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All your friends read this.

What is your greatest fear?  

Pumpkin spice candles. Hot take: those smell absolutely revolting; I get nauseous just thinking of the overwhelming fumes from that cinnamon-pumpkin-neon-orange-monstrosity. Yet, pumpkin spice candles welcome the arrival of the fall season – Halloween, auburn caramel leaves, ankle booties, and scarves galore. The candles are an essential part of the fall aesthetic, and I suppose it would be terrifying to miss out on that.  

It’s almost as if we have a fear of missing out.  

Huh. Who would’ve thought? Indeed, there aren’t many people who would admit having FOMO as their greatest fear, but it is certainly a prominent one.  

The Oxford English Dictionary defines FOMO as “fear of missing out: anxiety that an exciting or interesting event may be happening elsewhere, often aroused by posts seen on a social media website.”  

It’s an accurate definition, addressing the main points that FOMO can cause anxiety, usually relates to an exciting event, and heavily connect to social media. However, the focal point of FOMO lies in the word “elsewhere.” FOMO, essentially, is a matter of feeling excluded. 

The feeling of exclusion, the “missing out,” hits different in the face of obligation. It’s 2 AM in Perkins, and there’s dozens of crinkled notes and cheat sheets, slightly wrinkled and damp from the coffee you just accidentaly spilled on them, scattered all over the crusty study tables, with chipped corners and scribbled with profanities, on the fourth floor. You feel a harsh pounding in your brain, and you can’t tell if it’s because of your cold brew with quadruple espresso shots, the horrendous all-nighter you pulled, or the questionably sour granola bar you ate eight hours ago. As a study break, you take a quick scroll through Instagram. Dirty martinis, hibachi grills, football games, satin minidresses. If it wasn’t for the exam, an obligation, you would have been there with your friends, having the time of your life.  

Psychologists, experts, and self-proclaimed experts (i.e., the internet) would blame FOMO, as with almost everything, on social media. Evidently, social media is indisputably a significant factor that exacerbates the feeling of FOMO. Although social media seems like the immediate problem, it is not the foundation of FOMO. Social media is only so influential because of its accessibility – everyone’s weekend highlights are in the palm of our hands. Social media is part of the problem, but we need to address the issue on a deeper psychological and emotional level.  

The real cause for FOMO is our infatuation, almost obsession, with “potential connections.” FOMO is not merely an envious-damn-I-wish-I-was-there-feeling, but the fear that I gave up the opportunity to bond with other individuals. Dr. John M. Grohol explains that we seek “the potential for simply a different connection. It may be better; it may be worse – we just don’t know until we check.” The uneasiness that follows this potential has two main effects.  

The immediate reaction is regret. In the face of FOMO, our brains switch to affecting forecasting mode, where we try to predict how we might feel based on events that didn’t happen or haven’t happened yet. Essentially, we conclude that we would have a more fulfilling experience participating in the “exciting or interesting event.” 

The more substantial effect, however, is the feeling of exclusion. Regret is an understandable response but feeling excluded is slightly more complicated. Typically, I am the one who turned down the invitation to a fun activity BUT when I see my friends who invited me enjoying said activity, suddenly, I feel left out. It’s an illogical, hypocritical, and pathetic feeling. FOMO is like I consciously chose to get off the train but then feel upset with the people on the train move ahead of me.  

Hence, the anxiety.  

You start to worry. What if they move too far ahead? What if they drop me completely? What if you’re not friends after this? Known as the interdependent self-construal, you become overly concerned with your relationship with others and doubt your place in the group. You begin to overcompensate for the time you missed out, such as paying for everyone’s dinner or purchasing extremely-out-of-budget lavish birthday gifts. Gradually, your sense of FOMO is coupled with lower self-esteem, endless social anxiety, and depression.  

Long story short, we spiral down the rabbit hole, my friend.  

If you are experiencing extreme episodes of FOMO, the internet, ironically, would advise you to delete Instagram, delete Twitter, delete Facebook, delete all forms of social interaction, delete yourself, delete everything.  

#self-care. 

Despite decades of technological advances, there remains a certain level of immaturity in our relationship with technology. It requires a more authentic solution than simply removing social media from the equation. FOMO, although used commonly as slang, desperately requires an intricately genuine, delicate conversation about self-worth and self-awareness.  

You are a good person. Your friends will not abandon you if you miss one get-together. If they do, then they were never your friends in the first place. You are not a failure in life just because you are not currently #livingyourbestlife. But by constantly putting yourself down after every Insta story, you are certainly putting yourself onto the path of failure.  

Of course, all is easier said than done. There are times when we feel like we are losing our spark, our value in this world, and to see everyone reveling in their exhilarating lives just further nails the head on the coffin. However, our value should not be measured by the parties we attend, the nights we go out, or the pretentious picturesque live we pretend to have. Your life should not be a one-dimensional aesthetic. You will miss out on a hundred different occasions – you cannot possibly do it all. Given time, you will realize which ones are promising and which ones are not – like picking scented candles.  

Except pumpkin spice candles. 

Avoid that one at all costs.

Linda Cao is a Trinity sophomore. Her column runs on alternate Thursdays.

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