FOMO and social networks

What is the first and last thing you do in a day? About 20 years ago, the answer to this question would have been very different from what many people would say today.

For starters, no one would have answered “watch social media on the cellphone” in 2002. But they would these days, especially young people and teenagers, many of whom do not remember a life without a smartphone.

Smartphones give us, almost indefinitely, a lot of stimuli that can make real life seem a little graceless.

It is not uncommon to see people who they prefer to look at their social networks when other people talk to them (a phenomenon known as “phubbing”), when they are at work or at family gatherings, at religious events, at funerals… Or even when they are driving.

If you identify with any of these behaviors I have named, you may be suffering from what is called FOMO syndrome.

    What is the FOMO syndrome?

    FOMO, for its acronym in English “Fear Of Missing Out”is a syndrome that has become popular in recent years in the mental health literature.

    That is, according to Francchina et. al., of those feelings of anxiety that arise when you believe that other people may be having or have had certain rewarding experiences of which you are not a part.

    By giving social media unrestricted access to other people’s posts, many fall into the trap of constantly comparing themselves to them. And what’s worse, we compare our “grey” and “sad” life not with the real life of others, but with what they decide to show or project, so we don’t have access to a real vision of the experience of others. .

    Someone can brag on Instagram about their wonderful vacation, how well they did with their friends, but they can hide that it may have rained every day or that the group of friends who seem so close didn’t get along so well during that time. . week on the beach, nor so close day to day. Even if they decide to show the opposite.

      The psychological impact of FOMO

      FOMO has been emphasized by some authors, such as Haidt and Allen, as one of the main reasons for the compulsive use of social mediaand would explain, at least in part, the mental health crisis that has been experienced especially among adolescents and young people during the years when access to these platforms has become universal, especially in first world countries.

      This syndrome is associated, according to Pérez-Elizondo, in addition to higher levels of anxiety, to depressive symptoms, frustration, growing sense of loneliness and more stress.

      The problem is compounded by the fact that whoever suffers from it enters a kind of vicious circle: Feeling very emotionally upset that other people might enjoy certain activities or experiences that she is not a part of. This means that you obsessively listen to your networks, to control whether or not this happens, which takes away the time and motivation to live your own experiences, leaving your smartphone aside and focusing on more satisfying activities. long term.

      Varchetta and. to. they think it’s very possible that FOMO is the main motivation for the uncontrolled use of social media. Although, according to Franchina and his colleagues, it would be more associated with platforms on which users share their daily lives through photos or videos (such as Instagram, Facebook or Snapchat) and not so much with others that are more private and less dependent on pictures. , like Twitter.

        What to do?

        According to psychologist and researcher Jeanne Twenge, the use of screens (and even more of social networks) is associated with poorer mental health, unlike the practice of outdoor activities or more recurrent interactions with people in flesh and bone. Twenge recommends to parents be aware of the negative effects that unlimited access to social media can have.

        A study by Hunt et. to. in 2018, she showed that by decreasing or eliminating the number of hours per day participants spent on the networks, symptoms of FOMO decreased significantly and improvements in overall mental health could also be seen. These results coincide with the hypotheses put forward previously on the effects of the uncontrolled use of the networks.

        In this sense, an effective psychological treatment model for the problematic use of social networks can be the one developed by Echeburúa and de Corral, which consists of two parts: a first phase of shock, where the subject completely abstains from using the nets for about three weeks, in order to decondition the behavior, then moves on to a phase of progressive exposure where, gradually, the individual generates new habits of network use in a controlled manner.

        Much remains to be seen to know the extent of the effects of networks on our mental health. As psychologists, it is important to help raise awareness in society about the consequences of certain behaviors, which can be identified as neutral or benign, but which can have a reverse side.

        Bibliographic references

        • Echeburúa E., & De Corral, P. (2010). Addiction to new technologies and social networks among young people: a new challenge. Dependencies, 22(2), 91-95.
        • Francchina, V., et al (2018). Fear of missing out as a predictor of problematic social media use and phubbing behavior in Flemish adolescents. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 15 (10), 2319.
        • Haidt, J., & Allen, N. (2020). Examine the effects of digital technology on mental health.
        • Hunt, M., et al (2018). More FOMO: Limiting social media reduces loneliness and depression. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 37 (10). 751-768.
        • Perez-Elizondo, AD (2020). What is the FOMO syndrome?, 24.
        • Twengé, JM (2017). iGen: Why today’s super-connected kids are growing up less rebellious, more tolerant, less happy — and completely unprepared for adulthood — and what that means for the rest of us. Simon and Schuster.
        • Varchetta, M. et al (2020). Social media addiction, fear of losing experiences (FOMO) and online vulnerability among college students. Digital Journal of Research in University Education, 14 (1), e1187.

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