What’s the deal with FOMO?

(Aarthi Krishnan, IB Year 2)

Ever been bothered by seeing your friends hang out without you on social media? Ever felt inadequate upon seeing pictures of someone doing great things while you’re just sitting on your couch? Ever felt resentful towards people who are happy without you? If your answer is yes to one or more of these questions, then you might be suffering from FOMO, or the fear of missing out.

As per the Merriam-Webster dictionary, FOMO is defined as “the fear of being not included in something that others are experiencing”. But it goes much further than that. It is sometimes defined as a ‘social anxiety’, and is commonly experienced when people when they don’t know what their friends are up to without them.

As the more silent and introverted type, social media was not my scene in the early teenage years as I didn’t have many friends. In general, I was very anxious in social settings, especially those that involved meeting new people. But as my friend circle widened, I gave in and created an Instagram account to keep up with the rest of them. In hindsight, that was probably not the best decision for me.

Addiction made simple.

Having an Instagram account and being able to see what my friends were up to 24/7 actually just deepened my anxiety. I would become very upset that I wasn’t included in the plans which I was able to see only from my phone. My mind immediately associated my not being outside with my friends hating me, which was probably not the case at all. The thought that I wasn’t there would eat into my brain, especially in my free time. This nagging thought triggered a compulsion to keep picking up my phone to check who’s doing what, where and with whom. Naturally, this drastically reduced my productivity, especially during the holidays, and more so if I was abroad when others were not.

I would become very upset that I wasn’t included in the plans which I was able to see only from my phone.

Over time, this just worsened as my mood would sink every time I opened Instagram. Once, I even confronted a pair of friends as to why I wasn’t invited to their plans, and they immediately apologised and promised to invite me the next time. What followed was not relief on my side, but a feeling even worse than that before because I had just made them feel guilty for a mistake they hadn’t even made. Finally, one vacation, I decided that I needed a break and left my phone at home while I travelled abroad. I kept in touch with a few friends, but otherwise I was completely disconnected. It was difficult in the beginning, but after a bit of time, I started getting used to it. This actually resulted in me becoming super productive, motivated and visibly much happier. I enjoyed it so much that I didn’t use any social media except just a basic messaging app for the next six months.

Take a break from a life spent like this.

The above is a good way to reduce and get rid of FOMO: you don’t fear missing out if you don’t know what you’re missing out on! Sometimes, this kind of isolation helps as it reduces the amount of pressure you face to post content, or like or comment on your friends’ content. It gives you time and peace of mind to help you focus on self-improvement. This can even lead to the joy of missing out, where you actually become happier by missing out as it gives you time to do other things, like read that book that’s been waiting on your shelf, or finish up that task you’ve been procrastinating.

In the end, don’t ever dismiss your FOMO as a common issue. Yes, it affects everyone, but the degree does vary, and it might be too late before you realise this. Remember that this is a manifestation of anxiety and if not tended to in the right way, it can even lead to depression. Accept that there is a problem, and try to fix it in a way that is specific to you. FOMO may be a meme, but it’s not a dream.

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