How to Deal With FOMO in a Pandemic

Jan 23 · 5 min read

It happens to the best of us.

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Photo by mikoto.raw from Pexels

I am sure that everyone has experienced that feeling of anxiety when scrolling through social media to see pictures at a party you weren’t invited too. I too have been guilty of this and wishing that I had never looked at my phone. Unfortunately, the pandemic has done nothing but aggravate this issue. This is because we are now in a novel situation, were staying at home is synonymous with saving lives. But how can we deal with these negative feelings and build a healthy relationship with social media?

Why Do We Experience FOMO In The First Place?

The “Fear Of Missing Out” or FOMO as it’s more commonly known as is a type of social anxiety which roots from the idea that other people may be having more fun, or experiencing better things than you are. FOMO can present itself in many forms whether this is missing out on a party or not being selected for a sports team. This term has become popularized in the last 5 years due to the inherent desire for people to share every good moment of their lives. We are constantly put in a position of comparing our regular lives to the “perfect moments” of others. This confuses your understanding of what a normal life is and you automatically assume that you are worse off.

Furthermore, you can see detailed pictures and videos of your friends at an event without you — sometimes while it’s happening. This can be a truly disheartening and upsetting thing to see especially if you were not aware of it before. Past generations have not readily experienced and therefore, it can be isolating if they do not understand how you are feeling.

The effects of FOMO are often overlooked and treated as an unimportant issue, however, a study from the Centre of Mental Health shows that these emotions can be detrimental to self-esteem and provoke deep feelings of resentment. Furthermore, prolonged exposure to content which incites these feelings can result in long-lasting issues such as depression and chronic anxiety. Therefore, it is important to consider the implications of FOMO and how to deal with it appropriately.

FOMO During a Pandemic

The pandemic has created a situation where our phones seem like the only option for entertainment. According to Statista, social media usage has increased by 44% worldwide during the pandemic. This means that we are consuming content at an alarming rate. What is even worse is that you are looking at influencers and even your closest friends posting pictures on holiday in Dubai, or having under the radar parties. Seeing this content online can make you feel worse about staying at home and following government regulations. People should understand that you should not feel anxious or worried about sitting this one out. It can be easy to fall into the mindset of either following the crowd or slipping away into sadness. Therefore, tackling these thoughts before it becomes all-consuming is key.

How To Deal With It

This is probably the most difficult and abstract piece of advice for tackling FOMO, especially during a pandemic. Changing your perception of what you see on social media and realising the people who are partying or going on holiday right now are endangering hundreds of lives. By staying at home you are doing your duty as a citizen and while it may be hard, your efforts will make a huge impact on not only yourself but also your community. I’ll admit I have been tempted a few times to see my friends thinking that “it’s not a big deal”, however, this is a mistaken belief:

“ We are at war with a virus. Covid19 thrives on social interactions. Every time you meet someone you’re helping the virus win this war. Meeting a friend for coffee is letting it win. Catching up with friends at night is letting it win. Bringing your children on play dates is letting it win. When this virus wins people die. People you know and love. ” — Dr Doireann O’Leary

When I hear stories of people’s relatives passing away or the daily strugglings of a nurse working in the ICU, I become grounded and realise that I am incredibly blessed to be in my situation. It easy to feel distanced from what is taking place currently, but looking at the bigger picture and understanding why we must protect ourselves will help tackle our feelings of FOMO.

A study at the University of Pennsylvania showed that there is a direct correlation between a reduction in the use of social media and a decrease in feelings of depression and loneliness. Simply a 10-minute reduction per platform per day for 3 weeks was able to generate noticeable changes in mental health. I struggled significantly with FOMO at the beginning of the pandemic and as I result adapted this method more intensively by setting a limit on my apps to 1hr a day. Initially, this was difficult to deal with, however, I found myself slowly using my phone less and only using it for key things such as replying to messages and emails. I can say that this worked very well for me and I have realised the pointlessness of looking at random people’s photos for 5hrs a day.

“ When you fear missing out, you are missing the moment”

— Styling the Inside

Another thing which helped me stay away from my phone was growing my skills. As a computer science student, there is so much to learn and I have picked up the challenge of learning a new programming language. This successfully distracts me from using my phone — sometimes I don’t even realise it. I would recommend anyone struggling with FOMO currently to indulge in anything they are passionate about. Not only does it prevent you from checking your phone, but it also makes you more productive. Furthermore, reaching out to family or friends and maintaining connections with those close to us can help us feel less lonely and increase our sense of belonging. Organising weekly or daily times to video-call a loved one can improve our overall feelings of loneliness during the lockdown.

It can be difficult to see the light at the end of the tunnel in the current climate, however, we can look at the pandemic as an opportunity. An opportunity to grow as people, learn a new skill and spend time with family. Working from home has so many advantages and gives you much more free time to pick up a new hobby. For me, that was trying to write more! Spending hours on social media will do nothing but suck you into a hole of despair and will continually bring up negative feelings. Allow yourself to disassociate from the outside world sometimes and find joy in the small things. Hopefully, we can leave the pandemic with a new skill and a better mentality.

Final Words

We will eventually return to a state of normality and in the meantime, you can better prepare yourselves by building your skills, talking to friends or even just watching your favourite TV show on repeat. This is a difficult time and making these minor changes can put things in perspective and relieve the anxiety of missing out.

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