Do You Have Festive Fomo?

The holiday season brings much joy but it can also amplify negative emotions. Here’s what to do when your fear of missing out goes into overdrive.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

The holiday season brings much joy but it can also amplify negative emotions. Here’s what to do when your fear of missing out goes into overdrive.

Want to find how high your level of FOMO is? Do this quiz on
Want to find how high your level of FOMO is? Do this quiz on

There’s a reason why December is also known as the unoffi cial party month. Between Christmas, year-end celebrations and everyone feeling the holiday mood, there’s bound to be a ton of events in your social radar. ’Tis the season to be jolly, but for some of us, it can also mean that there’s a chance of feeling increased FOMO – the fear of missing out – because there’s just so much going on, and so little time to do them all. If you’ve ever skipped out on a gathering because you’re too tired, only to end up checking Facebook or Instagram the whole night for updates in case you missed something epic, here’s what you need to know to overcome the anxiety.

You’re not the only one

Although the term FOMO was coined in 2013, it isn’t a new thing. People have always been wondering what they’re missing out on. Mothers have sent their kids for enrichment classes just because their neighbours are doing so, students have signed up for CCAs just because their friends are there and all of us are guilty of joining a snaking queue without knowing what it’s actually for at least once. This fear gets worse during the holiday season, where even the best of us are prone to social one-upping. As everyone is going around the table, taking turns to humblebrag about this super duper yoga retreat and that seriously epic music festival, you start to wonder if everyone’s hanging out without you. Suddenly, curling up in bed watching Love Actually on Christmas Eve doesn’t seem like such a good idea anymore.

So if it’s been around for years, why are we talking so much about FOMO only now? Why are more people feeling this irrational fear that the grass is greener on the other side? Experts like researcher Andrew Przybylski from the University of Essex’s psychology department think that a large part of it is due to the proliferation of social media. Suddenly, we’re so much more aware of what’s going on around us, which magnifi es the problem. “If I don’t check Instagram on the weekends, I’m perfectly fi ne with staying in or just meeting my friends for dinner,” says Yvonne, 24, an accounts executive. “But if I scroll through my feed and see photos of concerts or holidays or parties, I’ll feel like I’m wasting my youth by not being more out there.”


According to Oxford Dictionaries, FOMO is the anxiety that an exciting or interesting event may currently be happening elsewhere, often aroused by posts seen on a social media website.

Blame it on the filters

“Through social media, young adults are constantly being updated about all the cool, fun activities that their friends are engaging in. They’re thus more susceptible to FOMO as they fear that their friends are having more exciting experiences without their presence,” says Agnes Teo, a clinical psychologist at Think Psychological Services. When you’re scrolling past your friends’ carefully filtered photographs, it can be tempting to compare. Before you start faulting yourself for having a less-than-fabulous life, remember that everything on social media is cropped and curated to portray perfection. Just look at the photo series by Thai photographer Chompoo Baritone, who mocked Instagrammers by showing what happens outside the frame. Google it if you haven’t seen the series yet, and keep the moral of the story in mind the next time you’re hit by FOMO. Think about it: you’d upload the lovey-dovey photo you took with your boyfriend, but won’t share about the fight you had with him three days ago for all to read on Facebook or Twitter.

Likewise, you’ll post a wanderlustinducing selfi e from your holiday, but you won’t reach for the camera when you’re keeling over the toilet bowl, heaving up the contents of your stomach due to food poisoning. “Most people choose to post about positive experiences only. Therefore, it’s not a full representation of a person’s life,” explains Agnes, adding that it might be benefi cial to hit pause on social networking if you feel like it’s making you dissatisfi ed with your life or relationships. In a 2013 research article published in the journal Computers in Human Behaviour, Dr Andrew found that a person’s mood and satisfaction with life is correlated with his or her level of FOMO. Considering that FOMO is exacerbated by social media, this also means that the more you log onto social media, the more likely you are to feel bad about yourself. “I’ve started to block people who constantly post about their ‘perfect’ lives on social media.

I’ve had enough of ‘hotdog legs’ by the beach and selfies captioned with cheesy motivational quotes,” says Erica, 25, a graphic designer. “I feel so much better after these things stopped popping up on my feed.” While it’s not clear whether being on social media causes FOMO or vice versa, Dr Andrew noted in his research paper that people who are unhappy or lonely tend to use social media more. So if you fi nd yourself gravitating towards your social feeds more often than usual this holiday season, ask yourself why. Is it because you genuinely want to see how your friends are doing, or is it because you’re afraid of not being in the loop?

The joy of missing out

There’s an episode of Sex and the City where Samantha threw an I-don’thave- a-baby shower. It was in response to a former friend shaming her at a baby shower for living the swinging single life. The camera panned to Samantha working the room in a gorgeous dress, pouring out wine and loudly proclaiming, “I don’t have a baby, everybody drink!” That, right there, is the joy of missing out defi ned. Simply put, the joy of missing out (JOMO) is you taking ownership of your own decisions. Flavia Pal, neurolinguistics programming consultant and life coach at Mind Transformations, says getting over your FOMO can be as simple as trusting that you’re making the right decisions based on your knowledge at that point in time. Hindsight is 20/20, so it’s easy to blame yourself if you miss out on a fun event.

When that happens, realise that you couldn’t have possibly known about it earlier. Instead of devoting all that time and energy on others, turn the attention to yourself. Where do you want to go? What do you want to do? What gives you the most pleasure, and who are the people you want to hang around with? Basing your decisions on that can greatly reduce your level of FOMO, Flavia suggests. “And wherever you end up, just be fully present and enjoy what you’re doing and the company you’re in! Those hours of your life will never come back, so do you really want to spend all that time thinking about what could have been?” she adds. If your choice of activity isn’t as Insta-worthy as, say, a day trip on a yacht with your girl squad, that’s fi ne as well. “Even if you’re doing nothing but sitting on your couch and watching movies during the holidays, you’re doing that for a reason,” says Flavia. Refl ect on why you made that choice: it could be that you’re tired and needed rest, or maybe you wanted to spend some time alone with a loved one. “If those things are important to you, then it doesn’t matter if the others are jumping off the Eiff el tower.”


Here’s how to shake the holiday FOMO off.

1 Refrain from checking your phone when you’re with people.

2 Learn to be comfortable with your own company. Take a walk alone, or go to a restaurant alone without your eyes glued to an electronic device the entire time.

3 Trust that you know what’s best for yourself. Sure your friends are all doing shots in the club, but nursing a hangover at brunch sounds terrible. No thank you!