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Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2024
The Observer

Fear of missing out turned fear of staying in

In grade school, I was unfortunately the nerdy kid who sat at the peanut-free table, terrified of the cafeteria’s free-ranging PB&J sandwiches and Ziplocs bursting with cashews that could kill. Allergic and afraid, I confined myself to the lonely, but safe corner. I remained in my bubble for some years, until I developed a new fear, one that rendered all other, anaphylactic fears insignificant. I began to suffer from the early stages of FOMO – fear of missing out. A self-diagnosed disease characterized by both a desire for experience and a persistent worry that you are missing out on any given experience, FOMO forced me out of the corner of peanutless seclusion. Fearful that I was missing out on revolutionary cafeteria experiences, I picked up my lunchbox and ventured out into the “real world” of second grade. 

I’m afraid of a lot of things: roller coasters, hospitals, airplanes (although my college decision forced me to quickly get over that one). Some are more rational than others, but it is indisputable that fear is a substantial governing factor in my life. 

My relationship with fear in general is, ironically, a bit of a roller coaster itself. On one hand, I fail to see how people can live without fear completely. Fear informs my decisions and keeps me from getting myself into potentially dangerous situations. On the other hand, I envy the fearless, those who can do things without conceiving of the “Top 10 Worst Possible Case Scenarios” before they follow through with anything. Fear can hold you back and as kids we were advised by parents and teachers to never let it define or control us. 

However, I genuinely think fear can be a good thing, particularly fear of missing out. FOMO gets a bad rap, usually because of its association with social media addictions and an obsessive desire to stay “in the loop,” but unlike most phobias, it’s a fear with a tendency to motivate, rather than harm. It propels you off the couch to go outside on a sunny day, or it convinces you to take the trip you’ve been debating going on. It throws hundreds of “what if's?” at you in a way that urges you into some sort of action. 

Sure, maybe the means by which it achieves this is driven by social media, but the pervasive apprehension that we are absent from some enriching experience a friend, an acquaintance, or someone we don’t even know yet randomly follow is partaking in, grabs hold of our attention. Then, we begin to exhibit a handful of common symptoms, like the constant refreshing of feeds and a lasting impression that we are missing out on things. The symptom that reveals itself next becomes a matter of choice: continued dissatisfaction or genuine attempts to experience as much is possible in this lifetime. 

The claim that FOMO incites action and experience is contingent on the lack of a certain trait: complacency. To suggest that fear can positively influence your choices requires a willingness to put down the phone from which you derived this fear in the first place. Continued scrolling and worrying will not quell your FOMO, but rather intensify it. The only medicine to temporarily cure this disease is to actually carry out the actions you so wish to experience. 

FOMO is a phobia that does not only pertain to social aspects of life. In my experience, it’s affected my ability to pick just one major. In the future, I foresee struggles to commit to studying abroad in only one country. FOMO is life’s constant cycle of opportunity costs and tradeoffs that come with any and all decisions. It is an epidemic that plagues everyone in, arguably, a healthy way. 

It’s an epidemic whose symptoms have been amplified by the real, more serious pandemic ravaging the world as we currently know it. The world at large is experiencing a universal kind of FOMO right now, but the difference is we aren’t afraid of missing out on things other people are doing because, well, most of us are doing nothing. We physically can’t do anything (as social distancing recommendation-abiding citizens). During this time of universal Fear Of Missing Out, we fear, instead, for how long this deadly virus will keep us from experiencing life beyond the walls of quarantine. 

FOMO has turned into FOSI — fear of staying in. While I think most everyone recognizes and accepts these precautions as necessary and, furthermore, not difficult to do, missing aspects of the non-quarantined lifestyles is completely normal. You can feel gratitude for everything healthcare workers and other essential businesses are doing and also miss your friends or work or college. The two feelings should be able to peacefully coexist. College kids across the globe are fearful of staying in because they’d rather see how the rest of their spring semesters played out. We fear missing out on some of the “best days of our lives,” as we indefinitely watch life pass us by from the safety of the great indoors. People are growing restless in their homes, itching for an excuse to get outside.

This is normal. Humans weren’t made to live in isolation. They weren’t made to spend their entire childhoods at the peanut-free table. They were made to be with other people and experience everything they possibly can, all the while living with that healthy, ever-present fear that there is always more to be experienced. As we wait out this crisis, let us be thankful that our FOSI will soon be replaced by the FOMO we once loathed but, in times of quarantine, will come to appreciate.

Meghan Cappitelli is a freshman studying Economics and English at the University of Notre Dame. A native of Long Island, New York, she enjoys running, procrastinating, and eating ice cream for dinner. She can be reached at or @meghancapp on Twitter.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.