Social media helps us stay connected to friends all over the world. One downside of staying connected, however, is the feeling that we are missing out, and others are having a good time without us.
You may think this fear of missing out, or FoMO, is most common among younger people constantly scrolling on their phones. But researchers at Washington State University have found it is not just a condition experienced by social-media addicted teens — we all are vulnerable to feeling left out.
It is not age, but self-perception that leads to the fear one is missing out, Christopher Barry, lead author on the study, told TheDoctor. FoMO is not necessarily a developmental phenomenon, and we are all prone to it from time to time. “FoMO is really about individual differences,” added Barry.
If social media gives you a case of FoMO, there are simple things you can do.
They found no differences across age groups in FoMO regarding close friends or family members. Low self-esteem and loneliness were associated with high levels of FoMO across all age groups. People with low self-esteem or who were lonely were particularly prone to FoMO if they spent a lot of time on social media.
Some of the results surprised the researchers. “Although we did expect FoMO to be connected to loneliness and low self-esteem, we also expected age-related differences in reports of FoMO,” Barry indicated. The team had thought FoMO might be worse among younger people, because of the amount of social development happening during those years, but that is not what the findings showed. On its own, social media use was not a good predictor of FoMO.
“We are not all equally prone to the fear of missing out, but for those who are, social media use can make it much worse,” said Barry, a professor of psychology at Washington State.
Barry’s advice for keeping the fear of missing out in check is to be more mindful and in the moment. “It is important to focus on things in the here and now,” he said. Focus on the people you are with, rather than those who are on your social media feeds, but are not part of your present life.
In other words, don’t allow yourself to become preoccupied with what is going on outside of your immediate surroundings. “Feel connected to others or what you have in common with others, as opposed to what others are doing or what they have that you don’t have,” declared Barry.
We all are vulnerable to feeling left out.
If social media gives you a case of FoMO, there are simple things you can do. Try turning off your phone at night or turning off alerts on social media apps. Designate specific times during the day to use social media. “It is not about going off social media cold turkey,” Barry suggests, “But taking these practical steps that might reduce the stress connected to social media use.”
Barry and his team are working on a large study looking at FoMO and social media engagement among student-athletes. They hope to look at additional factors that can cause FoMO and ways to address in future studies.
The study is published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships.