It was 10 p.m. on a Saturday night. I was cozy and curled up in my bed, watching “When Harry Met Sally,” when I absentmindedly picked up my phone and opened Instagram, something I do a few too many times a day. As I swiped through stories posted by fellow classmates, I caught glimpses into other people’s evenings. Many were in cute, sparkly outfits and at exciting parties, snapping pictures around campus. I began to wonder if I’d made a mistake by staying in.
“Should I be out doing something with people?” I thought. Suddenly, I wasn’t enjoying myself.
From parties and picture-perfect vacations to the newest iPhone and whatever fashion trend is circulating on TikTok, there’s a constant stream of “get this!” and “do this!” that influences how we engage with one another. Often, we develop a fear of missing out, or FOMO, as a result. With technology, it’s easy to feel that you’re losing out on something, whether that be an event, opportunity or product.
I like to think of social media overconsumption as fast food and of FOMO as an unfortunate side effect. You use social media because it gives you a blast of dopamine; it’s all good fun until it’s too much. Like an overly greasy hamburger, it weighs you down.
FOMO tends to feed into this feeling and linger for a while longer. You’re having fun on social media until you’re not. You’re tapping through stories, seeing what everyone else is doing, while a strange feeling nags at you.
A social media user since sixth grade, I’ve felt my fair share of FOMO here and there. Since starting college, however, the feeling has become more persistent. Even before move-in, I stressed about not having met people yet. I couldn’t attend Admitted Students Day and wondered if I had missed out on making connections. I would go on social media, seeing people who already seemed to have made lifelong friends and feel like I was falling behind.
The first week on campus particularly exacerbated this perception. Our jam-packed Orientation days left me drained, but what I saw on Instagram made me think I was the only one feeling this way. Everyone else seemed to be having the time of their lives. Of course this wasn’t the case, as conversations with friends over Frank lunches and early morning check-ins with my Orientation Adventure group quickly revealed. We were all exhausted from overscheduling, but it was all too easy for me to just equate social media with reality.
Often, FOMO simply comes from how an event or experience is being framed. I’ll look at an Instagram post and realize that I was at that exact event, but an aesthetically pleasing photo somehow made it seem much cooler. These snapshots are only moments of someone’s life from one angle and one photo can’t accurately measure how much fun they’re having.
On the other hand, curated media isn’t all bad. It’s a great way to stay engaged with friends living elsewhere. I’ve loved seeing what all my friends from high school are up to, or connecting with people I might have lost contact with but still want to support by tapping the red heart.
There’s no one-size-fits-all to curing FOMO, but I’ve come up with my own few tricks to combat it:
Get off your phone. This is easier said than done, but it’s the most instantaneous solution. As soon as I unplug and do something else with my time, like reading a book or even just powering through homework, I feel better.
Get active and get outside. When I’m in open spaces or around tall trees, I’m immediately reminded of just how insignificant we, and our thoughts, all are. Go on a run or a walk, or just sit outside.
Sort through your thoughts. I journal each night, and it’s one of the best routines I’ve made myself stick to. Whether it be a rant about something specific or a summary of what happened during my day, journaling helps me understand why I’m feeling a certain way. Write down what you’re feeling, and you might start to notice some unlikely patterns.
I definitely don’t have it all figured out. I’m still adjusting to college life and newfound freedom, but conversations with new friends and reflecting on my feelings have allowed me to view FOMO differently. Everyone’s on different schedules and everyone has different priorities. I can only know what makes me feel my best, which might just be staying in on a Saturday night and watching a feel-good rom-com.
The next time you feel FOMO, realize that you’re not alone. For fellow first-years and new students who feel like they ought to have it all figured out by now, remember that we’re barely a month in! Spend the night watching a movie or go out, but most importantly, do what you want to do. Don’t let your expectations for fun hinder what you enjoy doing.
Michelle Zhang PO ’27 is from the Bay Area. She’s a proud lefty and has a Duolingo streak of almost six years.