Owing to a series of unfortunate events, I’ve missed three booked holidays in two years. What a decadent mistake! What a costly error! What an expensive fuck-up!
Accompanying the financial loss, grief and shame was FOMO: Fear of Missing Out. FOMO, like respecting diversity, or not hacking dead children’s phones, is something Piers Morgan would balk at: “These millennials with their pervasive apprehension that others might be having rewarding experiences without them. Back in my day, we’d quietly enjoy our trench foot at home.”
FOMO is exacerbated by poor mental health, particularly anxiety. Mental illness often feels like being trapped inside a sealed glass box. You’re acutely aware of the world around you, but cannot touch it. Outside of the box, people are free to eat brunch, cuddle puppies and leave their bed for more than two hours per day. Social media becomes a mirror reflecting your own inadequacy, as you scroll through Instagram while eating grated cheese in your dressing-gown.
Socially rewarding experiences are largely inaccessible to the acutely unwell. FOMO becomes more than just fearing others are having fun without you. It’s feeling that life is missing you altogether. You are unable to enjoy any social event because your brain is numb and foggy, so you don’t attend your friend’s birthday party. This leaves you feeling more anxious and isolated. It’s an all-consuming paranoia that you have been left behind.
How to deal with the feeling of fear that you may be missing out:
- Identify the fear. What will happen if you can’t go to this party? Your friends will never speak to you again? You’ll miss a singular event from which the earth will never recover? Everyone will talk about this party from now until climate changes fries us to burnt crisps? Challenging your negative thoughts necessitates digging deep to their roots. If you can identify the precise nature of your fear, more often than not, you’ll see how laughable it truly is. Break the fear into smaller pieces before trying to eat it for brunch.
- Are you really missing out? Your anxiety is leading you to overstate the value of the event. Have you ever been to a house party? As far as I can tell, they involve a lot of standing up, people checking their phones and empty cans of Red Stripe. Personally, I spend a lot of money on rent. I enjoy maximising my time inside the four walls which I bleed myself dry each month to maintain. Try to separate yourself from the fear that any event is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. There are always more parties. There are always airplanes to board. Bottomless brunch is going nowhere.
- Get better friends. If your friends reject you because you didn’t show up to their “HOUSE LUKE WARMING” event, they’re replaceable. No real friend has ever cared that you couldn’t attend their birthday party. To me, showing up to scheduled events is the least significant part of any friendship. Friendship exists in the tiniest moments. Friendship is arriving with a three-cheese pasta bake when I’m unable to cook for myself. Friendship is sending a “How are you feeling?” text after a difficult week at work. Friendship is letting me interrupt your bath to sit on the bathroom floor and talk about my ex-boyfriend until the water gets cold. Friendship is about kindness, reciprocity and understanding. Don’t you forget it.
- Learn to spend time alone. Anxiety about missing out on experiences often stems from a poor relationship with yourself. If you’re uncomfortable in your own company, you will gravitate towards seeking fulfilment in the company of others. No matter how many parties you attend, holidays you take or brunches you consume, you will always feel like you’re missing out on something. Having social experiences is important for your well-being. However, for many of us, the balance is too heavily skewed in favour of constant socialising. Finding a balance where you can do the things you enjoy doing by yourself can help keep anxiety at bay.
Hope you enjoyed this brief return to G4RL’s how-to guides! Next time we’ll be dealing with relapses in recovery from mental illness in Grieving 4 An Imagined Life (or a word which means “imagined” but starts with a R to allow me to title the post G4RL. It’s called branding Alan…).
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