Fear of missing out — or “FOMO” — is still a thing in 2020 during the coronavirus pandemic, only it might be slightly different than it was before.
For years, experts have suggested there’s a level of anxiety called FOMO, where people fear missing out on opportunities or experiences that their peers and colleagues are experiencing. In other words, the life is moving on around you and you’re worried your missing out a chance to have fun. An example — say you open up Instagram and see your friends are all out boating on Utah Lake. You didn’t get the invite. Or maybe you missed the text to join. There’s a level of concern that you’re missing out on something fun. It’s a sinking feeling, one we feel when someone is having a better time than we think we are.
And Jennifer Wolkin, a New York-based health and neuropsychologist, recently told USA Today that FOMO still exists during the coronavirus pandemic, even though a bulk of people have remained indoors and have had to skip out on traditional vacations.
“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.’”
People have been suffering from a lack of sleep. Others are having trouble focusing. And there’s so much interest in negative news.
“FOMO in the pandemic stems from the difficulty of catching up with all of the things being offered online, far more than we can be a part of or watch all at once,” Anik said.
Those who stay home and take the pandemic more seriously will face these issues more often, Anik said. Those who stay home will see their friends going boating on Utah Lake or shopping at the mall (hopefully with a mask!) while they’re stuck at home.
This creates a divide among people about having a good time or trying to be safe, a tension not felt before the pandemic.
“We can already see this tension beginning to seep in, and it will continue over the next few weeks,” she said. “As states are opening up, people are looking around and evaluating each other. They are seeking others who have similar sensitivities and comfort with risk. This social selectivity might not only help individuals soothe their loneliness and protect their health, it might also protect more risk-averse people from experiencing FOMO by watching others enjoy the sun.”
Anik said people need to shift their own focus to avoid this COVID-19 FOMO. Don’t worry about what others are doing. Celebrate the joys you have found in your own life.
“I can only speculate at this point, but I hope that we can shift our focus from ‘What have I missed out on?’ to ‘What have I experienced and found joy in?’ in these extraordinary circumstances,” she said.