Fear of missing out, or FoMO, is a type of social anxiety. It’s been defined by Andrew Przybylski at the University of Essex as the worry that other people might be having more rewarding and exciting experiences than you are. It’s characterised by a desire to stay connected – continually – to sources such as social media that purport to tell you what others are doing.
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 the inability of some students to commit to anything — even 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 every moment. As a result, they began checking all the possible options, to the extent that they became paralysed with indecision, lest something better might come along that they would miss out on if they made a choice. The growth of social media has fed this feeling that everyone is having a better time than you are.
In his 2013 study, Przybylski 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. These behaviours – particularly texting when anxious – are associated with an increase in loneliness, discontent and distractibility.
There are, as you’ve probably guessed, associations with increased accidents and injuries as well. A 2013 study by Andrew Adesman in New York concluded that more teenagers 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; they had 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?
Start by writing down the time you check your e-mails, texts and social media sites. Note the longest interval without checking, 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 out and about.
Appreciate current assets
Each day, choose something you 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, 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 most to us.