Anxiety caused by FOMO is a regular part of life in 2018, but what about when your fear of missing out on something happening online makes you miss out on something IRL? Enter FOBO, or fear of being offline. Well + Good reported that more and more millennials are experiencing this extremely relatable acronym, and it can contribute to anxiety at work that can spill over into the rest of your life. Let's set the scene. You work in an office where you feel like you're expected to be available on email, collaboration platforms, IM, and text 24/7. You compulsively check your phone — even when you're not technically on the clock — to see if your boss or co-workers have contacted you about some non-emergency that you feel like you have to deal with ASAP.
The Telegraph reported that new research from Ofcom found that the average millennial spends what's equivalent to an entire work week online, almost 35 hours. Add this to the time you spend offline doing your work, and you've got a recipe for burn out. Seriously, there's no denying the fact that all of this time spent tethered to tech is making people hella anxious.
"Because you can always be reachable, people think you should always be reachable," Ashley Hampton, Ph.D., a licensed psychologist and career coach, told Well + Good. But just because you're always online doesn't mean you have to jump at every notification. "People don’t expect an immediate response. We just think they do."
Despite the gap between the expectation and reality of how available you should be, FOBO is such a problem that a bill was proposed earlier this year that would make it illegal for managers in New York City to contact their employees after hours. Similar laws are already on the books in some European countries. I'm a big supporter of these initiatives because I'm already an anxious person to begin with, and over the past five years, FOBO has caused my anxiety to spike big time.
"If we’re offline, what can start to creep in is fear and anxiety that if you don’t respond, someone else is going to beat you to it and you may miss out on a promotion or an opportunity," Clinical Psychologist Kevin Gilliland told Well + Good. However, he also added that all of that FOBO actually makes you less productive, and 99 percent of the time it doesn't make much difference if you respond in five minutes or 24 hours.
While this all makes sense in theory, how can FOBO suffers actually transform their FOBO into JOMO — the joy of missing out? Clinical Psychologist Mariana Plata explained on Psychology Today that having a routine can help. "The reason behind this is that when we organize ourselves and know what to expect, it’s easier to actively work towards counteracting the thoughts and symptoms of any of the aforementioned mental health conditions, [bipolar disorder, addiction, depression]" she wrote.
This means that if you create a routine for your online life, and set expectations with others about when you will be available, you can actually reduce your FOBO. This especially important if you're already living with a mental health condition to begin with.
Your health is much more important than your immediately responding to an email about what kind of pizza should be served at the next company lunch. Let your co-workers, reports, and boss know that you won't be available outside of work hours for non-emergencies, and commit to not checking your work accounts during that time. You can even schedule your work apps to revert to do not disturb during non-work hours, or just turn off the notifications altogether and hide your bajiggity work stuff in a folder on your phone off of your home screen. Aside from making your new FOBO-fighting routine making you feel better, if you manage others, you'll be modeling positive work/life balance and empowering them to do the same.