better lifestyle, or earns more money,’ says psychologist Ros Taylor (rostaylorcompany.com) and author of Confidence at Work: Get It, Feel It, Keep It.
What’s behind it?
While FOMO was around long before we signed up to Facebook, social media is regarded as the driving force behind its surge. And it’s no wonder given the amount of time we spend glued to a screen – recent statistics from Nielsen revealed that in December 2013, the average person in the UK spent more than 29 hours online, while almost a third of time spent on smartphones is on social media apps. So, while Facebook and Twitter can help us stay connected, they can also fuel jealousy over other people’s glittering careers, perfect families and jam-packed social lives.
‘Social media is a constant reminder of other people’s successes, whether it’s a LinkedIn notification of a colleague’s promotion or a snap of your friend’s weekend break in Berlin,’ says Taylor. Indeed, a University of Michigan study found the more active the participants were on Facebook, the worse they felt. Yet when they had more face-to-face contact, participants’ happiness levels soared.
What’s the problem?
So what are the consequences of feeling like we just don’t measure up? ‘FOMO can lead to unhappiness. We can end up over-committing ourselves because we don’t want to miss out and that’s exhausting,’ says Davenport. ‘You’ve got to pick and choose how you spend your time,’ adds Taylor. ‘Whether it’s a networking event or a social occasion, have a reality check about how you want to spend your time. Who do you feel most comfortable with? Who do you feel stimulated by? Who shares your values? You have limited quantities of time, so be choosy about how you use it.’
FOMO is a major source of stress, too. According to research carried out by Pew, a charitable trust, people who don’t use social networks are 28 per cent more likely than social network users to say their lives are ‘not at all’ stressful, while 28 per cent of us say our social media friends influence the music we listen to, 36 per cent the TV shows and films we watch, and another 36 per cent the brands and products we buy. Clearly, there’s immense pressure to keep up with the Joneses.
What’s the solution?
Love your life and no one else’s with our expert’s FOMO-busting tips.