Fear of missing out (FOMO) is a normal part of being a social animal. But in a world where you’re always connected, missing out can be a joyous experience, too. And it may even benefit your health and well-being to occasionally disconnect from social media and other digital distractions.
Did you hear that ding? Did you feel that buzz? Something is happening somewhere, and you’ve been notified! You excitedly grab your phone and dive in, the latest news right at your fingertips. But beware! Giving in to FOMO may come at a cost.1
Some Negative Effects of #FOMO
Envy: Social media tends to show life’s best and brightest moments, like birthday parties, weddings, and vacations. The drudgery of your daily routine can seem pretty bleak in comparison. But you’re only viewing the icing of other people’s lives, and not the layers of dry cake that lay beneath. Seeing all the celebrations might induce jealousy and decrease your sense of self-worth.2
- Vanity: When faced with others’ incredible life events, your natural inclination could be to one-up the competition by cherry-picking through your life and only sharing your best attributes and finest moments. You start to believe your own manufactured hype, and, “Hello Narcissus!”3 But over-analyzing every selfie can bring you down, too. When you sort through all those pics, searching for profile perfection, it’s the equivalent of staring in the mirror 24/7: you are bound to notice every blemish and scar.4
- Loneliness: If you’re feeling isolated, the internet may seem like the perfect way to reach out and connect with your fellow human beings, and it might be if you can find a close group of friends online. But if you’re a cyber wallflower, it might only make matters worse. Research shows that spectators -- those who only read posts but never engage in the conversation -- usually end up feeling left out and even more depressed.5
- Stress: A long time ago, in a corporate world far, far away… people went home after work and left the inbox behind. Not so in this wonderful (and frustrating) era of technology. Now, the urgent emails keep coming, whether you’re working or not. They leave you no time to recharge when you’re off the clock, which can lead to health issues, like distress and sleep problems.6
- Anxiety: You want to be a responsible citizen and stay current on important headlines. That’s noble, but do you really need up-to-the-minute news on every celebrity tweet or political scandal? The fact is, news bulletins can cause anxiety.7 And our brains are wired to focus on the bad stuff, so don’t think that kitty video compensates for minute-by-minute updates on the latest disaster.8
- Choice Overload: It used to be that you received an occasional invite or save-the-date in the mail. When you had fewer options, you could attend every single one. But now, the endless supply of events we see online has surpassed the demand, and it’s impossible to do it all. This “paradox of choice” means that too many options can be so overwhelming you might lose motivation and choose nothing at all.9
- Wasted Time: Checking all those apps and pulling out your phone with each notification adds up to a lot of interruptions and wasted time. Even worse, if you’re afraid of missing out on every update, you feel compelled to check all the social apps and sites to stay current, and the more you check, the more apps and sites you realize there are, and on and on.10 This cycle of craving and action can even begin to resemble an addiction.1
But there’s hope! FOMO has a companion, and its name is JOMO! Yes, there is a joy of missing out, too. All you have to do is resist the fear, relax and enjoy not knowing what’s going on every second of every day.
Some Positive Effects of #JOMO
- Living in the Moment: The constant stream of messages, emails and pictures of other people’s gourmet meals is taxing on your mind. Even the mere presence of your phone sucks away brain power.11 Cut the cord (or turn off the wifi) and focus on where you are and what you’re doing. Live in the moment -- your moment.
- A Better You: Skipping out on social media means you can stop comparing yourself to others, a behavior that can be destructive in many ways.12 Instead, you can begin an individual journey of self-improvement. Be your own measuring stick as you try to be a better person today than you were the day before. You don’t have to constantly worry about how you compare to everyone else.
- Deeper Connections: Not in the form of snippy posts or grandiose ideas condensed to a few hundred characters, but authentic conversations. The kind where you look another person in the eye, listen wholeheartedly and communicate ideas, together -- like they did in the “old days.” Don’t underestimate the connections created from in-person interaction. They may do a lot more to curb loneliness than just giving someone a virtual thumbs-up.13
- Boredom: Yep, this goes in the “benefit” column. Research shows that boredom leads you to seek out new, stimulating experiences to fill the activity-free void.14 That can’t happen with a screen constantly stimulating and distracting you. Set it aside, let yourself experience boredom, and see how you surprise yourself.
Ready to experience JOMO for yourself?
- Set a daily time to turn off all your notifications, even if it’s only for 30 minutes. Try using the “do not disturb” feature on your phone. Let yourself be interruption-free.
- Consider setting some boundaries about after-hours work email and other communications. Reclaim your relaxation time.
- Set a time to check the news and only do it then. The headlines will still be there tomorrow.
- Enjoy a social media-free weekend. Be with the real people in the world.
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10Wegmann E, Oberst U, Stodt B, Brand M. Online-specific fear of missing out and Internet-use expectancies contribute to symptoms of Internet-communication disorder. Addictive Behaviors Reports. 2017;5:33-42. doi: /10.1016/j.abrep.2017.04.001.
11Ward AF, Duke K, Gneezy A, Bos MW. Brain Drain: The Mere Presence of One’s Own Smartphone Reduces Available Cognitive Capacity. Journal of the Association for Consumer Research. 2017;2(2):140-154. doi: 10.1086/691462.
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14Bench SW, Lench HC. On the Function of Boredom. Behavioral Sciences. 2013;3(3):459-472. doi: 10.3390/bs3030459.