FOMO. It’s real, it’s here and I’ve been suffering it.
FOMO – short for ‘fear of missing out’ – was included in the Oxford English Dictionary in 2013. It is defined as a feeling of anxiety triggered by an exciting or interesting event that may be happening elsewhere and is often perpetuated by social media posts.
Have you felt annoyed after seeing friends post photos of their meet-up on Facebook? Bah. Envious of tales from that party you couldn’t make? Pah. Picked your phone up five minutes after putting it down to check your Twitter feed? Just one more look.
I’ll hold my hands up (if I can stop scrolling for a minute) and say: I have. Loads. I dislike it. I am trying to deal with it. Hang on, scrap that: I AM dealing with it.
This isn’t just about connecting it’s about being unable to disconnect.
Why does it happen? There are a couple things going on.
Studies show we use narrative in a range of situations including bridging separations from loved ones. Narrative is our constant attempt to achieve a sense of structure and order in the course of everyday life and our practical orientation within it. It helps us hang everything together and understand the world around us.
For me, FOMO stems from an anxiety shaped by a childhood where my beloved dad was absent for long periods. It was punctuated with airmail letters, phone calls, the almighty highs of seeing him and the crippling lows of not. I would wonder where he was, what he was doing. I would sit, look out the window and wait for him to come home.
I formed a narrative in which he was leading a better life away from me. My little brain was trying to bring order to disorder. My orientation was this: He’s doing something else (probably better) somewhere else and you’re not included.
These days, social media is the root cause of my FOMO. Most often I use it for what it is – a great way to stay in touch with friends and family and laughing at hilarious threads or pages. But there are times when the fear of missing out creeps in. Research has shown FOMO can strike when we are tired or stressed.
It doesn’t have to suck your energy. Truth is, the grass is rarely greener so it’s about learning to cultivate your own meadow rather than admiring someone else’s. It’s also about appreciating the narrative doesn’t necessarily reflect the reality. And occasionally gently telling yourself to ‘get over it’ because the world does not revolve around you.
Here are my tips for dealing with it.
Recognise it’s impossible to do it all. In 1982, former Cosmopolitan editor Helen Gurley Brown told us we could have it all. She didn’t say we could have it all and do it all at the same time. Multitasking and saying yes to everything is exhausting and counter-productive. Focus on one thing at a time and be your brilliant self. Change your attitude to what you can do as opposed to what you can’t.
Get involved because you really want to. Just because your mates are planning a hi-jinx weekend away doesn’t mean it’ll be fun if you prefer books to booze. Consider other choices – can you go but bunk off the beer or swap it out for some sightseeing instead?
Reduce your social media use. We all curate our lives to degrees; showcasing parts of ourselves like a museum. We purposely exhibit the best bits while hiding the mundane from public view. The lives we see online have little bearing on reality or are exaggerated. ‘I went for a meal tonight and it met my expectations’ said noone on Facebook ever.
Turn off push notifications and try monitoring usage with the screen time feature. I’m embarrassed to say my daily phone use was 1hour30mins last week. WHAAT? All those things I could have be doing! I’m working on it, I promise. I guarantee you’ll be shocked and it’ll galvanise you into action.
Swap chasing fantasies for living in reality. You yearn to lead a life travelling around Brazil taking photos but you’re currently living in Cullompton and don’t own a camera. Create time and space to realistically assess whether it’s a pipe-dream or not. Write a plan with goals covering the key elements to help you get to where you want to be. Studies show putting pen to paper imprints the commitment more effectively onto your brain meaning success is more likely. Hello, Rio de Janeiro!
Bring it back to you. It is easy to tumble into the trap of looking outward and validating yourself through the prism of everyone else’s world. The most important world is the one you live in. Make choices that are the most valuable, effective and important to you. Pour your energy into thinking about what matters most to you and remind yourself that you’re doing/not doing this for you.
No more looking out of windows.