FOMO & COVID: Even a Pandemic Hasn’t Stifled Our Fear of Missing Out

By Anna McKenzie

Is everyone’s quarantine going better than yours? It can certainly feel like it. Even though COVID restrictions and lockdowns are in effect from coast to coast, we still believe that other people are enjoying their lives more than we are, according to USA Today. Your friends may not be going on exotic vacations, but they seem to be having a fantastic time whipping up gourmet meals and building elaborate living room forts for their kids. As it turns out, the fear of missing out (FOMO) isn’t caused by something “out there,” but by something within our minds. COVID essentially shut the world down, but we still feel left out. Why is that, and what can we do about it? How can we alleviate our FOMO anxiety and find a more optimistic, fulfilling frame of mind?

FOMO Is Alive and Well During COVID

FOMO happens to everyone, and it can happen at any time. Even a frontline worker taking maternity leave reported feeling FOMO over her colleagues battling COVID infections in the emergency department. Though dangerous — and not a situation that many would envy — she became immersed in the idea that she was missing out on a trench warfare experience and a chance to heroically save lives. It’s no secret that many COVID nurses and doctors have been suffering from extreme burnout, among nightmares and deep fear. And yet, this medical professional succumbed to FOMO anyway.

Social media doesn’t cause FOMO, but FOMO has been linked to higher levels of social media engagement.

Fundamentally, FOMO comes from comparing our lives to those of others and believing that whatever they are doing is better than what we are doing. In years past, we didn’t always know what others were doing. But because social media allows us to see the daily lives of others on an almost constant basis, it can trigger our impulse to compare.

Social media doesn’t cause FOMO, but FOMO has been linked to higher levels of social media engagement, according to a study published in Computers in Human Behavior. That’s because social media is a highlight reel of people’s lives, not a reflection of their day-to-day experience. When you see someone’s best moment during a day (which may be very filtered, even somewhat manufactured), you may automatically think of the mundane nature of your own day. Few people like to post about how they spilled their cereal or made a marginal dent in cleaning out their email inbox, even if those types of events made up most of their day. In fact, people often tailor their posts based on how they want to appear — not just to you, but to themselves. As it happens, we need a lot of convincing that our own lives are valuable and worthwhile, which is a problem that no social media app can solve. We have to affirm ourselves instead of waiting for others to affirm us.

With all this attention on what we don’t have, don’t look like, or aren’t experiencing, FOMO bears down on us in force. It can increase our depression and anxiety, leading us back to social media for stimulation and connection, which depresses us even more. How can we change our mindset to stop this toxic cycle?

The Art of Turning Your Attention

Turning your attention is an art — as well as a behavioral health principle. In fact, it’s the key element of mindfulness, which allows you to focus your attention on your five senses, immediately detaching from negative thoughts and feelings. At first, you may not feel like you can do it. Many of us have short attention spans. Our ability to focus has been hampered by a regular deluge of distractions — so much that we even seek out distractions.

Your sense of focus is like a muscle; the more you use it, the stronger it gets. To deliberately decide what to focus on and not become distracted is a skill that you can develop one step at a time. FOMO is stifled when you turn your attention from what you don’t have (or feel you’re missing out on) to what you DO have and can enjoy. We find that our lives are filled with many unique treasures if we will only turn and reflect on them.

What to Do When You Feel FOMO

The idea that we are missing out is in our minds, and it can sow seeds of dissatisfaction that no stimulating experience or opportunity can squash. Here are a few things you can do to turn your attention in a positive direction when you feel FOMO:

  1. Make a list of everything you’re grateful for.
  2. Take a social media break.
  3. Connect with a family member or friend (in person or virtually, but not on a social app).
  4. Reflect on what you’ve learned this year or how you’ve grown in certain areas.
  5. Practice graciousness and nonjudgment toward yourself. Affirm your own value and worth to yourself.

The idea that we are missing out is in our minds, and it can sow seeds of dissatisfaction that no stimulating experience or opportunity can squash.

The faster you turn your attention when you feel FOMO, the easier it will be to feel more fulfilled and optimistic on a regular basis. It won’t always be easy, but it will always be worth it. Be intentional with your activities instead of mindlessly checking your email or social apps. You will have a greater sense of purpose instead of feeling trapped or bored.

How to Know When It’s Time to Seek Treatment for Mental Health Struggles

If your feelings of depression or anxiety are becoming debilitating, you may be suffering from more than FOMO. Connect with a trusted friend, family member, or counselor if your sadness or restlessness is disrupting your day to the extent that you are neglecting family responsibilities, hygiene, or obligations at work. It may be time to seek treatment for a mental health condition so you can get the tools you need to make a positive change.

Help for Mental Health Conditions at The Meadows Ranch

At The Meadows Ranch, we have deep-seated experience and expertise in treating not just eating disorders but mental health conditions and other co-occurring disorders that often accompany disordered eating. We work to help individuals correct unhealthy coping patterns, process trauma they’ve experienced, and rediscover their mind-body-spirit connection through mindfulness practices.

Our research-backed program includes a mix of individual, group, and experiential therapies alongside intentional family involvement for the best chance at total, long-term recovery. If you or a loved one is dealing with a mental health condition, get in touch with our team today. Our caring staff are standing by to answer your questions and help you get started on the road to recovery.

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