The self-destructive toxicity of FOMO leads us to neglect ourselves

Don’t forget to take time for yourself


It's a Thursday night. You've been planning an evening to yourself, maybe featuring some Netflix or a long, emotional phone call to your mum. You are craving a rare early night. Then someone messages the group chat: "Who's coming out tonight?" Your stomach clenches as you imagine everyone else going out while you're alone in your room. It's a horrible feeling. You say 'yes', have a mediocre night out and feel like shite the next morning. You realise it wasn't worth it – you should have just stayed in.

Sound familiar? If not, then lucky you.

FOMO stands for Fear of Missing Out and is characterised by a pervasive sense of anxiety provoked by the worry that others may be having a rewarding experience which you're missing out on. I certainly suffered from FOMO in my first year, but I've since experienced a wonderful and enlightening realisation that you should base your decisions on whether to go out and socialise solely on what your own intuition is telling you.

If you feel energised and excited and want to let your hair down, then go for it. But don't ignore it when your mind and body are signalling that you need an evening to yourself. No matter how extraverted you are, time alone is imperative for good mental health. We all need time to reflect, to truly relax and switch off, and ultimately to recharge.

This is particularly aimed at freshers. Cambridge Freshers' Week is stupidly hectic and intense, to the point that it's hard not to feel at least a little overwhelmed. And as I'm sure you are all aware, things don't really improve once term starts. Of course, in the first few weeks, you're keen to secure friendships, build connections and enjoy your first month of freedom and independence to the full. But just make sure you give yourself some time to breathe.

Putting things into perspective

The psychological basis of FOMO is self-determination theory. This is the idea that the feeling of relatedness and connectedness with others is a legitimate psychological need which influences our psychological health. So, FOMO is a self-regulatory state which arises from the perception that our basic needs are not being met.

However, the key word here is perception. You can rid yourself of FOMO forever if you look at the bigger picture and analyse your situation objectively.

Three things to remember when you're caught in a FOMO-induced panic:

1. There are fun, social events happening nearly every day of the week at Cambridge; missing out on one really isn't worth stressing over.

2. Missing out on one thing won't weaken or damage any of your friendships.

3. There is no reason why you can't enjoy time alone just as much as you enjoy time with your friends. Live in the present.

Social media

Obviously I had to bring it up at some point. I don't want to sound like a whiney, middle-aged bint bleating on about the state of the young generation… but I would like to point out that social media is the single biggest cause of FOMO, and it may be having a more insidious impact on your mental wellbeing than you realise.

When you think about it, it is actually rather odd that we can view and have constant access to what our friends and peers are doing. Why do we care? Why can't we just be content with our own existences? I don't want to come across as some self-righteous martyr, because I'm no exception. But I am aware of the absurdity of it, and I acknowledge that social media doesn't make me happy.

What I don't do is update my story or check others'. I believe that watching our friends' stories on Snapchat and Instagram is the biggest driver of FOMO. It is self-evident that seeing pictures and videos of your friends having fun will provoke a twinge of jealousy and unease. If you know you are prone to a touch of FOMO, I would recommend you stop the habit of viewing stories just for a couple of days, and see how it makes you feel.

How to enjoy your alone time

To end on a more positive note, here are some great ways to make the most of that much-needed evening to yourself: (hint: stay off your phone)

– Read a book that's not related to your degree

– Write something

– Make some art

– Cook yourself a really nice meal

– Listen to some new music

– Take a walk

Cambridge is competitive, stressful and intense. Don't neglect yourself and your mental wellbeing.

Cover image is author's own