Fomo: anxiety and fear of being disconnected

There is a 2018 film, titled “Disconnected”, which tells of a modern family gathered in a mountain chalet, where the group is suddenly without an Internet connection and panics. This film, directed by Christian Marazziti, photographs the terrible results of addiction to smartphones, tablets and social media, which can lead to what is now called Fomo (acronym of the English expression “fear of missing out”, literally “Fear of being left out”).

“The fear of missing out does not fall into any diagnostic category nor does it represent a recognized psychiatric disorder”, Dr. Mario Miniati, psychiatrist and psychotherapist at the Visconti di Modrone Medical Center, Milan. “Rather, it is one new form of social behavior which translates into the fear of staying out of a certain context, of not being connected with others in real time and of being deprived of something if one’s presence is not assiduously manifested through social networks “.

What is Fomo

The “fear of being cut out” is a reflection of our century, obsessed with communications: those who suffer from it post something on Facebook and immediately expect comments or shares, constantly check notifications and emails, constantly browse the social message boards of friends , is part of several groups on WhatApp, gets nervous in front of the Instagram story of a friend who went to a certain event, browsing Linkedin fears that other people are doing a richer and more rewarding job than their own.

«In the long run, the“ phomic ”subjects begin to getting a bad night’s sleepbecause they continue to stay connected, and this ends up having an impact on the general quality of life, causing problems with concentration during the day », explains Dr. Miniati.

The acronym, Fomo, was coined in 2004 by the American author Patrick J. McGinnis, but it seems that the fear of being cut off from the “right circles” has common to men since the dawn of time. It is said that even Cicero suffered from it, to the point of wanting to receive detailed reports of every event that occurred in the capital when he left Rome.

Fomo sufferers

Among the subjects most affected by Fomo are the teenagersborn and raised with social media, on which they become perennial spectators of a myriad of options that they cannot fully cover, sometimes ending up developing the perception that others are having better experiences than their own.

The feeling of living an uninteresting existence can especially affect people with low self-esteem and who feel lonely, but there are no fixed rules. «Obviously, in order to talk about Fomo, the time spent with this“ fixed ”thought counts: one discourse is peeking on social media for a few minutes a day, another thing is spending hours, neglecting study or work. And then he also counts what comes out of it in terms of sensations: how frustrated, sad, angry we feel », says Dr. Miniati.

«In this regard, it could be interesting to evaluate the sociality of the subject as a whole. This is what happens in interpersonal psychotherapy, a form of short therapy which investigates what one’s expectations are towards others, establishing whether these expectations are more or less realistic. Starting from the assumption that it is impossible to always be at the center of all social networks, it is important to reinforce the behaviors that contrast this aspiration ».

The link with lockdowns

Some experts speculate that the Fomo has been stimulated or exacerbated by lockdowns imposed by the pandemic, which in many young people may have contributed to favoring the appearance of a phenomenal phenomenon of the obsessive spectrum: not a real obsessive-compulsive disorder, therefore, but attenuated forms that manifest themselves precisely with this mania for controlling electronic devices, on the constant connection, on the number of contacts.

“Basically, lockdowns altered for a while our chrono-biological rhythms, that is the set of commitments that normally mark our days, and without these psychosocial “pedometers” the functioning of some brain areas has been distorted, including the circuits that also include these more obsessive behaviors. In summary, having seen the usual routine skip, the anchor points and the exchange with peers highlighted the “manias” in many subjects ».

How to fight and what to do

But then how do we know if a friend or family member suffers from Fomo? And how to understand if we are affected by it ourselves? “The two most important distinctive elements are the amount of time spent on the net, subtracted from other productive activities, and changes in moodwhich apparently presents fluctuations based on the disappointments collected during navigation, such as lack of feedback or a low number of “likes” to its posts », says Miniati.

“If then this obsession also extends to other fields of life, the problem could be more complex and hide an obsessive-compulsive disorder”. The way out of Fomo lies in another acronym, namely Jomo, which stands for “joy of missing out”: the German doctor coined it Eckart Axel von Hirschhausen, simplifying the need to learn the art of letting go, of not always being connected and synchronized with the rest of the world. «Not letting anything go by, on the contrary, translates into one hyper-stimulation of certain areas of the brain, which play a fundamental role in cognitive processes and in the regulation of behavior. If we really do not succeed, while filling our life with other positive stimuli, we can ask for help from a professional to find the right solution ”, concludes Dr. Miniati.