It might be regarded as the ultimate First World problem, but science may support the existence of a 21st-century malaise, FoMO – fear of missing out.

Research from the University of Essex in Britain shows having a codependency on social media is a major cause of the condition and that if some basic social needs are not met – such as autonomy, competence and relatedness – then you’re more likely to have an elevated level of FoMO.

Defined as a fear of one’s social standing or how one is perceived among peers, and a need to constantly know what is happening and what others are doing, FoMO is most prevalent in people aged 16 to 35.

Dr Natasha Dwyer, a senior lecturer in digital media at Melbourne’s Victoria University, said the fear was a real affliction. ”Social networking provides notification that you are missing out,” she says. ”Before the arrival of personal broadcasting technology, many of us were protected from information about what others were up to.”

So while social media can be enjoyed, the FoMO it inspires through comparison and exclusion can cause anxiety, stress and, in extreme cases, depression.

Elizabeth Shaw, 28, a client relationship manager in insurance from Leichhardt, has sacrificed sleeping the recommended eight hours for fear of missing out. ”I sleep less, a maximum of five hours a night, so I can pack my week from start to finish,” she says. ”I socialise seven nights a week and can’t remember the last Friday I stayed in. I hate missing out on fun.”

Those pangs of jealousy are only made worse by tweets, check-ins and photos that can flash across a phone screen. Shaw applies a ”yes” policy to her social life. ”I double, triple and even quadruple book myself,” she says. ”But with saying yes to everything, there are a lot of expectations on me and people aren’t forgiving if I actually say no.”

Relationships, finances and even physical health can suffer. ”There are negatives – tiredness, of course, and I spend what I earn,” Shaw says. ”My last partner struggled because he couldn’t understand why I did so much. When I start a new relationship, I’ll have to curb my ways, but now I’m single it’s amazing. No one met the love of his or her life at home on the couch.”

The modern addiction can also have positive effects. Mathew Hocking, a 28-year-old former personal trainer from Malvern East in Melbourne, says FoMO inspired him to change careers, tripling his salary.

”A mate of mine was always posting pictures on Facebook of his new car, massive house and flashy overseas holidays,” he says. ”I was jealous of his lifestyle. So I found out more about his sales job and higher salary and ended up joining his company. I now earn nearly triple what I did.”

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.