By Marta Urbaneja Lozano

We are constantly bombarded about the things we ‘should’ be doing: this summer you have to visit Cinque Terre, it is a must according to who knows what magazine; you will have a dull life if you stay in your hometown, you have to study somewhere abroad; you are already 28 and you have not created something on your own, you should start your own business; it is Friday night and everyone is going out, you cannot stay at home. Technologies and social media are continuously telling us how much is going on out there. We have created a culture of immediacy in which intense doses of FOMO, the fear of missing out, are almost unavoidable: we have become victims of our self-created frenetic speed.

FOMO, the abbreviation for ‘fear of missing out’, is defined by the Cambridge Dictionary as “a worried feeling that you may miss exciting events that other people are going to, especially caused by thing you see on social media”. This is to say, FOMO is the unpleasant emotion we may feel when we know or believe something exciting is happening elsewhere and we are not part of it. This condition has been triggered by social media sites like Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. Every day we have access to the activities of our friends and acquaintances and, inevitably, we end up comparing our life to theirs. This can make us second-guess or even regret our decisions, from the smallest ones – not having joined that trip to the mountains -, to the biggest and most far-reaching ones – having quitted that job you could really use right now -. Living with constant doubts and regrets could lead us to feel social anxiety, strengthened by continuously checking social media and comparing ourselves to the rest. Paying too much attention to how happy and powerful other people look on the screen could eventually lead to feeling insecure, which leads to FOMO, which leads to more insecurity, and so on. As this phenomenon is becoming increasingly popular and challenging, a large body of academic literature on FOMO has emerged. 

As my colleague, Caterina Rossi, explained in the article “The dark side of hypermobility: not all is as glamorous as it seems”, mobility is not an added value of our master´s programme Euroculture, but its raison d´être. In two years we live in two, three, or even four different countries, we travel a lot, we get to know incredible people from all over the world, we get the opportunity of accumulating experiences that many people cannot even imagine… In other words: if desired, any Euroculture student could have the perfect Instagram account worthy of admiration and envy. And yet, we may not escape the clutches of FOMO. 

How is this possible? Well, let´s consider a simple example.

A journey through the life of an Euroculture student who suffers from FOMO

Susan is an enthusiastic Euroculture student who has just started the programme. She is in Krakow during her first semester and, after just a few weeks, she already feels comfortable in the city and with her classmates. She has lots of plans to do, places to visit, and parties to enjoy. She barely has time to think about her home back in Ireland. However, one rainy Saturday night she is alone in her room, trying her best to finish a paper she had been procrastinating for weeks. Today was her best friend´s 25 birthday and so all her friends are celebrating together in her hometown. Susan cannot focus anymore so she decides to take a break by looking at Instagram. She discovers many pictures and videos of her best friend´s party which everyone seems to be enjoying so much. She starts thinking about all the anecdotes her friends are creating while she is away. Suddenly she starts feeling sad, almost anxious. PAM! FOMO has just emerged for the first time since the beginning of the master´s programme. 

By the end of the first semester, Susan has created a wonderful friendship with the rest of the Euroculture students in Krakow. Nevertheless, her three closest classmates have decided to continue their second semester together in Groningen whereas Susan chooses to go to Uppsala. Although she is excited to meet new people, she cannot stop thinking she should have joined her friends in Groningen. Thus, during the first few weeks, Susan feels a little bit down every time she comes across an Instagram story of her friends going out in Groningen. She wonders whether they are getting closer among them and creating new friendships. PAM! There it is, FOMO has reappeared. 

After much thought, Susan has decided to do an internship during her third semester. She is confident about choosing the professional track as gaining some working experience will be a bonus on her CV. Nonetheless, as the weeks are passing by she is realising the workload is bigger than expected and she cannot help wondering if she made the right decision. She knows that saying goodbye to student life is inevitable but maybe she could have postponed this moment. It is 7:30 on a Monday morning, she is waiting for the bus to get to work while she thinks that this week she will not be able to leave the office before 19:00. She opens Instagram and takes a look at the profile of one of her classmates who is spending the semester at UNAM, in Mexico City. Her videos and pictures are incredible: amazing nature areas, lovely cities, lots of parties and friends… Thus, Susan blames herself for not having tried to get a Euroculture scholarship for going to Mexico. Once the master’s program is over, is she going to be able to spend five months in a Latin American country like her classmate? PAM! FOMO is again knocking on the door. 

FOMO is nothing but a constant questioning of one’s own decisions. Don´t get me wrong, doubting ourselves is absolutely normal, especially when you are facing a ‘DIY – do it yourself – programme’ like Euroculture which makes you choose among many appealing options every five months (what a horrible life right?). The real problem arises when you live in regret, over-doubt your decisions too often, and feel continuous dissatisfaction. Susan believed that everyone on the other side of the screen was having a wonderful, fulfilling, and confident life. Nevertheless, many of her hometown friends regret not being adventurous enough to move to a bigger city as she did, her classmates who decided to move in together envied Susan because she managed to meet way more people during the second semester, and her friend who spent the third semester in Mexico often fears not being able to find a job after Euroculture because she did not do an internship.

Getting over FOMO

Online and offline life have merged. As evidenced by the Peer Research Center, most young people consider that dropping out of the digital environment would imply being excluded. Therefore, let´s be realistic and avoid simplistic solutions such as “quitting social media is the final solution to all self-esteem struggles”. Fighting FOMO is not about demonising Instagram but about regulating its use. First of all, it is important not to compare your dull Monday mornings and regular life to the incredible Saturday nights and highlights of someone else. Implement simple switches. Find out which kind of profiles trigger your FOMO and seek to minimize them. It is ok to hide, at least temporarily, those who brag too much or who do not make you feel good about yourself. Set daily limits on the use of social media. And most of all, focus on gratitude, do not let your dissatisfaction over what you do not have distracts you from enjoying everything and everyone around you offline. 

Overcoming FOMO is closely related to embracing maturity and accepting the constraints of life itself. It is essential to learn how to say no (to a party you do not fancy, a job offer you are overqualified for, a decision you are not sure about, a long friendship that no longer adds up) and not to be overwhelmed by regrets about it. Perhaps now is the time to let your intuition guide you, focus on your own life instead of the world surrounding you, and consider embracing JOMO, the joy of missing out, as an appealing alternative. Welcome peace of mind.

Photo Credit: Prateek Katyal

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