It’s 8pm on a Friday night following a busy week and I’m in my pyjamas. A night filled of catching up on TV, a couple of G&Ts with my mum and an early night is in store. Sounds dreamy, right?
But my anxiety levels are rising, as I begin scrambling around asking every single friend in close proximity what their plans are, and whether they fancy a ‘cheeky pub trip’. Friends begin replying detailing their plans, or (shock, horror) declining my invitation for a quiet night in. I’m starting to panic.
And then there’s a bite.
A couple of the boys are going to the pub – but not til 10pm – and in the next town over, a good 15 minute drives away. I’m knackered, I’m makeup-less and sporting my finest fleecey PJs, and essentially, have no desire to drive to the pub for one drink.
After practicing an inordinate amount of self-control I managed to convince myself to stay on my sofa, but it didn’t end there. I took to Instagram (bad move, Abs) scrolling through posts of parties, nights out, lovely dinners out – I was even feeling jealous of the people having cosy nights in, just as I was. Why didn’t I have cool plans? Why wasn’t I invited to any of these nights out? What if all my friends are about to have the best nights of their lives this evening and I’m doing absolutely big fat nothing?
It genuinely was making me feel quite worked up and anxious, and I went to bed feeling disappointed in myself and my lack of cool plans, and my inability to be doing something every minute of every day of every week.
The irony is, I woke up the next morning feeling like I handled the whole thing relatively well. From the age of 17, I’d been cramming my weekends with ‘stuff’. I spent at least half of my time at university not at university – always seeing someone, unable to stop making plans, never mind decline them, and avoiding a chill weekend at home like the plague. Socialising and doing cool things felt like more of a job than my dissertation. I was suffering daily from errand paralysis, unable to make the 15 minute walk to the post office to return my ASOS order and was completely exhausted: emotionally, mentally and financially. I only recognised how destructive the lifestyle I was living was until I moved back home and I realised I was close to burnout, and actually quite mentally ill.
Fucking millennials, right? Only our generation could make themselves mentally ill from the ‘fear of missing out’, or FOMO, as it’s more commonly called.
But we’re the most vulnerable generation to the fear, in a culture of excessive social media usage, hustle porn and so many god damn choices. I log into Instagram on a Saturday night and there is an endless stream of friends, acquaintances (and complete strangers) at a rave, having nights with their friends, travelling round Australia, at gigs, out for dinner and more. Hours worth of content just waiting for me to watch and decide whose life I’d like the most that evening.
We are the generation that were brought up being told we could do anything, and thanks to more opportunities being available than ever before, we are doing exactly that. Comparing ourselves to other people our age can therefore leave us feeling completely and utterly worthless.
Sure, I’m doing well at my job, making time to travel and see my friends and family, and I’m probably the healthiest (mentally and physically) I’ve been in a long time. But a friend from school who side-hustles a successful lifestyle blog is currently on a #gifted meal in London with her boyfriend, another friend is travelling around South East Asia without a care in the world, and Kylie Jenner is now the youngest ever self-made billionaire…and she’s younger than me.
You can see then, why comparing yourself to your other twenty-something friends (or strangers) is completely useless but so easy to do.
Research has found that (unsurprisingly) limiting social media usage results in significant reductions in loneliness, anxiety and fear of missing out. More interestingly, studies have also found that fear of missing out and social comparison orientation (which refers to the tendency to compare oneself with others) jointly contribute to decreases in well-being (loneliness, anxiety and depression) and increased social media engagement.
Scientific proof therefore, that if you’re feeling a bit rubbish you should whack your phone on ‘do not disturb’ mode and try to resist an evening of comparison and self-hatred (though tempting, I know). You’ll feel a lot more able to hack the ‘best night’ posts in the morning when the ‘gram is a bit quieter and you wake up smug after a good night’s rest.
FOMO has always been around, and to be honest, I imagine it will only get worse as social media becomes more of a necessity in everyone’s lives. Finding ways to manage such anxieties are therefore vital.
For me, allowing myself to regularly take a night to do absolutely naff-all and trying not to stuff my weekends with plans, errands and big expectations has been a game-changer. I value and enjoy my plans a lot more when they do come around, and feel a lot more able to cope when it feels like everyone’s doing amazing things and I’ve spent the evening laying on the sofa with my dogs. Trying to bear in mind that Instagram is just a highlights reel is also a great comfort.
Remember that the world’s not going to stop if you take a night off, your friends will still be your friends if you don’t make it to that party or pub trip, and no-one actually cares what you’re doing on Instagram because we’re all narcissistic millennial bastards. (Joking. Kind of.)
So indulge in that night in, turn your phone off and toast that glass of wine (that hasn’t cost you £5) to no mo’ FOMO.