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The FOMO Is Real. And It’s Feeding Social Media Addiction.

girl scrolling through phone at night
Photo by mikoto.raw from Pexels

Am I the only one who has spent a Friday night at home looking at social media and experiencing a horrible case of FOMO (“fear of missing out”)? Why was I not invited? What am I missing out on? Most of us have had these feelings, but what does that have to do with social media addiction?

Is social media affecting mental health?

Well, first, can social media have a bad effect on our mental health? Yes: Loads of correlational research links social media use with poor mental health. For example, one study found that Facebook use is linked to a negative shift in “two components of subjective well-being: how people feel moment-to-moment and how satisfied they are with their lives.” And in a 2016 study, researchers found a relationship between increased social media use and increased depression. So, the findings are clear: Social media has negative effects on our mental health. But what about FOMO? 

Does social media trigger FOMO?

Humans are social creatures. We are constantly searching for others so we can connect and interact with them. As a result, we want to take part in social events. But when we’re excluded, we experience the “fear of missing out,” which directly relates to social media sharing. 

A 2020 study found that social media users with high levels of FOMO were less likely to be satisfied with life and to have high self-esteem. And a study at the University of Mary Washington found FOMO had a stronger link to social media addiction than certain personality characteristics (i.e., neuroticism, extraversion) and attachment styles in close relationships.

Why is this information important? If social media can negatively affect our mental health and FOMO is a predictor of social media addiction, FOMO will only lead us to use social media more. And that cycle could have greater negative impacts on our mental health.

Social media use is rising.

Why is this more important than ever? Social media use is rising rapidly. For the U.S., 70% of the population has a social media account. In terms of the world, 3.96 billion people use social media. Shockingly, this number almost doubled from 2015, when the number of users was 2.07 billion. So, with more and more people using social media, more and more people will experience FOMO and its adverse effects on mental health. Combatting FOMO and excessive social media just became more important than ever.

How to deal with FOMO

If you don’t want to suffer the consequences of addictive social media use, you can lower your usage. iPhones and other phones have functions where you can set app time limits. This way, your phone will lock the app once you reach your time limit. Of course, you can choose to ignore the time limit and remove it (We’ve all done it.), but this extra reminder can dissuade us at least a little bit.

A 2018 study investigated if limiting social media usage worked. They only allowed participants to use each social media (Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat) platform for up to 10 minutes a day for 3 weeks. They found that participants who did this experienced a decrease in FOMO, loneliness, anxiety and depression. So if you’ve been struggling with social media addiction or your mental health, maybe this strategy will help.

If social media stresses you out, try to curate more positive news feeds. For tips, check this out.

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