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How to beat 'fear of missing out' as the growth of social media sites feeds the trend

By clinical psychologist Linda Blair


Fear of missing out or FoMO, as it's commonly known, is a type of social anxiety. It's been defined by Andrew Przybylski at the University of Essex as the fear that other people might be having rewarding experiences that you're missing. It's characterised by a desire to stay connected - continually - to sources that purport to tell you what others are doing.

FoMO is a relatively new phenomenon. It seems that FoMO was first described by Dan Herman, a marketing strategist, in 2000. However, little attention was paid to it until 2004 when Patrick McGinnis, a student at Harvard Business School, co-edited an article about their colleagues' and their own inability to commit to anything - even something as simple as booking a restaurant.

It seemed that after 9/11, many of them had become so afraid of another possible catastrophe that they felt it necessary to live life to the fullest at every moment. As a result, they began checking all possible options, to the extent that they became paralysed with indecision, lest something better might come along that they'd miss if they made a choice. The growth of social media sites has undoubtedly fed this trend.

In a 2013 study, Prybylski and his colleagues found that FoMO is associated with lower mood, lower life satisfaction, and an increasing need to check social media, texts and other electronic communications - a behaviour that, unfortunately, only increases the sense of loneliness and discontent.

There are associations with increased accidents and injuries as well. A 2013 study by Andrew Adesman in New York concluded that more teens are now killed or injured when driving while texting than for any other single reason. Jack Nasar at Ohio State University looked at the numbers of pedestrians injured while texting, and found they'd doubled between 2005 and 2010 - and they're still rising.

If you feel you may be a victim of FoMO, what can you do to decrease your chances of injury and mental distress?

Detox slowly

Start by writing down the time whenever you check your emails, texts and social media sites. Note the longest interval, and resolve to increase it by five minutes each day, until you're checking not more than three times daily, and never while driving or when you're out and about.

Appreciate current assets

Each day, choose something you already have, and spend some time thinking about how it contributes to your wellbeing.

Make real connections

Make a face-to-face connection with at least one person every day. Either compliment them genuinely, or simply smile warmly. Even better, arrange to meet up with someone you care about, to remind yourself of the most precious of gifts - the company of those who matter to us.

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