Humans are social beings, we need social interactions to maintain our health, both in body and mind. In fact, according to a study involving 309,000 people, those who have strong relationships with their family and friends are happier, have fewer health problems, and actually live longer. Well, that's why the pandemic we’re currently experiencing hasn’t exactly been a breeze for most of us.
The necessary quarantines and lockdowns have led many people to use social media apps more than ever before. Take Clubhouse as an example; whether the new social media app would’ve boomed the way it did if it weren’t for the pandemic is a question many users — including the author herself — have frequently considered.
Moving our social life online
Many people are now fully immersed in a digital life, where basic social interactions are carried out through our phones, tablets, or computers. We text, group chat, video call each other, and share instances from our lives more and more everyday day. Seeing your friends and family sharing pics and tweets about their lives and thoughts keeps you up to date with them even if you haven't seen each other in a while.
And we've all felt that particular feeling at one time or another; you see your friends gathered at one place, you watch their stories on Instagram, or come across their snaps on Snapchat. Which leaves you thinking about what happened when you weren't there, and a sudden feeling of being left out creeps up with the anxiety about all the things you missed out on?
There's actually a name for that: the 'fear of missing out' or more commonly known by its acronym, FOMO, a psychological phenomenon where people are concerned that they are missing out on experiences that others have, and it is more common than you might have thought. Even though FOMO has been around for a long time, it has seen a surge in recent years, and social media plays a big part in that.
Does social media addiction trigger FOMO?
As human interaction shifts towards an online setting, it brings its own downsides with it. The more you use social media apps, the more you feel seen or heard, and sadly, the more vulnerable you get towards FOMO and increased levels of depression and loneliness. In fact, numerous studies confirm the link between social network site use, FOMO, and online vulnerability.
While social media usage triggers FOMO, FOMO, in turn, inflicts social media addiction. It creates a vicious cycle that takes its toll on many.
A study from the Nottingham Trent University in the UK suggests that continued and frequent use of social media networks can lead to decreased self-esteem levels through the fear of missing out.
Downsides to social media addiction
On social media apps, you’re basically creating an online identity. This persona you’ve created doesn’t necessarily need to resemble you. You can be anyone online, share your opinions, and, scarily enough, there are no limits. This can be both a blessing and a curse when you think about it. While it's great to be able to speak out on issues that matter to you, with the freedom these platforms offer you, you can become prone to being a social media addict.
Most people you see online choose to share the highlights of their lives, how happy they are and how much fun they're having, and most of the time, this is only the part they choose to share online. However, the more we see the beautiful posts and stories people share, the more we start thinking to ourselves, "what am I doing wrong?".
This can be problematic on both ends. People who share what they eat, who they see, where they go online all the time tend to start to do these things only or partially to share them online. It can turn into an addiction and before you know it you may start losing contact with the real world.
Social media addiction affects young people the most. There's an endless stream of influencers on your Instagram feed, living their perfect life with their unrealistic body and constant exotic holidays, and it drives young people into thinking that whatever they have is simply not enough.
It gets worse. According to a study involving 2,000 Americans aged 13 to 38, 54% of Gen Z and millennials say that they would like to become a social media influencer or a YouTuber.
In addition to FOMO, there have been reports of psychological damage inflicted by constant social media usage. A study involving 143 students from the University of Pennsylvania published in the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology states that limiting the use of social media channels actually decreased feelings of loneliness, depression, and FOMO in students.
How to get over your FOMO and social media dependency
While FOMO has always been around us, it has seen a surge and has actually become more dangerous than ever with the increased reliance on social media apps. But it's not just social media. Fear of missing out is a well-known phenomenon and has been observed in a variety of situations even before the dawn of social media.
As contradictory as it may sound, there also have been attempts from the companies and apps that profit from social media usage to prevent the harmful effects of "too much" social media. Some notable examples include Facebook's and Instagram's trial beta versions of the apps that hide the like counts on posts and Apple's screen time feature that shows how much time you spend on which apps and your overall screentime, in case you're overdoing it.
Even though FOMO is common, it doesn't have to get control over your life. Limiting the time you spend on social media and keeping a healthy real-life relationship with yourself and your close circle should do the trick. It's not a one-day task, but over time, integrating more in-person interactions and less screen time in your daily life could help you leave your fear of missing out behind.
It's important to keep in mind that our most important social connections should not be through social media channels and, at the end of the day, what counts is the memories you make, not the likes you get on social media.