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Why seeing others re-engaging with the world can feel threatening

By May 22, 2021June 9th, 2021No Comments

Esther O’Moore Donohoe
on feeling the F.O.M.O. and how to not compare your re-entry to life to others…

One of my earliest experiences of F.O.M.O was when I was seven. I was three years into my primary school career and was cock of the walk. I struggled with subtraction, sure, but at reading out loud, no one could touch me. As soon as I’d hear ‘does anyone want to start read…?” I’d shoot up my lámh. I was ready. 

I was a reader. I was a lick. 

It was probably for all these reasons then, that I was given the lead roles in the class Christmas plays for Junior and Senior Infants. I was a performer dears, what can I say? 

Once I hit First Class however, things changed. In a twist that I did not see coming, another girl was given the main role of ‘Farmer’ in that year’s festive show. I was tasked with the role of ‘background mushroom’, arguably more of a stretch acting wise, but still, not what I wanted. Being the lead meant more reading out loud and extra fun and I was not involved. 

I hated missing out. 

Still, we can forgive our childhood selves for lacking grace and generosity of spirit in certain situations because, well, we were kids. But what’s our excuse when we’re fully fledged adults? As parts of the world start to open up again after our collective hibernation, why does our inner F.O.M.O monster get fired up as we see people doing their bits on our socials? 

For the past 15 months the world has all been in the same boat. We’ve gotten through our days knowing that no one is having any craic. We’ve just bopped around our homes wearing tracksuits and eating cheese and it’s been fine or at least, we’ve gotten used to it. 

Since March 2020, F.O.M.O levels are at their lowest recorded since records were kept. But now, things are starting to shift and people are doing bits again. 

Even though we may have privately resolved to ourselves that we’re not going back to how we did things before, seeing friends have a lovely time by a fire pit in someone’s back garden makes us feel like we should be doing something too. What a mysterious bucket of contradictions us humans are. 

Like a F.O.M.O Jessica Fletcher, I decided to ask psychotherapist Ejiro Ogbevoen to help  me understand why seeing others re-engaging with the world can feel threatening. She explained ‘fear indicates threats and danger and the need to protect/defend ourselves. In a world where the threat isn’t physical we look for it in the non-physical. Add to this our lack of self-awareness which supports the idea that others know better than we do. We frantically look for more and more information in the hope of catching up; not missing out on important information that could possibly help us. In reality, we are just feeding the fear and creating an anxious state that is not sustainable.’ 

It’s understandable that seeing others do things we used to take for granted, like getting a haircut, can feel overwhelming. It feels scary because perhaps we’re not completely ready yet to emerge from our limited circles. 

Maybe we’re scared of falling back into habits and a way of life that no longer, as Shannon from the Lower Kimmage Rd might say, sits right with us. When people share their events, trips and treatments online, it reminds us how non-stop life could be pre-Covid. We don’t necessarily want to go back to working all day, commuting and then keeping our roots sorted on top of it all. 

In those moments, when the F.O.M.O drops as we tap through someone’s Instagram stories, we need to remind ourselves that the stranger showing off their manicure is not trying to panic you. It’s not a personal attack. In fact, they are not thinking about you at all. They’re just showin’ off their acrylics and that’s okay. 

It doesn’t mean we have to fly to get our eyebrows scorched and our ears waxed asap. Rather than feel a dull sense of dread, just repeat the Amy Poehler line to yourself: ‘good for you, not for me.’ You set the pace and the terms of how you do things and forget the rest. Social media is a shop window and nothing more. And if you still can’t overcome the panic that everyone is having a great time enjoying beveraginos and you’re not, delete the apps for a bit or hit the mute button. 

Having lived in a state of uncertainty for so long, it’s no wonder some of us are fearful of what lies ahead. I asked Ejiro how we can re-engage with the world on whatever level works for us, in a positive way. She suggests trying joy on for size. ‘Joy is in the opposite direction to fear. It is a journey of decisions and choices based on love/joy as opposed to decisions based on fear. You can’t feel one thing and make decisions that will produce the other. If you are in fear, the decisions will be fear based; constricting, limiting and without life or vision. On the other hand, if we choose to trust that we are capable of joy and love, our decisions will be different; they are open, trusting, expanding, full of life and maybe daring. Daring to live fully.’ 

In conclusion Your Honour *adjusts glasses* I would like, if I may, to offer another acronym as an alternative to F.O.M.O and its sister J.O.M.O. Ladies and Gentlewomen, let me introduce their second cousin, J.O.O.J a.k.a Joy Over Others’ Joy. 

If you’re thinking ‘but Esther, you can’t use the preposition ‘over’ with ‘joy’ to you I say ‘SILENCE!’. When I didn’t get the main part in the first class play, my mum told me I should be happy for the other girl and that everyone gets to have a turn at the top. She was right even though I knew I would have been an incredible lead farmer (that said, my mushroom cap was the largest on stage that night and had to be secured to my head with an adapted sports bag strap). 

Her advice still stands now. If looking at people on social media doing things you’re not is stressing you out my advice to you is step away from your device. Enjoy your life. Feel the J.O.O.J and have a snack.


Photo by Simon Maage on Unsplash