Facing the fear of missing out

February 1, 2016 -- Sarah Mundell

Facing the fear of missing out​
Social media helps our awareness of what is going on in the world grow, but sometimes that amount of information can be paralyzing

By Sarah Mundell

Fear is not new — it’s part of our human condition and in the right moments helps us avoid dangerous risks. But the things we fear may change depending on where and when we live: be it wild animals and famine to high speeds or flying.

Today’s technology and social media in particular have highlighted another: FOMO, the fear of missing out. Out of all my options, did I choose the best one? Are others having more fun than I am? Do I have weekend plans fun enough to post pictures of on my social media wall? Am I keeping up with news from my hometown and high school or college friends despite living in another city?

For some, these questions are no small thing but can cause true anxiety. With all the choices people now have, there is even more pressure to know every time which is the right decision to make.

People of all ages may occasionally feel left out of what others are doing. But because of their constant connectedness and social media use, FOMO is felt even more intensely by younger generations. While heightened connection can increase positive interactions with others and widen perspectives, people are also more likely to be constantly aware of the infinite number of opportunities they gave up to be doing what they are doing in a given moment.

What can help people choose what to do in each moment without this fear? Living City asked a few young people about how they try to face the fear of missing out. They recommend: strengthening face-to-face relationships, being aware of the needs of those around us, and trusting that in each present moment and in any one time, God only wants one thing from us.

Rachel Sennet, 21, Illinois
My friends and I have in part lost the ability to communicate face to face with others or to share a smile with someone we do not know. I wake up and look at my phone and check messages, eat breakfast, and my roommates are already on their laptops, hardly talking to each other, so I grab my laptop too. Instead of talking about our day, we might scroll through each other’s Facebook to catch up or to look at what a person we met once is doing in their lives.

When walking to class, everyone has their phones in their hands. The same in class. I too am guilty of this. I live in an apartment complex, and anytime there is someone I do not know on the elevator, either they or I pull out our phone to avoid awkward silences. It would be much more friendly and natural to strike up a conversation to see how their day is going.

Because of constantly being able to be connected through social media and smart phones, college students really struggle with the fear of missing out.

When I was studying abroad in Madrid, I remember experiencing FOMO for the first time. On Facebook and Snapchat I saw so many pictures and some videos of all my friends dressing up as cats for a costume party. My roommate in Spain told me that we were having way more fun abroad and I believed her. But I still wished that I could have been with my other friends back in the States.

Once I returned, my friend hosted the same cat party again. This was a turning point for me. I realized that what I thought had looked so great was nowhere near as interesting as social media made it out to be. And my roommate had been right: I had been having so much fun abroad. I don’t think the fun people have should be compared; it should be something more personal.

So while social media can serve a good purpose, such as helping long distance friends stay in touch or sharing prayer requests, it needs moderation. I actually made myself a list of activities to do instead to strengthen face-to-face relationships, for example having game nights, cooking together or exploring my city with friends, so that we can be living out our memories together instead of just watching them online.

Jean-Paul, 23
I like to be everywhere, to be present in all events with all my friends, so I can be aware of everything that is going on and be close to all. For example, I can’t stand inside jokes that I don’t understand.

I think FOMO is common. People get angry when not invited to a gathering or dinner or whatever because they would be missing out! I face this fear by trying not to miss out. And sometimes it makes my time with some people limited because I have other appointments to attend.

Keeping up makes me tired after a while. Then I take a break, and I step back for a week; I don’t fill my calendar to really be everywhere. I stay home to recharge.

Sometimes it is clear that I shouldn’t go to an event, or that my place now is here, with this person who needs someone. Or if I am sick, I just accept it and try to do something enriching at home and try to
really rest.

Maggie James, 19, Massechusetts
To me, the fear of missing out is the sense of dread or longing that comes with the knowledge that there are other things a person could be doing at a given time. Especially on a college campus, where there are always several activities happening, it can be difficult to choose what to do and, once you make the choice, to really enjoy what you are doing without worrying about missing out on all of the other options.

In modern culture, everyone is busy all of the time. Once I do have a free day or afternoon, I don’t feel relaxed, but instead feel as if I am wasting time, that others must be doing something I should be doing too. Both knowing and not knowing about other activities can make me afraid I’m missing out.

This constant awareness makes it extremely difficult to live in the present moment. While in class, at lunch, or even just hanging out with friends, I often find myself thinking about the next things I should or could be doing, instead of actually enjoying the current activity and being fully present with those around me. When I catch myself thinking in this way, I have to mentally pause and remind myself that the present moment is the most important one.

God doesn’t want me to be worrying about the next homework assignment that is due or to be figuring out with whom I’m getting my next meal. It is most important to simply be present and open to what God wants me to be doing right now, to be appreciating the current meal that I am having.

By focusing on the present moment and the current gifts in front of me, I don’t have to fear that I am missing out on anything because, in fact, I know that I am doing exactly what I should be doing.