Psychologists scramble to keep up with growing social media addiction

By Louise Merrillees . Updated 4 Apr 2016, 7:56am

FOMO, FOBO, and NoMo are among a growing list of acronyms relating to people’s fear of not being able to check their social media feed, and the issue has psychologists scrambling to keep up.

“Every time you have a spare moment, people are checking their Facebook or Snapchat, or various social networks,” Perth psychologist Marny Lishman said

“There is that rising anxiety causing the urge and if you don’t get to check it because you are at work, or out of mobile range, or have forgotten your phone, it is quite stressful.

“And because of smartphones we can be connected all the time. We can check social media the minute we get up, we don’t even have to get out of bed.”

Ms Lishman said people were becoming genuinely addicted to their devices, because of the rush generated by positive reinforcements and messages from friends.

Acronym cheat sheet:

  • FOMO – Fear Of Missing Out
  • FOBO – Fear Of Being Offline
  • NoMo – No Mobile

The Australian Psychological Society issued its Stress and Wellbeing in Australia report last year, which included a section on social media FOMO, or “fear of missing out”.

The report found adults were spending 2.1 hours per day and teens 2.7 hours per day connected to social media.

It also found 56 per cent of teens were heavy social media users, connecting more than five times per day, with 24 per cent being constantly connected.

Sixty per cent felt brain ‘burnout’ from constant connectivity of social media.

“There is research about sleeping deprivation with children with smartphones,” Ms Lishman said.

“These kids are getting messages all the time. The minute that happens, your senses take in the information and your brain has to do something with that information, and if it is stressful content, then there is a change physiologically, your brain is going to release adrenalin and cortisol before you go to bed.”

Sydney-based relationship psychologist Philipa Thornton will be speaking about online addictions at the Australia–New Zealand addictions conference in Queensland next month.

Ms Thornton said unlike internet gaming disorder, social media addiction was not yet officially recognised in the “bible of psychology and psychiatry”, the DSM 5 (diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders, version 5) but there were definite similarities.

“FOBO [Fear Of Being Offline] is definitely along those lines, it is a behaviour, and through repetition and coping mechanisms, you are re-wiring your brain,” she said.

“It is different from a habit, because I can brush my teeth, and I can forget to brush my teeth, but I am not going to be having any angst around that.”

Ms Thornton said she recently came across the NoMo phobia, the fear of being without a mobile phone.

“There is a lot of anecdotal research, psychologists are seeing people coming in whose phone and social media addiction was interfering with their ability to fully live their life,” she said.

Ms Thornton said parents had a vital role to play.

“It is critically important to create a household where you have guidelines about what is OK and what is not OK, and to limit use, restrict inappropriate sites and foster a family environment,” she said.

“And parents have the power because they have the money. Who is paying for the internet connection? Turn the modem off overnight, have a password on the account that only you know; unless we put boundaries in place there will be huge repercussions.”

Nigel Gordon is the parent of four children aged seven to 13. He and his wife Liz said they had just written the ’10 commandments of internet use’ to try to control the amount of time and the type of content their children were accessing online.

Mr Gordon said the “game changer” for their family was when the two eldest children got mobile phones.

“Before that was easier; just limiting screen time and having rules around that,” he said.

“We tried to hold off, and Charlie didn’t have a phone when he started high school this year, but in the first week, the teacher told the students to ‘take a photo of this for your homework’. So what do you do?”

Mr Gordon said their children were not allowed on phones or any screens before 7:30am and between 6:00pm and 7:30pm.

“So the idea is plan your day in the morning, share your day in the evening, and try and engage with your family,” he said.

Ms Lishman said people were not getting enough time in the day to simply do nothing.

“We are filling blank moments that your body would normally be recharging, and the minute you read social media your brain is firing, it’s making judgements, it’s stressing,” she said.

Ms Thornton agreed. “We are in information overload. There isn’t enough time to take a breath and let that information process without more coming in,” she said.

“We can’t do without technology now. And there are good things on the internet, but a virtual relationship is no match for a real, physical relationship.”


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