College is the time in our lives when we finally have the freedom to discover ourselves. However, there are very specific standards of how a college student’s life should be: study, make a lot of friends, get involved in a lot of clubs, go to parties, meet the love of your life, land internships—oh, and don’t forget to graduate with honors and have a successful career! All of these ambitious expectations of what a college experience should look like result in continuous self-questioning. Am I doing enough? Am I going to the best parties and meeting cool people? Am I making the most out of these four years of my life? After experiencing a global pandemic, these insecurities increase tenfold—did we miss what young people are expected to do? Intrusive thoughts like these are inevitable when such romanticized and impossible standards of college life are imposed through social media and, overall, culture. Furthermore, students have more specific stresses depending on their background and characteristics such as gender, ethnicity and age. As a result, we all struggle to live the life we have always idealized to embody—we know college is our time to become who we should be.
Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) is a sentiment that encapsulates the anxiety from intrusive thoughts. In other words, it’s what results from comparing ourselves to what we think others do. The verb to think is important in that sentence, as we always assume others’ experiences are more fulfilling than ours. Thus, we can’t help but compare our everyday lives to what others post on social media, aka their highlights. In this article, I will be listing some grounding strategies to cope with FOMO, pointers you can use to remind yourself of your personal ambitions without having social expectations in mind.
When thinking about what others do, we forget about what we do. Write down the people you know, your friends, the things you’re involved in, your aspirations … Then, sit down, and reflect on what you wrote. Be grateful for the opportunity to be in school, and be proud of yourself for all of the things that you’re accomplishing.
Talk to your friends
What we label as FOMO is a combination of anxieties we all feel. Even though we usually associate it with missing parties and fun times, feelings of being behind academically or professionally are also a part of it. You might think it’s only you going through it alone versus everyone else having a more exciting life than yours. However, bring it up to your friends; you’ll be surprised to see how lost everyone feels. Talk about your everyday lives—be aware of the present.
Question your thoughts
After identifying FOMO as an intrusive thought, with the help of your friends if necessary, it’s essential to ask yourself the following question. Think about one activity/opportunity/thing you wish you could do/join/have: do you genuinely want it, or are you supposed to want it? Comparing ourselves to what we see in media thus establishing fake realities as aspirations, leads to idealizing things we probably wouldn’t want if we weren’t exposed to them in the first place. So be my guest: sit down, and take a moment to think of the things you know you want to spend your time doing. Differentiate them from the social expectations.
One step at a time
After establishing a clearer idea of your interests and the ways to put yourself out there, write the different steps to achieve your goals. Make sure that each step is something small and doable, and take your time to follow your plan. Don’t assume you can do it all in a week; give yourself the time to explore new possibilities, and most importantly, enjoy the process!
THERAPY and CBT
If you believe your struggle with FOMO and other intrusive thoughts requires more than what I previously mentioned, then don’t hesitate to reach out to a professional. Therapy is the answer if you feel like your thoughts control you, instead of vice-versa. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a form of treatment that directly tackles how we process information. Therapists typically mediate it through exercises that include mindfulness and relaxation. Here’s an article that provides some general information about what it is and the different techniques.
If you’re going through a FOMO rough patch, remember that you’re not alone—we’ve all felt that way. So don’t bottle it up by keeping it to yourself, and please seek help from your inner circle or a professional if needed.