New Normal, New FOMO

·5-min read

With our lives locked down for much of the past year, many men experienced a drop in something that they didn’t miss: everyday anxiety. Without parties, social gatherings and networking events to attend, FOMO – the fear of missing out – was wiped out, too. In my psychiatry practice, I saw more people than ever who were struggling with feelings of isolation, alongside a lot of new cases of depression and anxiety. But none of my patients complained about FOMO. Now that the world is opening its doors again, the fear is returning, and it’s making a lot of people uneasy.

FOMO isn’t an official psychiatric diagnosis, but it may as well be. I hear patients describe symptoms of it all the time. It can be defined as a sense that you always have to be connected or plugged into what’s happening around you – and when you’re not, you feel like you’re falling behind, in life or at work.

At its roots, FOMO is about our innate drive to compete. The need to always live up to expectations – to perform, to be in the know – can make anyone feel anxious. Last year, checking out of this game was acceptable, and it made some of my patients – especially those with social anxiety – feel more comfortable than they had in the past. Even if you haven’t considered your outlook in terms of FOMO before, you may relate to this feeling. If this resonates, here are some tips to tackle it.

Identify Where That FOMO Is Coming From

Anxiety can be particularly disturbing when you can’t figure out its cause. If you’re hitting a dead end in identifying the source of your stress, you might try making a list of the ways in which your life has become better and worse as a result of the pandemic. If you notice that, during the lockdowns, you got more sleep and spent less time at your laptop, it might be that your FOMO is a product of work pressure.

This was the case with a patient of mine, who I’ll call Mike. A graphic designer in his early fifties, Mike felt a lack of motivation when the pandemic caused his business to slow down. He spent months saying that he couldn’t wait for things to get back to normal. But once they did, the stress of having to keep up with projects and the lack of free time made him anxious again – and he’d had no idea that his former anxiety was related to his work.

Mike and I discussed the ways in which he might create time for himself, such as setting boundaries so that his work didn’t carry over into nights and weekends. If this seems impossible, sometimes accepting that you’ll have less time, but making the most of the free time you do have, can set you on the right path.

Resist The Urge To Rush Back To Normal

Take a second to focus on what you want your new, post-pandemic, FOMO-managed life to be like. Not what someone else thinks it should be – or even what you think it “should” be. Figure out what is meaningful to you.

Keep in mind that there are more choices for what you want your life to be like than either “how things were before the pandemic” or “how they are right now”. For instance, you might not necessarily have to click back into your work life like a double-A battery in a remote control. The pandemic changed the entire world, so the chances are that it changed you and the people around you. This may be the moment to talk with your managers and colleagues about new ways to organise your schedule and workload.

I’m rethinking things, too. A year ago, I couldn’t imagine seeing patients online, because doing so seemed impersonal. But I’ve learned that it’s convenient for some of my patients, and it saves me a long commute, too. My new normal may include more options for online sessions, even if that’s just one day a week, and I’ll see how things go from there.

Make Sure You Put Your FOMO to Good Use

FOMO isn’t all bad. Some studies show that risk-seeking behaviour – such as taking out a loan to start a business or going for more reps at the gym – is more likely to occur when you see people around you taking similar risks. Yet you may also be more motivated to actually get out and do things when you see social-media posts by friends who are doing it, too – even if it’s just going for a long hike. Scans have shown that a part of the brain called the ventral striatum, which plays a role in pleasure and reward, lights up like a firefly
when we outperform someone else.

But if your performance is giving you anxiety, it might be time to drop the comparisons with everyone else and focus on outperforming yourself.

I have a friend who makes sure that, every year on his birthday, he is bench-pressing more than he did the year before. That way, it doesn’t matter how much others in the gym are lifting. This mindset can actually shift any fear of missing out on what’s going on around you to the fear of missing out on living your best, most anxiety-free life. And that’s one kind of FOMO that’s worth having.

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