In 2011, “FOMO” (the “fear of missing out”) was one of the top contenders for word of the year. For the first time, we all finally had a way to describe the stress that comes along with knowing other people are doing something fun without you. The experience of FOMO has been linked legitimate mental health concerns, like depression and anxiety, and it’s impossible to ignore the role it plays in millennials’ reputation as the “burnout” generation. Right here at Well+Good, we’ve touted the benefits of JOMO (FOMO’s opposite, the “joy of missing out”), and encouraged people to take a step back from their packed schedules to embrace the art of doing nothing.
But now that all plans are canceled for the foreseeable future and there’s nothing to miss out on (thanks, COVID-19), those of us stuck at home are left to consider the role that FOMO really plays in our lives. Is it really just a source of stress, or can it actually be a good thing to feel like you have stuff worth missing out on? Are there any benefits of FOMO? To find out, we tapped our resident FOMO and JOMO experts—extroverted associate beauty and fitness editor Zoë Weiner and introverted senior lifestyle editor Alexis Berger—to debate the topic via a socially distant Slack chat.
An introvert and an extrovert discuss the benefits of FOMO
Zoë Weiner, associate beauty and fitness editor at Well+Good: Hi! I miss you. It’s weird that you’re two blocks away and we can’t have this conversation in person (please imagine me waving to you from my apartment right now), but such is quarantine life. How are things going? What has this bizarre experience been like for you so far?
Alexis Berger, senior lifestyle editor at Well+Good: I miss YOU! Whenever I walk by the bakery you live above I dream about a time we can share delicious lattes and croissants and in-person laughs, but such is life in 2020, right? And y’know, I feel super lucky for the most part. I live with my husband, which means I have company (for better for worse), and all we have to do is care for ourselves. (I think every single parent in the world right now deserves a medal and IOU book from the government full coupons for spa days.) We live in a tiny apartment, but we’re both healthy, have a solid stockpile of food (and treats and wine), and we basically just have to worry about keeping ourselves sane and happy, and that feels like such a privilege. But I’m saying all of that knowing that I am such a natural social introvert and lazy human who relishes time on the couch, even in normal times. I know you tend to like being out in world and doing things. How has this adjustment been for you?
ZW: Croissants!!! What I would give. I’m in a similar situation where I’m lucky enough to be sheltered somewhere safe and with a friend, and just trying to chug along as normally as possible. At first, I had major anxiety at the prospect of not being able to do anything for who-even-knows-how-long, because I’m a textbook extrovert and am guilty of packing my schedule with social plans (…even those I don’t really want to do) because the thought of missing out on anything really, really stresses it out. My friends joke that I’m the queen of FOMO and would show up to the opening of an envelope just in case it wound up being fun.
AB: Is it weird that there aren’t even events to speak of right now? Do you feel, like, relief from having not much of a choice but to stay in and kick up your feet?
ZW: For me, after the first few weeks, I realized that there was no reason to feel the usual FOMO that comes along with doing nothing because there’s nothing to miss out on—all anyone I know is doing right now is making TikTok videos or making banana bread. And it removed a lot of the social pressure that I’m used to experiencing. And it’s really made me embrace the art of doing nothing and prioritizing self-care, which is obviously such an immense privilege right now. What about you?
AB: That’s so interesting and makes so much sense, but I think my FOMO arc has been nearly opposite. I love an excuse to do nothing (or having a reason to cancel plans)—but only to a degree. Feels kind of like eating sugar cereal for dinner: Great on day 1, sad on day 5, awful on day 65. In the beginning of quarantine, I was actually into the quiet time in and break from the regular pace of living and working in New York City (and I felt kind of guilty about that feeling of comfort and even enjoyment). But now that so much time has passed, and there’s still no end point, and plans I had been looking forward to for so long, like a vacation and weddings, are getting canceled, I’m feeling FOMO. Or, I guess, missing the opportunity to feel FOMO. Or even, missing the presence of FOMO to which I don’t usually subscribe.
ZW: See for me, that being taken away has helped really remove a lot of my usual day-to-day social stress and anxiety (which I feel guilty for even saying because there are so many much more important things to be stressed and anxious about right now), and I’m feeling this level of calm that I don’t even really recognize in myself. As someone who only used to block out like, 4 hours a night for sleep between plans, I’m finally sleeping!
AB: Four hours of sleep?! ZOE!!!! In a weird way, I think you… needed this? Does life feel different when you’re rested?
ZW: I’m so much nicer. And I can spell better, which is important as a writer.But I’m a little nervous about what happens when this is all over, and the #plans come back in full force. On the one hand, I cannot WAIT to squeeze my friends and go and DO ALL THE THINGS, but I also feel like this experience has made me realize that it’s important to take time to chill for the sake of my mental and physical health. And I’m nervous that the re-emergence of FOMO is going to put me right back into my old ways. Do you think this will change your relationship to FOMO in the long haul?
AB: Again, so interesting—and interesting that I’ve found a completely opposite learning about myself. I think I need FOMO in my life to force me to do much of anything. I love my friends and love spending time with them and making memories and trying new things, but I’m realizing that unless I’m really pushed, I won’t take it upon myself to take the steps necessary to make these memories. I think it’s the same reason I have trouble committing to a fitness routine unless I’m signing up for classes that will literally charge me money if I don’t follow through and attend.
ZW: FOMO gets a lot of hate, but it sounds like it can potentially be a good thing in some situations?
AB: I think in the long-term, once it’s safe to see people and go about our normal social business—or whatever the new version of normal is—I’ll be more mindful to be less of a stick in the mud about attending basically anything. With so much of life on hold right now, I realize that my natural tendency to stay in and relax often stands in the way of living life as completely as I’m so fortunate to be able to do. Of course, I’ll never abandon my happy place that is a full DVR and a pint of ice cream, but I do think I’ll be less eye-roll-y about busy weeks and plans. At least, I hope, that’ll be a lasting change. I miss life and the world, and think I could totally stand to live more boldly
ZW: OK, since you’re a JOMO expert and I’m FOMO queen (…should I change my instagram bio to that BTW?), I think we should trade advice on how we can handle our new roles when we come out of this.
AB: OMG, brilliant. I have so many tips:
- Stock your pantry with snacks that make you happy.
- Have a TBR pile of books you are genuinely excited to crack open.
- DVR: Pay the $12 per month. (And obviously, make sure you have passwords to all the major streaming services.)
- Check your Google calendar for the week, at the beginning of the week, to make sure you haven’t over scheduled yourself and commit to keeping pockets of time open so you can take advantage of the fun stuff in steps 1, 2, and 3.
- Sleep. (Seriously!)
ZW: Full disclosure, this is advice that I traditionally have not followed, but want to be better about now that I realize how important it is:
- Say yes to doing things, but only things you *really* want to do. And going out for drinks or dinner doesn’t have to be the only plan. I feel like this experience has made me realize that there are so many other fun things you can do with your friends (probably because I’ve been passing the time by Googling “things to do with your friends” in the hopes that I will someday see them again). Go to a cooking class, do a workout together, go for a walk—do activities that make you feel good versus those that you’re begrudgingly showing up for because you feel like you have to.
- Prioritize spending time with the people you actually care about and don’t feel guilty about saying no.
- Block out at least one night a week on your calendar with NO PLANS. (Ideally “Bachelor” Monday or “Real Housewives” Thursday.)
AB: I love these tips, and I think I can commit to them. I hope I’m able to even try sooner than later.
ZW: Same! I think that’s it! Can’t wait to do things with you soon. But only things we both want to do.
AB: Yes! I love that the overlap in our rules involves bad TV. Do you think watching Bravo together might be like meeting in the middle on the FOMO-JOMO continuum? (Also, if you’re reading this, Andy Cohen, let the record show that I don’t think Bravo is “bad” TV—I promise!)
ZW: Yup. I’ll bring the croissants.
AB: It’s a date!
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