A new epidemic, called FOMO, defined as the ‘Fear Of Missing Out’ on something more interesting, exciting or better than what we are currently doing, is sweeping South Africa.
In a just-released Pharma Dynamics survey, conducted among more than 3 000 respondents nationally between the ages of 15 and 50, over 62% said they live in constant fear of missing out.
Symptoms include jaw clenching (41%), the inability to remove one’s cellphone from one’s hand (30%), excessive SMSing (24%), high-pitched questioning (17%), compulsive sweating (18%), tweeting when on the loo (11%), and even showing up at places uninvited (6%).
How it affects us
Mariska Fouche, spokesperson for Pharma Dynamics, one of SA’s leading colds and flu medicine providers, says FOMO wreaks havoc with our immune system.
“Our modern-day obsession with not missing out actually weakens our immune system, raising the odds of catching a cold or flu. We push ourselves to the limit, always wanting to be everywhere and do everything, even when we are ill, which is why it often takes us longer to recover,” says Fouche.
The survey pointed out that even a serious cold or flu won’t deter 64% of respondents from going to work and 13% still go to a party or get-together despite feeling under the weather.
She warns that when we push ourselves to such an extent a cold or flu could persist, and not only raises the risk of a secondary infection, but many other illnesses, such as asthma, bronchitis and pneumonia.
“FOMO, in many respects, is what has catapulted the increased demand for over-the-counter colds and flu medication, including immune boosting supplements the world over.”
Fouche believes that FOMO, at times, even leads otherwise responsible adults to do irresponsible things, such as SMSing while driving, for the fear of missing out on the possibility of another social connection.
“More than a third of survey participants said they often interrupt one call to take another, even when they don’t know who is on the other line or check their Twitter stream or Facebook page while on a date, because something more interesting might just be happening.
“Fifty-three percent admitted to saying ‘yes’ when they would rather say ‘no’ for fear of missing out. It is difficult to say ‘no’ when we have been programmed to say ‘yes’ to most things – after all, we never know where ‘yes’ can lead us. That is why when we miss a party or a social event, we sometimes feel a little less important than those who did go,” she says.
Fouche adds that there have been plenty of studies done on the way social media in particular fuels FOMO. Status updates such as, ‘OMW best party ever!’ informs us of all the exciting activities happening while we’re stuck at home.
“FOMO is a blend of anxiety, inadequacy and irritation that can flare up especially while browsing social media. Gazillions of twitter messages, status updates and photos give exciting glimpses of the daily lives and activities of friends, co-workers and peers – and we don’t want to miss out!
“Streaming social media have an immediacy that is very different from a conversation with friends over lunch recounting the events of a previous weekend. When you see your friends at a party or dining out without you – and at that precise moment – it is very different and more readily induces FOMO.”
By the same token, the Pharma Dynamics survey also revealed that social media plays an important role in helping people deal with FOMO.
Facebook proved to be the most popular channel for 38% of respondents to alleviate the fear of missing out, followed by 26% who chose to call a friend or family member, while 20% found relief from checking and sending emails.
“The problem with FOMO is that it is unavoidable. It is a shared experience which we all suffer from to a lesser or greater extent. It is almost impossible not to when one considers the world we live in today. We could experience FOMO about a TV show, a party, a gadget or even a really great meal that we are going to miss out on.”
Fouche suggests the following ways to cope with FOMO:
- Realise that you are not alone.
- If you have opted to stay home, make peace with it and switch off your phone. Yes, switch off your phone!
- If someone tweets about you missing out and it makes you feel a bit FOMOish, then tweet back and say ‘Let me know about the next one.’
- There is always going to be someone experiencing great things with or without you, so accept that you can’t possibly be part of every single experience and move on.
- People often portray their idealised selves on Facebook but try to keep it real and live your own best life.