Grace, 28, is an avid social media fan. As a digital marketer, she spends most of her time online and cannot seem to stop even after work.
“I switch to my personal pages to catch up with the world and find out what my friends are up to. I am always compelled to do that yet it ends up dampening my spirits most days,” she says.
While on social media platforms, she is often awed by the good life that people seem to live based on the data they post.
“I see people having fun, enjoying themselves in various holiday destinations, buying new cars, getting better jobs and basically just living a life that appears to be much better than mine. This makes me feel as if something is wrong with my life!”
Grace, just as other heavy social media users, suffers from what is commonly referred to as Fomo (Fear of Missing Out).
Individuals with this psychological condition tend to feel or have the perception that other people may be having better lives or experiencing better things than them.
This involves a sense of envy that they are missing out on something fundamentally important that others may be experiencing at that moment.
To address this challenge, affected people usually go out of their way to fill the void by attempting to also post similar experiences.
“This has really drained my finances. Sometimes I take loans to buy things and go places so I can also show my friends on social media that I have a good life. But there's always someone with something that I can't afford. So, I end up feeling miserable,” says Grace.
Psychologists note that the desire to catch up so as not to ‘miss out’ is taking a toll on people's mental health, as they strive to outdo.
According to them, this is an exercise in futility that evolves into a vicious cycle, with affected people always seeking to fit in so as to find happiness to no avail.
Without help or the realisation that what they are chasing is an illusion, those affected will be subjected to misery that affects their general wellbeing.
For a long time, people have associated Fomo solely with adolescents or teenagers that are active on social media. But new research contradicts these two beliefs.
A new study published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships indicates that the condition can affect anyone who is inherently dealing with certain conditions of self-worth.
According to the researchers, Fomo is not something that manifests because people use social media.
Instead, they note that it is an inherent condition that is amplified or made worse through social media.
To address it, they state that people have to look inwards to identify aspects of their personality that make them vulnerable to the fear of missing out.
Indeed, the study found that age had nothing to do with the condition. Instead, it was aspects of self-perception (namely loneliness, low self-esteem and low self-compassion) that were more closely associated with it.
“Fomo is not an adolescent or young adult problem, necessarily. It's really about individual differences, irrespective of age," says Chris Barry, a psychology professor from the Washington State University (WSU) and the lead author of the study.
He states: “We expected Fomo to be higher in younger age groups, particularly because of the tremendous amount of social development happening at those times, but that's not what we found."
During the study, Barry and co-author Megan Wong from the WSU surveyed more than 400 people across the US whose ages rage from 14 to 47.
They asked questions about self-perception, life satisfaction and social media use.
The results of the study showed that social media use was not a good predictor of this fear.
They showed that among people with the same level of social media use, some might have no issue with seeing ‘fun’ posts of their friends’ activities, while others may find it upsetting.
“We're not all equally prone to Fomo. But for those who are, social media can exacerbate it,” says Barry.
“Social media allows you to witness what other people are doing and what's going on in their lives. If there’s already concern about missing out, then there will be distress at seeing that on social media.”
For people experiencing this kind of distress, Barry suggests reducing social media use or cutting it off altogether for a period.
The researchers suggest that those who want to reduce their feelings of Fomo should try addressing their negative self-perceptions such as practising better self-compassion by viewing personal setbacks as opportunities for growth, taking steps to reduce loneliness and shifting focus away from distant experiences.
“To do something about Fomo, individuals can foster a greater sense of real connectedness to others which will lessen feelings of isolation. You can also try being more in the moment, concentrating on what is in front of you as opposed to focusing on what else is going on out there,” notes the study’s lead author.