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Increasing social media use is making our feelings of FOMO more pronounced.

Dr. Ashley Whillans is the kind of upbeat, accomplished person one would envy. Her Twitter account, complete with a cheerful photo, is filled with exciting and happy pronouncements and trip news, such as recent trip to Kenya where she volunteered with local communities.

So, it may come as a bit of a surprise that Dr. Whillans, an assistant professor of business administration at Harvard Business School, is one of the top experts on the fear of missing out – also known as FOMO. She also admits she works on managing it in her own life. “I try to compare myself only to my past self,” she says. “That way I don’t feel FOMO.”

FOMO is something we’ve all experienced at one time or another. It’s when we see people doing things we wish we were doing ourselves. But with social media, this fear is turning into a mental health problem. Fortunately, there are ways to turn FOMO into JOMO, or the joy of missing out, says Dr. Whillans.

The problem with FOMO

Studies have shown that FOMO is a growing issue. In 2017, Dr. Whillans and her colleagues tracked a group of University of British Columbia students to see how often they felt FOMO, which she describes as “other people’s lives seeming socially richer and more enjoyable than our own.”

Just under half of the students, all in first year and new to the university, said they had experienced it. They believed their peers were making more friends and having a better time socially than they were. “It undermined their well-being,” says Dr. Whillans.

A 2015 study conducted by Ottawa Public Health found that children between ages 13 and 18 who used social media for more than two hours a day felt psychological distress and poorer mental health. Other studies in adults have come to similar conclusions.

People are feeling more FOMO because of constant Facebook posts skillfully curated to reflect only perfect families, and exuberant tweets and heavily-filtered Instagram pics that show off only the best experiences. “People on social media are overemphasizing the positive,” says Dr. Whillans. “We forget that in the moment, so it makes you feel bad.”

Turning FOMO into JOMO

Fortunately, there are ways to lessen those FOMO feelings and even make yourself good about not doing what everyone else is doing. The first thing to do? Remind yourself that when it comes to the Internet, most posts don’t represent people’s reality, says Marina Milyavskaya, an assistant professor at Carleton University in Ottawa.

It also helps to have more meaningful conversations with a more select group of friends on social media. Dr. Sam Mikail, a clinical psychologist at Sun Life Financial, says that people who engage on social media with a core group of friends do tend to feel better about their own lot in life and care less about missing out on what else is going on.

"When people are actively contributing to social media, that has less of a negative impact than people who tend to be passive observers,” he says. “Active participants are selective in what they post. For passive observers, the comparison becomes a potent source of pain."

You’ll also feel better if you remove devices like laptops and phones from the bedroom to ensure you don’t surf the Internet late at night. “Get an alarm clock rather than having your phone on in your bedroom,” says Dr. Mikail. “And put things on silent notification.”

For Dr. Whillans, one quick way to turn FOMO into JOMO is go out with friends. Try to make new ones, too. Chatting with someone new at work, for example, can lead to a more valuable relationship later. Many of the students in her study who felt FOMO most keenly did just that and it helped them feel better about missing out on other things. “Force yourself to socialize,” Dr. Whillans says. “It’s motivating.”

The best way to avoid FOMO, though, is to unplug every once in a while. Dr. Whillans says that when people put down their phones and just enjoy themselves socially, they stop feeling like there’s a party happening elsewhere and start feeling better about themselves. “Put your phone away,” she says. “Seeing everyone super-happy won’t make you feel connected. Be in the moment.”

Advertising feature produced by Globe Content Studio. The Globe’s editorial department was not involved.