The “Fear of Missing Out” and Mindful Use of Social Media

The use of social media is increasing every day. The number and age range of the people using it, as well as the time and energy spent on the platforms, are all increasing. These social platforms are also huge business markets now. This causes a high level of interaction between people, celebrities, brands, products and so on.

The “fear of missing out,” or FOMO for short, has become a widespread form of worry in our tech-focused era. It’s defined by always being stressed about missing out on something, mostly due to the effects of social media. Or, we could also say that FOMO is about “the feeling of missing out on something.” We’re highly affected by everything we see through our social media accounts: the stories, tweets, memes and so on. In fact, it’s the case that social media was used less frequently and more naturally in the past. It was more likely that you saw what the people you follow were really doing or snapshots of their important moments. However, as people started to create and post more and more content, we now see the same kinds of patterns in captions or the same types of photos. There seems to be a certain framework to people’s posts, almost like it’s a competition. Even the creation of personal content has started to feel like a business. Few posts these days seem to be authentic footage or glimpses into other people’s lives.

We’re exposed to too much content from other people — so much that we can get lost in it. The smooth action of scrolling down the screen with our fingertip is easy, but this action gives way to an unfortunate and vicious cycle. The reward mechanism in our brains feeds on novelty. Constantly receiving new information stimulates the release of a neurotransmitter called dopamine, a molecule that is released when we discover a path that takes us to a reward. Scrolling down through new visual or written information constantly triggers dopamine release and tells our brains that this is the path to a reward. However, our dopamine level eventually gets depleted, which is why we want to spend more time on our feeds —  and why we become uneasy without it. A more advanced stage of this addiction to social media is losing interest in other activities, since they are less stimulating in comparison. 

Unfortunately, not everyone uses their social accounts mindfully and in moderation. People seem to share their happy and fun moments, their fancy meals, the places they travel to or their hectic social life. We tend to assume that the things they share with us constitute their whole life. You might see celebrities or wealthier people using some product or going to different locales, and you may question why you can’t do the same. 

This is how we start to compare our own life and belongings with those of other people. It starts to seem to us like our happy or fun moments are a relatively small part of our lives overall compared to what we see others doing. It feels like everybody is out there having so much fun, but we’re not.  Then we start to feel like this vividness is lacking from our life, and we’re constantly missing out on whatever is out there.

However, most of us do alter our behavior, even if just in a small way, in order to feel like we’re catching up with the rest of the world. It’s completely normal if you experience feelings of FOMO as well. We forget the fact that people are carefully selecting what they share — they might even spend hours doing this. They usually only share what looks “good.” It’s that simple. There are happy, social moments in everyone’s lives, but there are also painful or sad times in very similar proportions. No one likes to share about a financial crisis or a fight with their partner, for instance. Instead, it’s almost exclusively positive moments that are shared — even if they don’t reflect all the emotions or situations the person faced that day.

For now, here are some things you can start to do yourself. If more and more people follow these tips, we can start to make a change around how we use and feel about social media:

1. Always remind yourself that your life can be private. It’s fine if you just share something with close friends. You can try sharing special times and memories just with yourself by staying present and enjoying the moment. Share joy with the people you’re physically together with, or, if you’re by yourself, focus on commemorating or appreciating your experiences just for yourself.

2. Think twice before passing judgment about the “happy” posts that other people make, or the stories they tell. You can never be sure what they’re going through in their personal life, or how they reflect their moods in their posts. They may even be upset or sad. Try to be grateful for what you have in your own life right now. If you want to learn more about this and practice, check out Meditopia’s Gratitude section. 

3. Reduce and limit your social media usage. If you feel like you check your apps automatically, you might consider going on a social media break for a couple of days, or even weeks. You can either delete the apps or temporarily freeze your accounts. You can also change the location of social media apps on your phone screen so they’re not as accessible, or log out from your account every time so that checking them is more difficult. This way, you can reduce the number of times you reach for your phone without realizing it.

These simple adjustments may help you stay in touch with the present moment. There’re endless possibilities to be concerned with what we might be missing outside. But instead, let’s keep our focus on not missing out on any of the important moments that are happening right now in our own lives. 

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/social-instincts/202003/four-facts-about-fomo

https://www.pnas.org/content/116/26/13061

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