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Fighting the FOMO - How to Fight Becoming a Digital Junkie

by Melanie Gallo, PhD

Am I talking about you?

How long can you go without your mobile device? Your phone. Your iPad or tablet. I'm not even going to pretend like I don't turn into Vin Diesel from Fast and Furious, burning rubber to turn around when I realize that I have left my phone or iPad at home. Unfortunately, I may be a digital junkie and it is likely that many of you are as well. Bottom line - our devices are causing us serious anxiety. 

This form of anxiety referred to by some as FOMO, or "fear of missing out”, has been shown to predict more daily smartphone use, greater preference for multitasking, more nighttime awakenings to check a phone, and ultimately more sleep problems.  

According to the Pew Research Center's latest statistics, 77% of all American adults own a smartphone (95% own some kind of cell phone), while a whopping 92% of individuals 18-29 are smartphone owners. The demographic with the lowest smartphone ownership of 42%, are adults 65+.  

Nearly 80% of all U.S adults own desktop or laptop computers while about half own tablets. In fact, over 1 in ten Americans are "smartphone only" users who do not even have a traditional broadband service in their homes. 

These figures only highlight the fact that we are all, in some way, connected to the world digitally and it is becoming easier and easier for us to become digital junkies. I am not talking about the more severe, life-altering digitally-aided addictions such online gambling addictions and cyber-relationship addictions that are caused by an over-stimulation of the brain's reward system, much like alcohol and drugs.  I am talking about the day-to-day use of digital devices that cause daily distractions, mental overload, and continuous partial attention

Fortunately, even though we all have the potential of falling prey to our digital device's mind control, (even as I type, my ipad seems to have a mind of its own and keeps deleting my words), there are ways that we can fight becoming digital junkies . . . And yes it CAN happen to you.

Don't respond automatically 

  • Fight the urge to respond automatically to alerts and notifications particularly when you are working on a task that requires concentration and attention. 

  • If you are working with a computer or tablet, completely close all programs and browser tabs that you are not going to use for your work. Don't just minimize. Shut them down so they don't still act as visual stimuli.

  • If your phone is nearby (which it probably is), set an alarm for 15 minutes and put it on silent . . . vibration OFF.  Turn it face down, and place it somewhere nearby where you can see it. You will not see any alerts or get any vibrating notifications, but the phone itself will be a reminder that you will get to it in 15 minutes or less. When the alarm goes off, check any app, website, or whatever for 1 minute then set the alarm and set it aside again. Once you are comfortable  waiting 15 minutes to check in, increase the time to 20, 25, 30 minutes or more. You will know your brain is reconditioned to this process when the alarm goes off and you keep working if even for just another minute or two.

Check messages on a time schedule

  • Once you have reconditioned yourself not to respond automatically, only check messages on a time schedule. 

  • Alert friends, family and colleagues that you are going on a 30-minute schedule (or whatever time frame works for you), only checking messages every 30 minutes. Promise that you will get back to them shortly when you do, but that you need to make this change in order to increase your focus. 

  • Remove all notification rings, dings, and vibrations from your apps and set your alarm to only check texts, social media, email, and any other apps during the scheduled time.

Set technology time limits and take breaks

  • Limit technology use to no more than about 90 minutes at a time.

  • Calm your brain by taking short 10-minute breaks to do something that doesn't use technology. Try walking in nature, playing a musical instrument, meditating, exercising, listening to music, or taking a hot bath or shower. Only you will know what calms your brain. Ten minutes is all it takes.

Don't use tech before bed. (This is a hard one.)

Can you reach your phone while laying in bed even with your eyes closed? I know you may think you need to send one last tweet, check one last post or respond to one last email in order to "be able to rest at night". In actuality, using technology at night ruins your sleep and the essential brain processes that happen while you rest. 

  • Try removing your phone and other devices that are used close to your face for at least one hour prior to attempting to sleep. Try to calm your brain.  

  • Try reading a paper book, watching television (particularly a show that you know well which won't require a large mental load), or listening to music (again, something familiar will require less strain on your brain). 

Track your device usage

  • Download a "screen time tracker" app such as Moment (iPhone), RealizD (iPhone), or QualityTime (Android) to see how much you unlock and check your phone in a day. 

  • Pay attention to times when you think your phone vibrated in your pocket or purse, only to find that either it didn’t or it wasn't even there to begin with. Normal neuronal activity in the brain which previously only required a quick scratch to quell an itch, is now leading to anxiety-based phantom pocket vibration syndrome.

Fight that FOMO! Don't become a digital junkie. 

Melanie Gallo, PhD is a doctor for businesses providing psychology-based business solutions to individuals and organizations. For more information please visit and text or call today! 

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