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Just Say No Mo' to FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) and Take a Social Media Break

By Stacey Ross

Do you suffer from FOMO – The Fear of Missing Out? A new study from Harris Interactive on behalf of MyLife.com shows that 56 percent of social media users say they suffer from a fear of missing out based on what they see on social networks. Interestingly, the same study says that 52 percent of people say that they have taken or want to take a vacation from social media!

More than 2,000 adults age 18 and over participated in the study, with each person belonging to more than one social networking site and having at least one email address. The survey describes FOMO as "a relatively new concept where people are concerned that others may be having more fun and rewarding experiences than them. It is characterized as the desire to stay continually connected with what others are doing."

Other survey highlights include:

  • 26 percent of study participants said they would trade habits such as smoking or watching reality TV for access to their social networks;
  • the average person manages 3.1 email addresses, up from 2.6 a year ago;
  • 42 percent have multiple social networking accounts, a figure that rises to 61 percent for those aged 18 to 34;
  • 27 percent check their social networks as soon as they wake up.

Social media obsession

Clearly many social media users are constantly preoccupied with missing events or other rewarding opportunities to the point that it can cause anxiety and depression, especially for young people!

When someone is afflicted by FOMO, there is a perception of being in a lower social rank than one’s peers, which can cause feelings of anxiety and inferiority. When self-worth assessments are made based on social media updates, and a non-invite to a party or other event is seen as a decline in one's social well-being, users are prone to irrational thoughts.

Is there a Doctor in the house?

Psychologist, Dr. Michael Mantell observes, “How telling is this that messages or images in the cyber world can make or break someone’s day?! Facebook, Twitter and all of these helpful social media platforms do not make people happy. Likewise, social media doesn’t make people unhappy. Irrational thinking is what creates the tension in so many who are desperate for 'likes' on Facebook, agreeable comments, party invites, birthday mentions and other nods of approval.”

Dr. Mantell continued to explain that it’s critical not to give credence to the areas that lead to irrational thinking.

“Fortunately we have rational and irrational beliefs. Knowing the events in your life that seem to activate irrational thinking is critically important. These thoughts are your interpretation of an event. So, for example, if you believe you lost your job because your boss hated you, rather than the reality of the economy, you might feel angry at your boss.”

“Rational beliefs are bendable, realistic and based on preferences of life rather than demands from life. You might irrationally think, ‘It’s horrible I lost my job because I shouldn’t have, and I cannot tolerate losing my job and this means I’m a loser who will never find another one,’ or instead, think rationally, ‘It’s too bad and unfair that I lost my job, but I’m capable of finding another one!’”

I asked Dr. Mantell how he deals with this new approval-based culture that tends to weigh heavily on so many online enthusiasts' hearts.

“So when working with people in this situation, I help them learn to develop what I refer to as a 'healthy offline persona' first, and, equally as important, I help them consider their personal reactions to other people on these networks in more reasonable and rational ways.”

Sounds pretty rational to me! (Thanks, Doc!)

Clap off!

Can we do that with social media now? Perhaps we should shine a little light on the reality that the substance behind social media posts can be as realistic and meaningful as today's reality shows! They are glimpses into others people's paintings of their worlds that in many cases are not even close to the truth.

People can pose for photos, put a smile on their faces (while thinking how lame the party is and wishing they were at home in their PJ's), get tagged, and then go to the next party, smile again, and still feel like crap! Meanwhile, you are out of sorts but saved yourself a wad on gas and drinks! Perspective: the seemingly happening people who post positive and perky photos day-in and day-out just might be compensating for something and might need a night in their PJ's as well!

Chances are that if you (or your teens) don’t derive a positive feeling when you check your posts or update your status, and have moods that elevate or decline based on what you see or what messages your receive, then it might be time to build your own healthy offline persona as well!

Stacey Ross is an online consultant, social media enthusiast, freelancer and owner of SanDiegoBargainMama.com. A former teacher and middle school counselor, she is now a mom of two who researches and freelances about lifestyle topics involving family and well-being.

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