Fear of Missing Out, for which social media is colossally responsible, is widely defined as a constant desire to stay connected to what others are doing online. This widely shared need to stay connected, and the fear that others are having more interesting and rewarding lives, is among the biggest causes of social media addiction, a study suggests.
Do you have FoMo symptoms?
In an exclusive interview for Youth Time Magazine, Neerja Birla, Founder, and Chairperson of the Aditya Birla Education Trust (ABET) and the Mpower initiative discuss FoMo symptoms.FOMO SYMPTOMS impact on our mental and physical health as well. As in our relationships and motivation, ways to overcome FoMo, and much more.
Youth Time contributor Gresë Sermaxhaj conducted this interview with Mrs. Birla in an attempt to contribute to addressing the impact of social media on human mental health.
“Young people are raised with a sense of competition with their peers”
One of the reasons I decided to write about this topic is because it affects everyone. FoMo can be found in every culture and in every part of the world. Do you agree with this, and why?
I do agree with the fact that FoMo has become a universal part of our global culture. Communities have always been very close-knit in India, with achievements and aspirations being benchmarked continuously in comparison to what others are doing and achieving.
Right from their earliest years, young people are raised with a sense of competition and comparison with their peers in their community.
Are they doing as well in school as their neighbors’ kids? Are they on track to get as good a job like the rest of the kids in the extended family? We’ve always looked up to those in our social circles who are achievers or who are successful at living the ‘Indian Dream’.
The proliferation of social media has added new dimensions to FoMo culture in India – notably, a global dimension. We are anxious about missing out on opportunities as compared to others around the world, not just those in our local communities.
Are we correct if we tend to find a causal relationship (usually a very strong one) between FoMo and social media use?
Did the internet bring us this new concept, or is this “fear of missing out” something that has always been present among us.
Perhaps in different forms or less overtly a factor in our lives?
FoMo has been amplified by social media. Humans are aspirational creatures. We constantly seek to improve our experience of life, and we judge our success by our ability to do so.
Social media provides a highly visual platform that allows people to project life experiences that they deem will improve their social standing. Most often, this projection is larger-than-life. And carefully curated to project only an idealized version of one’s life or the best version of one’s life.
The inherent tone around this is one-upmanship, where every action is intended to boost one’s own social standing over that of others.
Social media expands the reach of visibility and influence – we see an increase in the fear of missing out precisely. Because social media makes it possible for us to cover many more lifestyles and life experiences than we would otherwise be aware of.
Moreover, it creates the impression of accessibility to such experiences that perhaps did not exist in older mediums like magazines. This is because of the sheer depth of access that social media gives us to that kind of hyper-curated content.
“The desire to project an ideal life on social media to soothe our FoMo has perhaps become more ingrained in us”
In an article that you published in 2018, you acknowledged that FOMO leads to extreme dissatisfaction and has a detrimental effect on our physical and mental health – leading often to mood swings, loneliness, feelings of inferiority, and depression. I would like to ask what has changed during the past couple of years.
The fact that FoMo has gone from being an unnamed feeling to one that has been defined, observed, measured, and even subjected to attempts to prevent it – this awareness and acceptance of this phenomenon itself is what has changed over the past few years.
While we are certainly more aware now of the effects of FoMo and some of us try to prevent its negative impact on our mental wellness, I’d say that the situation has gotten worse.
The sense of one-upmanship and the desire to project an ideal life on social media to soothe our FoMo has perhaps become more ingrained in us over these last few years.
Ironically, thanks to social media as a medium, we’ve been able to improve awareness and dialogue about mental health and about the effect of too much social media on mental health.
More campaigns and conversations are coming up these days to expose the reality behind the glossy images on social media – that there is no such thing as a perfect life.
For example, more influencers are making an effort these days to call out instances of unreal body images being portrayed, as well as showing “behind the scenes” content about how these seemingly perfect social media images are created.
Remind yourself that no one ‘has it all’
Speaking more generally, what are the symptoms that people deep in FoMo tend to manifest? Is there any particular tip on how to avoid/treat FoMo?
- An increasing sense of dissatisfaction with one’s life, or the inability to enjoy what one currently has, because of the feeling that others are having more rewarding experiences.
- An increasing sense of anxiety around being excluded from all the ‘happening’ events or activities in your social circle.
- An increasing compulsion to spend time engaging in social media activities to stay constantly in the loop, to the point that it feels like a chore that one would rather avoid but mustn’t.
- An increasing inability to be mindful or to commit to one experience because one is worried that a better one might come along that one might miss out on.
- FoMo comes from a desire to be as happy as others or even happier than they are.
Accepting that truth about oneself and working towards defining happiness by one’s own personal parameters could be a personal development goal that you could work towards.
- Try to choose consciously between experiences and activities.
Try saying a firm ‘No’ to some – it would help to make choices factoring in quality over quantity.
- Ask yourself why you’re choosing something?
Is it because it would give you joy or add value to your life or because it will add to your ‘social cred’?
- Remind yourself that no one ‘has it all’. No matter how much it may seem so on social media.
People project only their best selves on social media. That helps to remind yourself of that when you feel yourself starting to entertain thoughts about how ‘the grass seems greener on the other side’.
- One school of thought that I find really helpful is the concept of Wabi-Sabi.
It is based on accepting the imperfection and transience of life. And also learning to appreciate that truth instead of continually striving for some impossible level of perfection (and making ourselves miserable in the process).
‘Nothing lasts, nothing is finished, and nothing is perfect’ – Wabi-Sabi is a call to embrace simplicity and a less-is-more approach to life.
Find beauty, meaning, and joy from the imperfections of life. While this is a very different school of thought from the one we’re accustomed to, I find that it brings greater peace and satisfaction.
- Most importantly, instead of always wishing we were in a better place in life. We need truly to accept the fact that each of us is exactly where he/she needs to be or meant to be at that moment. Each of us has his/her own individual journey. Our destinations are different, and so are the paths that we need to take to get there.
Aside from and apart from the online world, how does FoMo affect our real (offline) reality? How is it related to poor health, a lower ability to deal with face-to-face situations, and a bad lifestyle (lack of sleep, lack of social activities, and lack of time for ourselves).
Unfortunately, the relationship between our digital and physical lives is becoming more complex. The line between the two is getting more blurred each day.
Our habits, when it comes to how we participate online, definitely do have an effect on our physical lives.
- Relationships: We use social media as a tool to express our emotions in a relationship so much that it’s more comfortable and more appealing for us to engage in digital displays of affection, where there is an audience.
The dynamics of getting to know someone, expressing feelings, or even the way we express disagreements or hostility has been irrevocably altered thanks to social media. This has led us to a place where our communication skills are being affected.
We find it harder to deal with people in real life. We find it harder to have heart-to-heart conversations, etc.
Often, we hide behind our phones instead of having a face-to-face conversation because it’s easier to hide from conflict and from complicated people that way. Eventually, this stunts the natural development of our emotional intelligence, making us less capable of handling emotions and people as the years go by. And perhaps, even altering the modes of human interaction and relationships forever.
Physical Health – Our sleep cycles are affected because we’re plugged into our devices late at night, and we get back to them the moment we wake up.
People find it difficult to ignore texts or social media updates, even in the middle of the night. FoMo can affect one’s sense of self-esteem and identity. And it has a role to play in aggravating body image or self-esteem-related disorders.
- Motivation – When we’re used to measuring our success by the number of ‘likes’ we get on social media.
We accustom ourselves to an external locus of motivation. From what we eat, what we wear, where we go, and whom we find attractive, our choices are influenced by the latest trends we see online.
Joy of Missing Out
Please have no hesitation to share anything else you find fitting.
FoMo has become such a common part of our lives, and we’re so cognizant of its effect on our lives that we’ve also coined its antonym – JoMo – or the Joy of Missing Out.
It is a sign of progress that we’ve started to embrace the idea that it’s a good thing to let go of the fear of missing out and event to promote it as an aspirational quality.
About Mrs. Neerja Birla:
Mrs. Neerja Birla is the Founder and Chairperson of the Aditya Birla Education Trust (ABET). She is also the Founder and Chairperson of an initiative called Mpower. Backed by ABET, Mpower is a holistic mental health care initiative. That has become the pioneer of mental health awareness in India.
Since its inception in 2016, Mpower has endeavored to create an ecosystem where people with mental health concerns and their caregivers receive professional support, care, and acceptance to facilitate their recovery, without facing discrimination or shame.
With the help of holistic care, interventions and treatments that are world-class and multi-disciplinary, Mpower is dedicated to ending the stigma associated with mental health issues.
Mpower hopes to help in bringing about change in the public perception of coping with mental health concerns. Currently, Mpower’s clinical footprint is in Mumbai, Bengaluru, Goa, and Pilani.
Through numerous initiatives and collaborations with like-minded organizations, Mrs. Birla endeavors to reach out to various sectors of society in order to empower them to lead fulfilling and enriched lives.
Discover more about possible reasons of FoMo phenomenon here.
Title photo: Shutterstock
All your donations will be used to pay the magazine’s journalists and to support the ongoing costs of maintaining the site.