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How To Deal With FOMO: The Art Of Staying In.

Picture this, ladies. It’s a Friday night in early August. You’re sitting on your couch at home, with a plate of Thai takeaway in your lap and your favourite Netflix show at the ready. A late summer breeze flows through the half-open window, and the whole room basks in that glorious golden hour light that is now familiar to you as much from the social media posts of your favourite influencers as from your own experiences. Exhausted from the past week of hard work (and just general #life stuff), you’ve decided to stay in, for once, hoping to get some much-needed respite from the big city’s hustle and bustle. And you are perfectly content with your decision; that is, until you bring up Instagram on your phone. 

You don’t even do this consciously - it’s more of a reflex at this point, it’s simply where your palm and fingers take you quite possibly dozens of times a day. It’s been embedded in you like a Gen Z type of muscle memory, and so on this day too, you jump on the bandwagon even though you have nothing in particular to share. In a heartbeat, vibrant and colourful, and rather rambunctious footage appears, filling your physical and mental space with all of the incredible things you could be doing. There is Cassie from work at the newest and coolest Italian place tucking into a gigantic carbonara; your old uni pal Rachel enjoying a cocktail in the very same sunset you’re seeing from the living room; and, of course, a luxurious holiday photo from a girl named Katie you met in a nightclub toilet and vowed to become friends with but never saw again.

Suddenly, you’re not in your cocoon of well-deserved peace and quiet, but in the upsetting mix of discomfort, regret, and restlessness known to us as FOMO. A familiar side effect of social media, modern FOMO is arguably at least as old as Myspace, but the emergence of real-time updates (stories) across all mainstream apps is what’s turned it into the insatiable beast that it is today. FOMO as a phenomenon ebbs and flows in alignment with the social status quo, and as a result, many people (including myself) suffered far less from it through lockdown. Fun as they were, Zoom quizzes aren’t much to brag about, and there was consequently a significantly lower chance of feeling awful about yourself after going on social media in April 2020. 

Conversely, in the summer of 2022, everyone and their dog seems to be on the most amazing vacation of their lives. People are (understandably) hungry to fill their social calendars after a year and a half of sitting at home and playing online board games for fun. It’s not uncommon to see your friends and acquaintances out and about every evening, ostensibly having the time of their lives. If you do the same, power to you, girl; but it is highly likely that you aren’t able to “suck out all the marrow of life” on a daily basis for all sorts of reasons, whether physical, mental, financial or frankly, just because you can’t be bothered. And then, you can really, truly, feel like a failure. 

Social media has many ways of making people, but particularly women, feel inferior. From gorgeously airbrushed photos of celebrities to your favourite influencers posing in Ibiza, there are constant reminders that you are “less than” in one way or other. While these are harmful enough, pictures and videos of people you actually know pose a particular threat, as they come with an assumption that this is the way to live, that this is what your life needs to look like in this particular day and age. If that girl you went to school with hops from Saturday morning yoga class to central London brunch to park drinks and then a night out, and all you have planned is a deep clean of your flat and maybe a drink at your local, you can really feel like something is really wrong with you. What are you doing wrong that you do not have the money, the energy, the willingness, the willpower, the whatever, to be doing what she is doing and make the most of your weekend?

Though I’m sure FOMO affects everyone, women are at particular risk of feeling terrible about themselves after a confrontation with sparkly lives on Facebook. For us, FOMO plays into a pre-existing dynamic of self-doubt. From the moment we arrive in the world, we are met with endless messaging about how flawed we are, and there are billion-dollar industries profiting from our perceived imperfections by promising to correct them. The Instagram algorithm itself is testament to this, peppering the succession of glamorous stories with ads for everything from hair removal products to gym classes, suggesting that yes, you aren’t doing great, but don’t worry, there are lots of things you can do and (ideally) buy to make yourself better.

What women really need in the face of toxic messaging is a feeling of community - and that is exactly what FOMO takes away. When a sense of belonging is just what we crave, we are left feeling left out. Even if we know there are lots of people out there who love and support us, life always seems lonely and awfully miserable when you realise no one invited you to a particular house party or that your (supposed) best friend from work took someone else to the theatre instead of you.

So what can you do to rid your life of this monster? If you aren’t brave enough to fully quit social media and cleanse yourself entirely, or, like me, you also really enjoy some aspects of it (like the therapy and body positivity influencers I’m obsessed with), the easiest and most tangible way of making a positive change is simply muting people that cause you to feel left out. For me, this means unfollowing the stories and publications of people I know a bit but that aren’t friends, and who I can’t seem to feel unbridled joy for when I see their fun little posts. This might seem a little harsh or antisocial, but believe me, no one will be the wiser if they don’t see you on the list of people who viewed their story. 

On a more general level, I would also recommend extending some compassion to yourself when it comes to social media use. Remind yourself that nobody is perfect and that none of what you see on Instagram is an accurate representation of anyone’s life. You never see the struggle and the heartache on anyone’s posts, the sadness and stress hardly show up on photos, and no one will publish anything about a Saturday night spent watching Mean Girls in your oldest jammies. Just remember that it’s all curated - and that, by the way, you yourself look totally fire on every Instagram post on your profile. Self-aware use is the best way of getting the most out of social media, and being able to enjoy the (objectively great) content available out there. If worst comes to worst, you can always create a new profile and just follow dog photo accounts exclusively!

Written by Ditta Dementer