Why you may still fear missing out, even when everything is canceled

The coronavirus pandemic has canceled many things, but FOMO doesn’t appear to be one of them.

The coronavirus pandemic has canceled many things, but FOMO doesn’t appear to be one of them.

Jennifer Wolkin, a New York-based health and neuropsychologist, describes FOMO, aka the “fear of missing out,” as “anxiety that’s elicited by the perception that others are thriving while we aren’t, or that others are overall experiencing a better version of life.”

In other words, you know that sinking feeling you get when you see other people on vacation while you’re sitting at home? That’s FOMO.

But with travel plans nixed, large gatherings canceled and many stuck in quarantine, is 2020 a year of less FOMO?

The fear of missing out is alive and well in lockdown, according to Wolkin and other mental health experts.

“It’s shape-shifted,” she says. “It might not be looking at pictures of someone’s vacation or their parasailing trip or swimming with dolphins. It now becomes ‘They’re making sourdough starters,’ and ‘They’re going for a hike in these woods with their family, and I’m just on the couch and doing nothing and surviving and trying to find my breath.’ “

Here’s what you need to know about quarantine FOMO, including what triggers it and how to stop it:

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If everything’s canceled, why is there still FOMO?

As lockdown orders took hold across the nation, Lalin Anik, an assistant professor of business administration at the University of Virginia, set out to learn more about the effect of quarantine on FOMO.

What she found in her research, which she hopes to publish this winter, is that FOMO, like many things in 2020, hasn’t gone away. It has just moved online.

“Now FOMO is felt toward digital experiences that we cannot be part of, either because we’re just too tired, too busy, too overwhelmed,” she says.

Throughout the pandemic, Americans have been bombarded with digital alternatives to in-person activities, such as Instagram Live workouts, online cooking classes and new films on streaming services. As a result, there’s actually more to miss out on, Anik says.

“We’re almost overwhelmed by the flow of information,” she says. “What we find is that FOMO in the pandemic comes from the difficulty of catching up with all the things being offered online.”

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Social media is still a big FOMO trigger

In addition to the abundance of virtual events, social media remains a major trigger of FOMO. Though many have flocked to Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to socialize amid the pandemic, Anik says these sites breed more FOMO than they do genuine connection.

“If I look at your social media, it doesn’t make me more connected to you,” she says. “It just makes me consume more posts or more content. But as a result of that, I feel more FOMO. I’m seeking social connection, I come to virtual world, I don’t really get social connection, but I get more FOMO.”

We also feel FOMO for what could have been

Productivity expert Melissa Gratias, who wrote a children’s book about FOMO (“Seraphina Does Everything!”), notes that people also feel quarantine FOMO because they imagine what their 2020 could have been were it not for coronavirus. For example, Gratias describes how her mother-in-law still has tickets to a canceled concert under a magnet on her refrigerator. She’s holding on to the tickets in hope of a refund.

“She sees these every day, these concert tickets,” Gratias says. “So it’s not just (comparing our lives) against other people, but it’s against the lives we would have been leading if we were not quarantined or social distancing.”

Uncertainty about the future doesn’t help either, says psychologist Kevin Chapman, director of the Kentucky Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders, who adds that not knowing what’s coming next can make FOMO even worse.

“What people who struggle with anxiety and people who struggle with FOMO particularly struggle with is this idea that uncertainty is somehow dangerous, when in reality it’s not,” he says. “It’s just that that physiological arousal and the thoughts that I have about the uncertainty enhances the emotional experience, which makes it worse.”

So what can you do about quarantine FOMO?

Fortunately, there are ways to mitigate FOMO for a more pleasant quarantine.

One is shifting your social media consumption from a passive experience to an active one. Anik says that can be done by interacting with people on social media rather than just scrolling absentmindedly.

Wolkin recommends engaging in “mindful media” by following accounts that trigger positive emotions and unfollowing ones that cause FOMO. She’s also a “huge fan” of gratitude journals, in which you write down things you’re grateful for.

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“You’re taking the attention away from lack and redirecting it towards a greater sense of abundance,” she says. “It’s hard for the brain to focus on what we thought was a complete lack when we can bring a sense of what we do have into our constant focus.”

Anik also proposed an alternative to FOMO: JOMO, or “the joy of missing out.” She says that can be achieved by finding happiness in the present moment, in whatever you may be doing.

And, of course, remember you are trying your best. These are unprecedented times, and just making it through the day is more than enough.

“It’s more than OK to literally just survive. You don’t have to have a ‘productive pandemic,’ ” Wolkin says. “In some ways, we’re all missing out.”

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: COVID-19 FOMO: Fear of missing out persists amid pandemic, experts say

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