FOMO triggers are everywhere (but especially on social media).
Facebook. Snapchat. Someone showing you a hilarious group text you weren’t privy to, a group uniform, a casual overheard conversation in the hall—all triggers. My grossest FOMO feelings can be linked directly to Instagram, which makes me feel as if every single person I know just did/ate/wrote/dressed as/attended something AMAZING and I should be doing that, too, but I’m not.
Scrolling through the Insta feed of all the great things that my friends are doing makes me feel as if I should have (in no particular order): made a green smoothie for breakfast instead of eating Peanut Butter Cap’n Crunch, drawn crazy-good nail art on my fingernails, gone running next to a large body of water, drunk humongous margaritas out of a fishbowl with everyone last night, taken a selfie of me ’n’ my snuggliest pet having a cute night in (with jammies and snacks!), and worn a new pair of killer boots with a pair of perfectly mismatched tights. I did not do any of those things last night, but they look really fun, and now I’m convinced I missed something by not doing them. And that is my own shit – it would be wonderful to be able to look at pictures of my friends being happy and simply be happy for them as they have heart-shaped eggs for breakfast, but I cannot. I WANT THE HEART-SHAPED EGGS, DAMMIT.
TAVI: I can’t tell you how many times I say the title of Mindy Kaling’s book out loud by accident: “Is everyone hanging out without me?” This is probably because people only instagram their best moments instead of their worst or so-so moments.
JENNY: Looking at social media definitely triggers FOMO… why wouldn’t it? It’s basically a massive collection of everyone you know well and not-well-at-all’s most photogenic, show-off-able moments. The comments section of FB and Instagram are also a total breeding ground for inside jokes, making me feel like, “Oh crap, I should have been there.”
HANNAH: It was pretty bad for me in high school. I joined Facebook in my junior or senior year and I was starting to see friends uploading photos of them hanging out together and felt so left out because no one was inviting me and I wanted to know why. Social networks make FOMO way worse because you’re seeing what everyone else is getting up to and it’s like, “Hey, why didn’t you call me?!”
JULIANNE: My Most Acute FOMO (MAFOMO) occurs when I’m looking at Instagram and seeing my friends doing something that either I was not invited to (WTF!) or that I cannot attend, and they look like they are having the best time while I am stuck slogging through a deadline or something. Another trigger is Twitter, particularly when there are three or four raves in a night and I decide IT’S TOO MUCH so I don’t go to any of them, but later realize the best option would have been to rave-hop to all three. And yet it is too late because I am in my pajamas combatting ice cream bloat.
STEPHANIE: I experienced the most FOMO in my late teens/early 20s. I was underage and all of my friends were older and went to nightclubs and bars. Sometimes I could get sneak in, but sometimes not, so when I couldn’t go, I just spent the whole time wondering what I was missing.
DANIELLE: The worst was when friends started to pair off and do things without me in fifth grade. I remember finding out that one of my friends used to go to another friend’s house on the weekends, just the two of them! And then they started wearing those best-friend broken-heart necklaces, and it just felt like I had been left out of some crucial part of GIRL FRIENDSHIP forever.
But there are ways to combat nasty FOMO feelings.
Since almost everyone feels a fear of missing out about something, and there are plenty of easily identifiable triggers, it follows that there are strategies to reduce the amount of ick that FOMO makes us feel. A big part of intense FOMO is age—it tends (*sad trombone noise*) to be the worst in our teens and early 20s, before we get more experience in the world and learn precisely what it is that we’re “missing” all the time. Also, as we get older, we tend to feel more comfortable and sure with ourselves, and we’re better able to tell those whispering anxious inner demons to SHADDUP.
LOLA: I always call it out, whether internally or with others. I was goin’ through a FOMO period last summer: It was Gay Pride month and I didn’t want to go to any of the parties because they’re not really for me, but then I’d feel the tug of, What if my One True Lez is at that party? What if it’s the one time she EVER goes to ANY party all year, and I’m not there? I realized I was hearing a “should” and knew that was coming from somewhere else, not me. I talked myself back to Earth by recounting to myself how I’ve never met a sweetheart at a party, just through friends or school or the internet. The fear was totally disproportionate to the reality. I tell myself that the first letter in FOMO stands for Fear, and that acting out of fear is always a mistake.
Talking about it with friends always helps, too: They usually have another perspective on the situation that they’ll let you borrow. Once, I brought up that second FOMO episode, about wanting to stay home but being nervous that I would miss out on meeting a babe by not being at the party, to my friend Wes, and he replied, “It’s so silly to me. If you wanna be somewhere, go. If you don’t, don’t go and definitely don’t have shame about it.” Whoa. Whoa.
DANIELLE: I feel like my overall independence was born from FOMO, because I had to learn how to not give even one shit what other people were doing and focus on myself. It was hard at first, but I slowly started doing things on my own, like going to the mall or the movies. In high school I went to concerts on my own, or went to the city to do stuff on my own. After a while, I got to invite people to my things instead of waiting for them to invite me, and I sort of stopped having FOMO altogether. I also have a lot of solitary hobbies, like knitting and sewing, so even if I know people are hanging out and doing stuff without me I can always do something to feel productive and chill. I can’t even remember the last time I had FOMO!
TAVI: When you have your own shit going on, you don’t really care about being in someone else’s club. And having your own shit going on doesn’t have to be like, throwing your own rager/ladies’ lunch/moonbounce party. It can be just reading a book that you are psyched about and that you know will make you a happier and more learned person. A lot of my ongoing projects are not major goals, a lot of it is just like: watch this series on Netflix, work on this art project. It’s the stuff that I know is important to me, stuff that outweighs the middle school insecurity that creeps up when you see people hanging out on Instagram.
SUZY: I made the best of FOMO feelings; while my friends were out getting trashed or seeing some overrated band full of jerks, I’d be at home reading good books, discovering new music and creating art. I look back on those days fondly now, even though I lost some friends and missed out on some awful sloppy sexual encounters. I still have a lot of the stuff I made back then, which eventually helped me get into college and make new friends who I had much more in common with. When you feel like you’re missing out, just find a way to make that time count—not for everyone else, but for yourself.
ESTELLE: I don’t think there’s anything soppy in saying one really great way to defeat FOMO is knowing yourself well. If you want to be more social, for example, then ask yourself some questions—are there particular people you want to hang out with? What are the barriers? I think this applies to most types of FOMO—professional or social or situational. If it’s something you can control, go ahead! Be more proactive, more open, more SAY YES. But if it’s something you can’t control, e.g. why wasn’t I invited to the Benedict Cumberbatch–Michael Fassbender dance-off…well these are just things that will haunt my dreams forever. And I have to live with that.
LAUREN R.: It helps me to remind myself: I’m super introverted and shy, so I need lots of time on my own, and for my sanity, I often need to choose that over Doing All the Stuff. That works sometimes! And if I’m actively in a FOMO funk, I stay away from all social media and do things I love, instead of stewing over what could’ve been.
JULIANNE: The best way to cope with FOMO is let it settle in, and never beat yourself up for feeling it, OR for sitting out on something and regretting it post-facto. Let the fear into you, and then let it out, like some yoga/meditation breathing. If anything’s worse than fear, it’s regret! Stand by your decision to sit at home on the couch if you want!
STEPHANIE: I try to analyze what exactly I think I’m missing and dissect whether it is really all it is cracked up to be. Taking breaks from social media can really help. For example, I did an internet fast this weekend and only focused on my work and what inspires my work (so I read and watched TV instead of stalking Twitter and Instagram during my downtime). This replaced FOMO with feelings of genuine productivity. I still definitely get it as well as professional jealousy (which is sort of different but can run parallel to FOMO), but I think stepping away and thinking about what I’m doing to meet my own goals/achieve personal happiness really helps lessen it.
DYLAN: When I miss a fest or there’s a show in my hometown everyone is at, or something is happening that will just wrench-my-heart-until-it-bleeds-FOMO, I stay off social media for a night and watch a movie instead. I let myself go on in the morning when I’m less sensitive.
NAOMI: Find people who you can have fun with and it won’t matter if your time together isn’t constantly documented through Facebook photo albums. Things will come along when they do—you can’t force it.
JENNY: I don’t think I’ve conquered FOMO. But sometimes when I go to a party that I think I’ll regret if I don’t attend and I stay long enough, inevitably there comes the part of night (after everyone’s taken their Instagram photos) when several people cry drunkenly and/or start babbling drunkenly, and it goes from so fun to so dark, and then for a few days afterward, I’m like, “OK, I can miss this next time.” As a teenager, I had really strict parents—they used to berate me if I asked to go to the movies more than once a year, and because I wasn’t allowed to do anything it made everything seem magical and mythic and great. I didn’t realize until waaaay later, when I had stayed up way too many nights past dawn, that all parties are the same unless your best friends are there with you, holding your hand on the dance floor and hugging you all the way home.
ELEANOR: If someone found the time to take a selfie at the party, they were probably having less fun than if they enjoyed themselves so much that they forgot they even owned a camera. All my best times are probably actually photo-less.
NOVA: I curb FOMO by reminding myself that reading and writing is more productive than being out in the streets at this point in my life. So my FOMO-squashing tip is to prioritize a ridiculously amazing book or professional deadlines.
JENNY: I think part of what makes FOMO so ridiculous is that, in a way, it’s just a fear of not being the person who has everything. You wanna have close intense relationships but you also want to be wearing a sick-ass outfit at the after-party and you also want to be home curled up next to your fam but you also want to go to the diner with your friends but you also want to read all the books you said you would read before you die but you also want to be at the record-listening party lying on the ground in the dark with strangers but you also want to make collages in your room and write songs/stories/whatever by yourself but you also want someone to flirt with you. Sometimes you have to just choose.
Jenny sums up all my fears about missing out—and offers an excellent FOMO-coping strategy! Next time I’m confronted with crippling FOMO feelings, I’m going to take a deep breath and just choose. No regrets! I love that. And now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go delete my Instagram account…orrrrr maybe just look at it less, like once a week, instead. Here’s to NOMO FOMO! ♦