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“Vvvt. Vvvt.” You feel your cell phone vibrate, alerting you to a new status update or text message. You’re in class, but you can’t resist the urge to check, even though you end up missing an important point.

Ever feel that if you’re out of touch for one moment you’ll miss something critical? Is your smartphone never further than six inches away? Do you compulsively scroll through Instagram when you’re with friends or eating dinner? (But never when you’re driving, right?) This kind of anguish is real, and it’s all the fault of the interwebs. So come transform the fear of missing out into the joy of joining in.

Social Media Mayhem

“Fear of Missing Out,” or “FoMO,” is the anxious feeling that you’ve got to stay constantly connected or risk missing the rewarding experiences that everyone else seems to be having 24/7. While FoMO can be associated with a desire to take advantage of all available opportunities, recent research indicates that it has intensified in the age of social media. “I have a smartphone, and I’m glued to it. I feel pressured to check my phone constantly,” says Mary N., a graduate student at Pittsburg State University in Kansas.

Students with FoMO can be identified by these giveaway behaviors, according to Dr. Andrew Przybylski at the University of Oxford in the UK:

  • Emailing, texting, and/or using social media at key times of the day, i.e., right after waking, before going to sleep, and/or during meals.
  • Checking social media accounts during lectures or in class.
  • Paying attention to cell phones while driving.
  • Experiencing lower mood and overall life satisfaction.

Be in the “No”

To counteract the temptation of nonstop communication, it’s important to tune in to what’s realistic and best for you. What are your true priorities? Is emailing, texting, or feeding the Facebook monster helping you achieve your goals? Doing everything is impossible. Accept that you can be in only one place at a time.

Sherry H., a student at Ashford University online, says, “It speaks to time management and setting priorities. Missing an update on Facebook has to be a low priority in comparison to school work or quality time with friends and family.” Indeed, FoMO can lead to disconnection from what’s happening right in front of you.

If you don’t view a post, the world is not going to end, and most likely, nothing will happen whatsoever. If something is truly important, you’ll find out.

Be in the now

FoMO can disconnect you from what’s happening right where you are. “Missing an update on Facebook has to be a low priority in comparison to school work or quality time with friends and family,” says Sherry H., a student at Ashford University online.

If you don’t view a post, there will likely be no negative fallout at all. If something is truly important, trust that you’ll find out.

10 ideas for setting social media boundaries

Here are 10 ideas for setting boundaries on social media:
  • Have clear intentions regarding your social media use.
  • Use a temporary blocking service to help you stay on task.
  • Set boundaries with friends and family members. Let them know when you’ll be online and available. Be clear about when you won’t.
  • Don’t hit refresh. Read and review social media for a few minutes, then let it go.
  • Get outside. Leave your phone and other gadgets inside.
  • If a toxic relationship triggers a reaction every time you read something from or about the person, block his or her communications.
  • Read to be inspired. If you feel left out or “less than,” log off.
  • When you feel the urge to get online, get out a pen instead. Write a handwritten note or make plans to spend time with someone in person.
  • When online, focus on communicating with your close friends and family, academic research, and learning something new.
  • Exchange tips with friends. Lots of people are looking to tame the social media beast. 

Reign in Internet Use

Here’s how you manage your online media use, according to a recent Student Health 101 survey:

  • Close some accounts
  • Disable notifications
  • Delete non-critical apps
  • Enable internet restriction apps
  • Set time limits: “I give myself 15 minutes to upload a new album and that’s it,” says Mary.
  • Set the phone to “Do Not Disturb”: “Everything I have is always on silent. If I don’t hear a notification, then, in my world, nothing has happened that needs immediate attention,” says Emily M., a second-year student at Cape Cod Community College in Massachusetts.

Apps for Limiting Media Use

Rescue Time
Track how much time you spend online and with other activities.
Cost: Free

Minutes Please
Lots of features for limiting time on Web sites you specify.
Cost: Free

Facebook Limiter
Blocks access to Facebook and YouTube based on your preferences
Cost: Free

LeechBlock
Block certain Web sites at times you specify.
Cost: Free

iFreeFace
Block or limit your own time on Web sites, email, or games.
Cost: Free

StayFocusd
Lots of options for blocking sites, pages, or games and other content.
Cost: Free

TrackTime
Track your usage of apps, Web sites, or iTunes
Cost: Free trial

Concentrate
Create settings to match tasks that require different mindsets.
Cost: Free trial

Find Your Focus Online

Most people who experience FoMO are motivated by social reasons, namely friends and family, according to Dr. Nicholas Herrera of DePaul University in Chicago. Use your online time to connect with the people in your life who matter. Emily says, “I work and go to school, so physical get-togethers can be tough to schedule. Facebook keeps me closer with my friends and family.”

Leverage social networks to your advantage. Students use social media networks to connect with current friends, and also to revive dormant friendships (as the Pew Research Center showed in 2011). In other words, feeling angst about the tweet you missed may be unproductive, but using the web to organize a trip with old friends or long-lost family is a great idea.

Our online posts highlight what’s good about our lives—not the mundane, ho-hum visits to the post office, or disappointing setbacks. This selective posting creates a skewed sense of other people’s lives.. “Most of my ‘friends’ in real life are not what they appear to be on Facebook,” says Elizabeth O., a student at the University of California, Merced.

Do You Have FoMO?

Before taking the quiz, here are some questions to ask yourself:
  1. Do I believe my peers “have it all figured out?”
  2. Do I feel left out when I read about what other people are doing?
  3. Am I distracted by social media while studying?
  4. Do I leave social media pages open while studying?
  5. Do I feel overwhelmed or derailed when I read or see someone else’s post?
Find more questions and results

How to proceed with caution

“If you are feeling down and lonely, it might not be a good time to go online. Know yourself and how something might affect you emotionally,” says Dr. Hannah Roberts, a counselor at California Polytechnic State University.

  • “Talk to someone [in person]. It’s amazing what a relief that can provide,” says Dr. Roberts. Emily says, “Facebook and social media are not a replacement for physical face-to-face greetings. I need to have personal interactions outside of a computer.”
  • Set time limits on social media use.
  • Filter your intake to just those things that build up your self-esteem.
  • Use social media to cultivate flesh-and-blood relationships.
  • Remember that no update is worth injury or death. Pledge to never text and drive.
  • Remember: Online images can be different than reality.

Your life is more than the web. Don’t let texts take over, emails engulf you, or social networks swallow you up. Instead, use them as a tool and know when to say “no.” The next time your smartphone says “Vvvt,” just tell it to “Shh.”

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