Mental-Health & Tech.: Social Media & FOMO

Hello there, how are you today?

What have you been up to lately?

Have you experienced FOMO recently?

Well, I’ll let you in on a secret: I had absolutely no idea what FOMO meant until approx. 2-3 weeks ago, when I came across the definition while perusing an article for one of the earlier posts. I don’t know why I never bothered to look it up, because now that I think about it, I have seen the term on numerous occasions before.

According to the reliable, universally-respected Urban Dictionary, FOMO refers to the “fear of missing out” (the top definition has been in existence since Oct. 2nd, 2006). But the exact history of the phenomenon is unclear, a quick search traces its origin to the 2003-era Boston, or just as likely, 1996. Given the fact that fear is an emotion, and humans have been social animals for hundreds of thousands of years, I think the basic premise of FOMO has been around for much longer than 21 years. It just needed to be conceptualized, like how Issac Newton did gravity, or Albert Einstein did relativity. Being a social phenomenon, FOMO could only possibly become a phenomenon once it was talked about enough socially.

As soon as I became aware of its definition, one of the first things I thought of was anxiety, or more specifically, social anxiety. In my previous post, I mentioned how the desire for validation is universal (sure, there are individual differences), I would like to think social anxiety is the flip-side of the same coin: we want to be viewed positively, and fear of being perceived negatively. Just as how social media creates a competition for our respective need for validation, I also think social media compounds the problem of FOMO.

In social media – like in traditional media – the documentation of the unique tends to draw much more attention than that of the mundane (unless you’re already famous, then a picture of you in your #OOTD is likely to receive more adulation than some of the most jaw-dropping, awe-aspiring footage from the National Geographic). This is why a picture of your morning cup of coffee will likely receive less attention than your friend’s picture of skydiving, and why it briefly* crossed your mind to see if it would be feasible to be photographed drinking a cup of coffee while skydiving. *smirk*

Mundane But Celeb
Snow Leopard
Unique But Non-Celeb

The addictiveness of social media not only means we are constantly checking to see what our friends/acquaintances are up to, but to compare it with what we are doing at that very moment. This comparison can be more detrimental for some than others. I will give you an example here: a few weeks ago, several of my friends decided to gather for a night-in of pumpkin-carving, I couldn’t go because I had to work. When I saw their photos & videos the next morning, I was slightly dismayed because by all appearances, while I was dealing with headaches that were common to all customer service reps, their night seemed fun. Even though I had advanced knowledge of the event, and do not struggle with social anxiety, or experience FOMO, it still managed to create negative emotions temporarily.

For someone who struggles with social anxiety, then, social media becomes a double-edged sword: do you prefer to ruminate and analyze all the potential FOMO possibilities from which you are absent, or do you want to experience the paralyzing fear of being judged negatively – by yourself and others – when you are present? Like with depression, I am simply of the thought that social media needs to be approached with special caution in this scenario as well (I listed some of the ways I have used to manage the negative effects of social media in my previous post).

For those who don’t struggle with social anxiety, I think FOMO can be a lot more manageable, and because it can be a legitimate source of stress, I would treat it as any other stressor. I would be methodical and attack it from three different angles: honest introspection, setting expectation, and switching-perspective. I will use my earlier example of the pumpkin-carving event to further illustrate my points.

chess board

I would be honest in terms of what makes me happy/healthy. Was I bummed out that I missed out on spending time with my friends? Yes, I was; however, my friends spent the bulk of the night/early morning drinking & pubbing/clubbing (I don’t remember which one to be exact). For me, alcoholic beverages simply do not act on my dopamine level to the same extent as they do many other people. I would have also capped my alcohol intake at one glass because I would have had to drive home. I also tend to enjoy one-on-one interactions more, so even if I miss one event with 10 people, I won’t mind if I have an good idea that I’ll have the chance to know the same people individually, on 10 separate occasions if need be.

I would set proper expectations. For the most part, we are all just ordinary people, and we don’t know which way to go my opinion is that when we do miss out on social events, those events tend to be ordinary in the grand scheme of things as well. So instead of focusing on what I might have missed out on, I would rather use my limited amount of time and energy toward everyday situations that I can manage, with the hope of turning them into long-term friendships/relationships (I ended up playing basketball with one of the friends, while dining out with a few others on different occasions).

I would view it from different perspectives. My friends were out spending money, while I was inside making money; my friends didn’t sleep until the early morning, while I was able to get a night of restful sleep, making the next day easier to manage; a few of my friends had a little too much alcohol, so our respective recollection – ‘I don’t remember’ vs. ‘I wasn’t there’ – of that night is almost on-par. The list goes on.

I admit it can be easier said than done, and the example of FOMO I provided would be simplistic in comparison to many other scenarios. There are a lot of individual differences and other factors that dictate how one responds to stressors, and being brutally honest may potentially open different cans of worms. I might also be singing a different tune had my friends all attended an Eminem concert, but then again, I would have long scheduled my work around it, and would have been waiting for them at the concert.

FOMO can definitely be a source of anxiety, but the following is also true: nobody in this world is everywhere participating in every activity at the same time. Everyone misses out on something, and your limited mental energy is better spent on being present in what you are currently doing, and giving it a chance to become memorable.

lake 1

Until next time, remember to unplug, we’ll Randezvous again.

* If that’s the case, our respective senses of humour are likely to be in simpatico, and we need to connect ASAP


R. L.

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