By Madison Fraser
Imagine this scenario: you’re at home on a Saturday night, getting ready to watch a Pretty Little Liars marathon while you nosh on pizza bagels and (maybe) study for your upcoming midterm exam. But then you check Instagram. You’re virtually slapped in the face with pictures of your friends crowded around a booth at your favorite restaurant, or dancing the night away (perhaps red solo cup in hand) at a girl-you-kind-of-know’s birthday party. Do you find yourself suddenly despondent over your pizza bagels, no longer excited to relax with PLL? Or do you accept the idea that it’s OK to stay home on the weekends? If you answered the former, you’ll find comfort in knowing that you’re not alone (despite feeling it every time you check Instagram).
Growing up in the first truly digital age, our millennial generation (or generation Y, or Z, as some refer) was born with a cellphone in hand and a screen in front our faces. Our relationships with one another are built on the slippery foundation of megabytes and pixels, rather than by a letter in our mailbox or a knock on the front door. Our connections are delicately sewn together with the help of a computer, and ironically enough, it may be putting a damper on our social interactions, rather than simply providing a new outlet for it.
If you’re anywhere near a smartphone or computer on a daily basis, I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase “FOMO” be dropped in casual conversation. Between the excessive hashtagging of #theFOMOisreal, and the explosion the internet faced when the acronym was added to the Oxford Dictionary last year, the “fear of missing out” is, in fact, a very real psychological mishap that only worsens as our social media time increases. In 2013, Mashable covered a MyLife.com study that found 56% of social media participants suffered from FOMO –with a large majority of those users being teenagers like us.
The phenomenon of FOMO isn’t a new concept, though. It’s a feeling that most people, especially teenagers, experience when they can’t attend or consume the next big thing – whether that be the party of the year or the new Sperry topsiders that everyone is flaunting via Instagram. Unfortunately, social media platforms, such as Facebook and Instagram, are pure projections of these happenings and trends. By checking our newsfeeds daily, it’s only natural that we pick up on the things we think we should be doing (i.e what everyone else is doing) rather than focusing on what we’re doing at the moment. “The grass is always greener on the other side,” is a hackneyed argument that our brains convince us is true of every online scenario. The mental effects of social media are even more evident in how we physically respond to these posts. Teen Vogue recently complied a list of these negative backlashes, such as the statistical increase in teenage drinking and smoking due to the FOMO that resulted from excessively portrayed party habits on Facebook and Instagram .
What went from being harmless status updates about college acceptances and Farmville addictions somehow turned into a scary reality for girls our age – but not one without a solution.
Anyone in any situation can feel social anxiety from social media posts. You could be traveling the world with your family, eating crepes in Paris and climbing the Swiss Alps and still feel like you’re missing out on the girls shopping trip back home. While it’s convenient that our Facebook, Twitters, and Instagrams allow us to be connected and stay in touch with anyone in the world, it’s hard to be grateful for the present moment when you’re consistently exposed to social obligations elsewhere.
While scientists, psychologists, and yes, even our parents, contemplate the implications of our generation being addicted to smartphones and social media, I have a better idea: instead of trying to push it out of our lives, learn to make the best of it instead.
Instead of spending all your free time scrolling down Twitter feeds and perfecting your selfie, try to limit your social media dependence with the following tips. I’ve tried all of them, and I’m already noticing improvements. I have a more positive attitude about balancing my friends, family, and “me” time (including things like going for a daily run and reading every John Green book on the market), and I no longer feel myself getting distracted every time my phone buzzes or I snag an Instagram like. Experiment with these safe guard methods below and I guarantee you’ll be feeling more carefree by the end of the week.
- Remove the applications from your phone
Every time final exam season rolls around, I make a note to remove the Facebook and Twitter applications from my iPhone, because at least 50% of the time I spend on social media is via my cell phone. If you have the same problem as me, try deleting the applications and then having your mom, dad, or friend set a passcode for re-download. To do this, go to Settings > General > Restrictions. It’ll ask you to set a restriction passcode, and this is where you have someone other than yourself enter a code (just make sure they’ll remember it the future). Once in Restrictions, scroll down to where it says “Installing Apps” and turn the setting off. From then on, you won’t be able to give into the temptation of re-installing Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram without consent from the person who’s safe keeping your code – and trust me when I say your mom will be extra tough about it!
I love this method because it gives me the same liberation I would have if I left my phone at home for the day, but also gives me the comfort of knowing my loved ones are still a text or call away if I need to communicate with them. It’s like the good ole’ flip phone days all over again!
- Take the UNICEF Water Challenge
If you don’t want to delete your beloved applications, the UNICEF Water Challenge will provide similar incentive by encouraging you to leave your iPhone untouched for a few minutes to help those in need of clean water supply. All you have to do is download the app and set your phone down! It will monitor how long it takes you cave and unlock your phone, and the longer you go without touching, the more clean water you’ll be donating to their initiative. If you’re going to be obsessed with your phone, you might as well break the habit by helping those who need more than just cellular data! As they cleverly state on their website: “People have helped kids today instead of viewing 10 million #selfies.” Quite a shocking statistic, no? Visit http://tap.unicefusa.org/ to join the movement!
- Reach out to your friends
Every time I see my friends post a picture from an outing I missed, I try to make a reinforcing comment on it like “Looks so fun! Hope I can make it next time!” or something along those lines. Even if I originally feel upset about skipping the fun, I instantly feel better when my friends reply saying they missed having me there! The key is to keep in touch with your friends all the time, and then know that you can choose when you want to actually go out or not. By maintaining a positive outlook, I feel totally not guilty about staying in to catch up on my well-needed rest. Stay friendly, but don’t forget to focus on you – there will be plenty of parties and concerts to attend in the future!