A marketing strategist, Dan Herman, first used the term "FoMO" in 2000—it was only added to the Oxford English Dictionary two years ago—to describe a feeling characterized by the desire to be connected with what others are doing, all the time. Recent studies estimate that this feeling of anxiety and obligation affects as many as seventy percent of adults in developed countries and attribute that number to the rise in technology use.*
"We live in a world where we're quite literally in each other’s pockets or purses," says Terri Flint, director of Employee Services and Assistance Program at Intermountain Healthcare. "We rely on technology to keep us in contact with friends and family, manage our schedules, track our food intake and exercise, and alert us to just about any change in the world. If the little red dot and number next to an app on your phone literally distracts you from paying attention to important things [like driving or lectures], then you may suffer from FoMO."
That's all well and good, but technology streamlines the exchange of information; connects individuals, groups, and organizations; and reminds us where we're supposed to be and what we're doing there. Technology is important to our daily lives; it helps us get things done, so a little anxiety is normal, right? The problem is that technology is "always on all the time," and that's where things get sticky for some people and potentially harmful side effects can occur— like depression and abnormal anxiety.
Feeling obligated to check your email at 2:00 a.m.? Feeling "left out" when you're not invited to some event on Facebook? Constantly checking your phone at times when others don't (like formal meetings, church services, or at the movies)? Then it might be time to consider these four options to help alleviate the stress caused by FoMO.
1) Stop comparing yourself to other people. Jon and Sue may seem to have a better life than you based on their Facebook posts, but remember, there is much more to people than their social media avatars.
2) Grant yourself permission to stay in and unplugged. It's probably okay to go a day—two if you can—without the constant ping or buzz of your smart phone, so give it a try. Free up your calendar and go unscheduled for the day. If you can't do a day, then try a few hours, and definitely consider waiting until after your vacation to update your social media accounts with your adventures—savor them while you’re having them and share the memories later.
3) Throw a tech-less luncheon—and actually mail or handout invitations. Ask friends to take an hour for lunch without technology. You’ll be surprised at the difference in conversation.
4) Manage expectations. It's easy to feel constantly obligated to your work and social commitments, but it's okay to say "no" and take time for yourself.
A healthy relationship with technology and social media is important to your overall wellbeing. Maybe right now is a good time to take the first step: Take five minutes and step away from the computer and enjoy the outdoors.
Przybylski, A. K., Murayama, K., DeHaan, C. R., & Gladwell, V. (2013). Motivational, emotional, and behavioral correlates of fear of missing out. Computers in Human Behavior, 29, 1841–1848.