The anxiety of being ‘out’. Nomophobia and FoMO

The need to be permanently connected to serve our social media accounts is called FoMO (Fear of Missing Out).

Probably everyone has experienced at least once the anxiety of missing out. You are relaxed and enjoying a particular activity, but the next moment you are checking your smartphone and realise there are pending alerts or notifications from your contacts on Twitter or Facebook. And apparently they are having much more fun than you! You then get the feeling that you are missing something really significant because you were not permanently connected to your social network of choice.

This fear is the so-called ‘FoMO’ syndrome (Fear of Missing Out), a form of social anxiety which is widespread among users fearing a ‘virtual’ kind of exclusion.

This type of problem is present among 56% of users according to a survey by MyLife in July 2013, where participants made clear their fears to miss events, news or important status updates when they were not connected to their social networks. 27% of those surveyed recognized consulting their social network the first thing in the morning.

This sense of exclusion existed of course before the smartphones and the social networks, but is now more widespread than ever. The possibilities offered by new media allow our friends and contacts to be connected 24 hours a day. The side effect of this is quite known: the fear of believing that you are missing something important when you are not ‘sticked’ to your mobile.

You can find this new disorder not only within social networks and mobile devices, but also within the strategies of advertisers, who tend to play with fears of exclusion. Many ads try to convince us, for instead, to be alert for the opportunities of buying this or that product that will make us winners or with which our happiness will boost.

Are you a FoMO patient?

You may not know it. You might consider yourself a conventional user of mobile phones. And yet, it is good to pass a little test. Maybe you will recognize some worrying symptoms that can lead to detect your FoMo syndrome.

Some initiatives like RateMyFoMO can help you. It is an Internet service with a survey that allows you to find out whether your FoMO level is low, medium or high, based on a series of questions you have to answer as sincerely as possible.

The anxiety of being ‘out’. Nomophobia and FoMO

Do you experience FoMO?

You are asked how many times you take a glimpse on your social networks per day, whether you do it over lunch or dinner, and if you are bothered about the idea of your friends having a good time without you.

From your answers, a general ‘FoMO index’ is set. This generates some advices that, with all due precautions (remember it is just a survey), urge you you to take action (or not) with regard to your mobile. Eventually you must not be so aware of your favorite device and, incidentally, of other people’s lives.

I forgot my mobile at home!

The FoMO syndrome often combines with the so-called nomophobia, the fear or anxiety of people forgetting your mobile phone at home or at the office. A survey by the Canadian operator Rogers in December 2012 showed 65% of users ‘feel naked without their smartphones and Internet access’.

The Rogers survey enriches many others studies, like the one published in May 2012 by the Spanish CEETA, or Centro de Estudios Especializados en Trastornos de Ansiedad (GAD). According to their conclusions, 53% of mobile phone users felt anxious ‘when losing either their mobile phone, battery power, or mobile coverage’.

That percentage has probably increased even more in recent months: the number of people connected to services like WhatsApp, Facebook or Twitter has grown steadily and there are many interactions promoted by these services. Officials from the aforementioned CEETA explain each person looks at their mobile phone an average of 34 times a day.

Nomophobia symptoms

Some users may not realize the importance of putting back the mobile and social networks, and are beginning to suffer symptoms of nomophobia. For that reason, they should identify them so as to act quickly against this disorder. We highlight some of them:

  1. A constant search of network coverage. Addicts to their mobiles have usually a sort of sixth sense for certain locations where mobile coverage is limited or nonexistent. In these situations, they try to look for near spots with at least a feeble connectivity.
  2. A charger always at hand so as to charge the phone in case its battery gets low on power. For nomophobic users this is essential. When arriving to a new place, they ‘scan’ it in order to find eventual sockets to plug in their device.
  3. Constant battery checking. In connection with the charger symptom previously described, people affected by nomophobia are always checking the battery level on their devices. They are usually true experts estimating how much time is left for their batteries before needing a socket to plug in again their mobile.
  4. They have their mobile always at hand, even if nobody sees it. Checking on the mobile screen is their irritating tic. They don’t want to miss any eventual update, message or notification. The problem is that most of the time they don’t do it openly: they hide their gestures and proceed silently and very often.
  5. They distrust new places. Going to an unfamiliar place is a big annoyance for them. It could be no plug around, a total disaster. Routine and the things they positively know they work good, are especially interesting for these users who need to stay connected everywhere and at any time.

Treatment of these disorders

In the aforementioned survey by CEETA, Marina Dolgopol, director of this organization in Spain, gave some advices so as to overcome this kind of problems: ‘The key is learning to control oneself, to get rid of the mobile gradually and to confront on your own the negative thoughts and feelings arising from this disorder, such as panic attacks’.

These advices reinforce the need to use the mobile only at specific times, not taking it everywhere and in all situations, such as dinners or family celebrations. Turning off the phone at night, an action almost unthinkable for many users, stands out as an important preventive measure allowing you to rest much better… provided that, prior to this, you are convinced that you are not missing anything while you sleep.