The Fear of Missing Out

The Fear of Missing Out

Mia Squire (she/her)

Let’s face it, lockdown was pretty shit. After a year and a half kept inside with our parents, the thought of logging out of Zoom and making in person plans was a luxury we could only dream of. We lived in a perpetual state of FOMO, mourning the fun our past selves had. We vowed that once we were released, we would never say no to a night out again. But now the world is open for business once more – and, quite frankly, we don’t always feel like joining in. With club nights and concerts no longer a distant memory, the pressure to attend them is greater than ever. FOMO is ever-present. Saying no to a night is seemingly a sacrilegious act. 

Last night I was supposed to go out with my friends. It was a Thursday and I had socialised every night that week. I was exhausted and I knew I had a heavy workload to catch up on. But it felt so difficult to say no. After months of not being able to see my friends, the pressure to never turn down an offer was crippling. I ended up not going and I felt like a bit of a failure. Even though I managed to get some work done, and woke up feeling better for it, it seemed I had broken some internal vow I had made to make up for lost time. The thought of my friends having fun without me brought upon a very real anxiety that I was missing out on something major. Whilst in the pre-pandemic world I could easily say no and put my mental health first, I now feel akin to some rodent on a wheel, attempting to chase the fun I should have been having for the past two years. The FOMO was, and is, real.

The Urban Dictionary defines FOMO as ‘A form of social anxiety – a compulsive concern that one might miss an opportunity or satisfying event, often aroused by posts seen on social media websites.’ Even before the global pandemic, FOMO was a very real emotional response. Naturally, like many forms of anxiety in the modern world, social media has played a huge role in the rising phenomenon of FOMO. Instagram stories now function as virtual reminders that ‘we’re having more fun than you’. Growing research into the subject has exposed that the fear of missing out is not just empty paranoia, but a genuine cause for concern. It goes hand in hand with society’s growing addiction to our phones, and is a dangerous means of comparison. With FOMO, it appears that everyone on social media is achieving more, experiencing more, and having a better time than we are.

After being released from the captivity of our homes, it is very tempting to say yes to every social opportunity we can. But just as FOMO can bring up negative feelings, this pressure to attend could be even more detrimental to our health. The fear of future FOMO can lead us to overcommit to plans, steering us towards social exhaustion and burnout. This desire to be involved means that often we prioritize socialising over our own mental and physical health. If we do skip an event, we spend the next morning craving those reassuring words: ‘Don’t worry, you didn’t miss much.’ Often FOMO forces us to prioritize our wants over our needs. The pace of the world is building and once again we are getting caught up in the social media rat race of  letting everyone know we are having a good time. But saying no every once in a while is an indicator of your strength, more than your weakness.

We need to change our mindsets. Whilst it is easy to view the pandemic as two years lost from our lives, it also gave us valuable time to spend with our families, to read the books gathering dust on our shelves, and to take a welcome pause from our busy lives. Sure, we missed out on a few concerts, on a few drunken nights with our friends. But we cannot look back and view them as ‘lost’ years that we must ‘make back’. Time is a finite resource; but it’s not something we have to earn, or use in a deserving way. As the world speeds up, it is easy to attempt to catch up to it – but we need to put our mental health first. Perhaps FOMO is a welcome reminder that life is happening again and we have things to miss out on – how lucky we are. If we say no once in a while, we are not failing ourselves; the failure lies in refusing to put our mental health first. After all, if the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that there will always be another night out, even if we have to wait a while.

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