Psychology of FOMO: “The pressure to make the most of life post-lockdown is crippling me”

Psychology of FOMO: “The pressure to make the most of life post-lockdown is demoralising me”

Months of making “the most” of life after lockdown is taking its toll. Stylist investigates how women are becoming exhausted by over-socialising and FOMO post-pandemic.

Among my friends, I’ve always happily taken on the role of social secretary. I’m always the one pushing for big birthday nights out and chill nights in, revelling in the organisation and satisfaction of bringing the group together, whatever the occasion.

But since the lockdown eased, I’ve noticed that I’ve gone into planning overdrive. Despite all of the coffees, work drinks, house warmings and long-awaited catch-ups I’ve scheduled into my bursting-at-the-seams calendar, I’m still experiencing the worst FOMO (fear of missing out) of my life.

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Having moved to London just before the pandemic hit, I spent 18 months lamenting not being able to experience the city in its full glory, and vowed that as soon as I could, I would.

So now, if the rare Friday night where I don’t have something to do rolls around, I sit at home wracked with guilt that I’m not making the most of the freedom I so longed for.

In your 20s, and particularly post-pandemic, we’re meant to buy heavily into the idea that these are our best years; our ‘prime’ to be made the most of.

We’re told that we’ll never have more opportunity and energy, or less responsibility than we do now, and that not to seize every moment is a crime against our ever-fleeting youth.

It’s our duty to live for the weekend, for the nights out, but being booked and busy comes at a high physical, emotional and financial cost.

“I have experienced huge FOMO since lockdown ended,” Daniella, an entrepreneur and consultant, tells Stylist. “Prior to lockdown I rarely went out, hated networking and would often make excuses not to go to social events because I couldn’t be bothered. Since restrictions have eased, I have committed to not missing any opportunities again, as we just don’t know how long freedom will last.” 

Our long-awaited catch ups could be causing us more stress than joy
Our long-awaited catch ups could be causing us more stress than joy

Grace, 23, from London, agrees. “I feel like I can’t back out of plans if I’m not feeling it on the day, especially if it’s someone I haven’t seen for a while because I’m scared there could be another lockdown,” she shares.

“If I stay in on the weekends I feel guilty, but at the same time I know that the more I go out, the more of a squeeze it will be for me at the end of the month financially. I don’t always feel safe going out as a woman after everything that’s been in the news, but the FOMO I experience if I pass up on socialising pushes me to do it.”

So why do we experience FOMO?

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The psychology of FOMO

“The primary motivators behind FOMO are the fear of social exclusion and regret. These feelings come from the connection between how individuals experience the world and how they view themselves within,” Raffa Bari, a registered art therapist, tells Stylist.

“Constantly seeing people posting their holidays, events and socialising affects people as we usually check social media during quiet or dull moments of the day, so the effect of seeing people enjoying themselves can be particularly damaging because of the timing aspect.”

Are we going out because we want to, or because we think we should?
Are we going out because we want to, or because we think we should?

“Research has found that FOMO can affect the brain similarly to an addiction; partaking even though we know it can have a negative effect, plus it is linked closely with lowering self-esteem and negatively affecting emotional stability.”

“We’re social animals and function within social hierarchies,” Dr McClaren, a consultant psychiatrist at Priory Hospital Ticehurst House expands. “While we may be more aware of it now thanks to social media, it has been with us for as long as we have been around.”

“Social attention enhances our social standing and promotes a sense of wellbeing. Getting admiration and a sense of envy from others can give a temporary boost to our self-esteem.”

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“The effects of the pandemic on social activity are complex. A lot of social interaction migrated to social media which has the potential to magnify differences with photo editing and selective posting and that only makes FOMO worse,” Dr McClaren continues.

Working hard, playing harder post-pandemic

“Lockdown felt like the end of everything. It was a huge reminder about how quickly life passes and how quickly things can change and we can lose everything,” Ellie, 45, from Leeds, shares.

As a mother of two, she has found that her own FOMO has extended to her children. “I felt so sad for my kids and I still feel like they’ve missed out a year of childhood that they’ll never get back. Prior to lockdown I’d been a pretty chilled out mum, but since things have reopened I feel immense pressure to have them attend absolutely everything.”

Sharing a meal with friends

“Any hint of an interest in anything and I book them on to it, even though we’re struggling to afford it. For example, the kids now do football four times a week each, the younger one does karate twice a week, they have a swimming lesson a week each, they attend Lego and games clubs, they each have a music lesson, they have friends over regularly – honestly it’s exhausting!”

This work hard, play harder mentality is absolutely a knee-jerk reaction to the restriction of the pandemic, but is it actually what we want? After so much in our lives has shifted, do we really know what we want anymore?

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How to deal with increased FOMO

“Many have commented that now we are out of strict lockdowns, FOMO will return, but it never really left,” Bari explains. “During the lockdown, you would see people posting about their walks, new hobbies, personal development and Zoom quizzes. So even though we weren’t allowed to socialise in person, people were finding ways of spending time together, which led to others being left out of these events, creating FOMO.”

To help manage FOMO, Dr McClaren advises taking time to work out what things really make you feel happy and good about yourself, rather than just doing what we think we should be.

“Once you’ve worked that out, you can concentrate on getting more of that, making you less likely to hanker after what appears to make other people happy. While FOMO is based on a positive instinct to give us better social lives, it has been hijacked and distorted in ways that leave us feeling chronically dissatisfied and unfulfilled.”

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