Photo: micadew from US (Amtrak Station) via Wikimedia Commons
Photo: © micadew / WikiCommons

You probably discovered this article because you have been scrolling through your Facebook newsfeed to kill a bit of time. It probably caught your eye because it is something different – it stands out in a feed filled with holiday albums. You may have enjoyed scrolling through the multitude of photos depicting joyful reunions and crazy nights out, or you may have been feeling slightly jealous, apprehensive, or even inadequate. If you fall into the second camp, you are not alone, as FoMO is a modern phenomenon that is hard to avoid.

But what actually is FoMO? Although you might not be able to give a precise definition, you have probably been touched by it at some point in your life. FoMO (Fear of Missing Out) is a feeling of anxiety that results from worrying that other people are having a better time than you. For some, this is an everyday issue and can be caused by insignificant situations such as being sat at the less lively end of a table, wondering whether those at the other end are enjoying themselves more.

It is perfectly natural to be worried about missing out and if we’re honest with ourselves, FoMO is probably what drives the social calendar at the University of St Andrews. Month after month, students queue up to buy tickets to yet another ball at Kinkell Byre, knowing full well that it will be very similar to many other events that they have attended. Even so, many of these events sell out because there is always a chance that this will be a standout event that everyone will be talking about the next day.

This said, fear of missing balls aside, FoMO is less of a problem during term time as most of our friends are around us – and due to the geographical nature of St Andrews, term-time normally means that our friends are rarely further than a 20-minute walk away from us. During the holidays, however, FoMO is an entirely different beast – fuelled by our ability to see what everyone else is doing on social media.

In recent years, social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat have become much more popular, bringing with them whole new levels of FoMo. In some cases, the messaging facilities on these platforms can help to maintain one-to-one connections with friends. However, more often that not, they can also provoke loneliness – allowing you to see all of the photos and videos of the event that has gone ahead without you.

It could be argued that Snapchat is the worst culprit when it comes to fuelling FoMO. It gives a real-time, rather than a retrospective insight into social occasions. It is commonly acknowledged that on Instagram and Facebook, the photos are carefully curated after the event in order to show everything in the best possible light. However, with Snapchat the sharing of photos and videos is more spontaneous, and gives us what feels like an accurate and unfiltered snapshot of someone’s life, even if it only lasts for 24 hours. The worst instances are when groups are involved as you can see the same event documented through several different accounts, which can intensify feelings of solitude.

The Advice and Support Centre (ASC) at the University of St Andrews told The Saint that although it is tempting to spend lots of time on social media it can have a negative effect on your holidays: “Social media can be utterly absorbing but spending hours in front of a computer screen inevitably leads to periods of physical inactivity and can intensify a sense of isolation.”

[pullquote]“Only you can experience the situation you are in. No one else has this unique opportunity.”[/pullquote]

Instead of spending hours in front of a screen, the ASC advise anyone suffering from FoMO to use their digital devices to become more involved in the world around them: “We would encourage students to use social media to engage with people and if possible to get out of doors. Holidays are essential to recharge batteries so that students return refreshed and ready for the challenges ahead.” The ASC suggest using social media platforms to connect with others who “care about the issues that you care about” and getting involved with planned events or creating your own. It is important to “try new activities as well as enjoying familiar pleasures.”

If it is proving difficult to use social media in a positive way and you find yourself flicking through a barrage of Snapchat stories and Instagram posts with a feeling of inferiority, step away and do something else. You could take some time away from social media by engaging in activities that do not involve your electronic devices. As the ASC point out “there is no one activity that will reward everyone,” so don’t pay attention to what everyone else is doing and make the most of the holidays doing something that you really enjoy but might not have enough time to do during term time. “Research has repeatedly shown that people have better life satisfaction if they participate in social activities they enjoy and in activities that are important to them.” The ASC adds that “variety is the spice of life”, so try to mix up what you’re doing and take pride in the things that you enjoy, even if you are doing something completely different to what all of your friends are doing.

You could even channel your FoMO feelings into doing something different for a good cause. It is very easy to get involved with volunteering or a community project, and these are activities that will allow you to make the most of being around different people. And if you are sad that your university or old school friends are meeting up without you because you are in a different location, try to get to know some of the people in your local area at home. You never know, you might make new friends.

Another way of tackling FoMO is to appreciate what you have. As the ASC told The Saint, it is up to you to make the most of the circumstances you find yourself in: “Only you can experience the situation you are in. No one else has this unique opportunity.” The ASC also suggest mindfulness as a method for combatting FoMO: “You will not miss out if you try to mindfully experience your summer. At the end of the day, look back over what you have done and try to find three things for which you can be grateful. Re-live them in your mind, exaggerate them, savour them. Develop an appreciative journal of your summer.”

For more information about the ASC , visit their ASC website: http://www.st-andrews.ac.uk/students/advice/.

The ASC are open throughout summer and as such, their email is open to any students:  theasc@st-andrews.ac.uk.

For information about mindfulness, visit the NHS website: http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/stress-anxiety-depression/pages/mindfulness.aspx.

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