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Dealing with FOMO during a pandemic fueled school year

Confronting a negative mindset regarding my virtual first year at U.Va. and searching for optimistic perspectives

With plenty of free time over break, I’d often find myself lounging on the family couch — a snack in one hand and the TV remote in another — eager to watch the next episode of an entertaining drama series. However, this excitement would often fade away as quickly as it arose. Whether it lingered for a moment or more, I’d soon after be overcome by a wave of gloom and restlessness. The primary cause? FOMO — the fear of missing out.

Even as a young child, I was always eager to dabble in as many activities as I could, despite my actual level of interest. The mere thought that my friends and peers were taking part in events without me — and consequently living more enjoyable lives — scared me. While I’m not sure of the roots of the sentiment, I feared and still greatly fear feeling left out. 

To top it all off, rather than accepting that my life is independent of others, I convinced myself to ignore the harm caused by my intense and often irrational FOMO. Instead, I pushed myself to bite off more than I could chew by attempting to involve myself in all the activities my friends did.  

Now, with a pandemic in the mix, my FOMO often propels me into states of despair. As a student who chose to stay home for both the fall 2020 and spring 2021 semesters, I often imagine the incredible experiences I could have been having on Grounds. Decorating my dorm with musical posters, trying Bodo’s Bagels, eating out on the Lawn and simply meeting people are only some of the many scenarios that often cross my mind. 

As if my mind wasn’t already overwhelmingly preoccupied with wishful thinking, constantly seeing social media posts of other University students’ in-person experiences only aggravates my rather negative mindset. Of course, I’m happy for those individuals — they made their choice to stay on Grounds, and as long as they’re staying safe, they should be allowed to make the best of their situation. 

At the same time, those moments of scrolling through happy faces transform into pangs of loneliness for me. While I’m fortunate to have a comfortable living situation at home, it’s easy to feel lonely and disconnected from the community I’m supposed to call home for the next three and a half years. Combined with a constant apprehension that I’m missing out on the supposed “best years of my life,” it’s been a rough couple of months mentally and socially. 

To add fuel to the fire, this FOMO has also trickled into other parts of my life. For one, when I see students on Zoom with their dorm rooms in the background, I can’t help but feel inferior to them. Although I feel like I made the right decision to stay home, I question my choice when I see others getting the college experience while staying safe — at least for those who didn’t contract COVID-19. As a first-year, I know that I’ll never be able to experience the hall-style living situation that I’ve looked forward to since middle school. So maybe my own judgment about staying home is flawed after all. 

Similarly, this FOMO has led me to compulsively compare my lifestyle to my peers. When my high school friends share their college stories about camping in Maine or exploring the wilderness in Massachusetts, my first semester always pales in comparison. Watching Netflix, going on walks and reading novels puts up no competition. I even envy the friend who’s staying home from college but still works occasionally at a local restaurant. Any amount of social interaction is beyond valuable. 

Nevertheless, the issues that FOMO has posed this past year are primarily a concern of my mindset. While it’s tough to shake off this unwavering feeling that everyone around me is leading better lives, it’s important that I learn to do so. Hence, one of my New Year’s resolutions is to focus on myself and accept that my choice to stay home isn’t without its sacrifices. I won’t get the first-year experiences I so longed to have. However, I must find solace in the fact that I made the decision I thought was best for me.

Furthermore, while FOMO is almost exclusively used in a negative context, I believe that it can be channeled into a few upsides as well. Growing up, this fear of missing out has pushed me to be competitive since I always strive for what I don’t currently have. I definitely don’t encourage unhealthy competition, but I find that if you can channel your FOMO to push yourself to be better, it can transform into a form of positive motivation. In fact, I’ve had some wonderful experiences that I wouldn’t have had without this “FOMO-powered” competition. I auditioned and eventually was given a role in my first Mock Trial — an audition I only bothered to participate in because one of my friends was doing it. 

Ultimately, those moments where FOMO overpowers me definitely suck. But it’s my attempt towards acceptance of my decisions and an optimistic mindset that allow me to take a deep breath, point the remote in front of my TV and begin the next episode. 

Niharika Singhvi is a Life Columnist for The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at life@cavalierdaily.com.

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