No more FOMO?
How loneliness takes over this pandemic and what we can do about it
‘Being lonely without being alone’ was the header of my first blog on loneliness almost two years ago. While rereading it, I find myself reflecting on what loneliness means in this current pandemic. Following a recent Ukrant and Hanzemag survey, amongst 1200 students in Groningen, 9 out of 10 students experienced loneliness as a problem. Only, 9,1% of the respondents stated to never feeling lonely.
These numbers are shocking and at the same time not surprising given the current circumstances and length of this crisis. Loneliness is an emotional state that signals us that we are feeling disconnected. During this pandemic we are encouraged to physically disconnect which in turn fuels feelings of loneliness. Digitally, students can be connected when studying online – yet, the physical distance makes us feel extremely isolated.
Last week, it struck me hearing that one of my students arrived in Groningen in September and has not met any classmate live to this day. The combination of adapting to a new city, feeling isolated and homesick can evoke depressive feelings and is overwhelming. It is now, more than ever, important to normalize addressing these topics.
No more FOMO?
We can expect that the so called ‘Fear of Missing Out’ or FOMO has decreased during this pandemic as there are not too many events that we could miss. Still, social media does provide us with an unrealistic idea of how social life could look like, even in times of crisis. We might see posts about fun digital pub quiz nights, having drinks with roommates or making that trip to the forest or beach. The problematic thing about this is that we do not see those not doing anything or feeling miserable. We only see peers who are apparently having a good time, or an even worse but normal scenario is that we post happy stories even though we feel completely miserable. All these challenging aspects combined with our innate need to compare ourselves to others, create dangerous ingredients that fuel feelings of loneliness, envy and can have a negative effect on our self-esteem.
In 2018 Hunt, Lipson and Young were investigating the relationship between social media use and feelings of loneliness and depression. More specifically, they wanted to know in how far the limitation of social media usage decrease these detrimental feelings. They found significant reductions in loneliness and depression in participants who limited their social media usage compared to a control group. Based on their findings they strongly suggested boosting your well-being by limiting your social media usage to 30 minutes per day.
Before you go on reading, take a moment to reflect on your own social media usage and the effect it has on your mental state. What are days when you spend more time on social media? Why do you use it more on these days? What effect does that have on you? Be aware of the time you spend on social media each day. On Instagram, you can create an announcement that shows up every day after you have spent a certain amount of time on it. Setting restrictions, will probably not take away feelings of loneliness but it can be an important step to take to not worsen your well-being in these challenging times.
Less mental space – more rumination
This whole crisis situation is a lot to take in and it increases how often we experience stress and worry. This lack of mental space or psychological flexibility frequently leads to more rumination and limited problem solving skills. When you are stuck in a train of thought or arguing with your inner critic be aware that you generally have less mental capacity at the moment. Our mind evolved to protect us in dangerous situations and if we are experiencing a lot of pressure, stress and anxiety, our thoughts can be very repetitive and make random connections between possibly unrelated events. While our mind is doing what it is supposed to do it can have severe effects on how we feel and perceive ourselves. Two important lessons to take out of this are:
1. Be kind to yourself. Honestly listen to your body and ask yourself what do you need at the moment? What is the first step towards that direction?
2. Don’t believe everything that you think. Challenge your thoughts. Is it true what you are thinking? Can you be 100% sure that it is true? What happens if you believe in that thought?
There is of course no one size fits all cure to feelings of loneliness. There are a few things that might help you along the way:
- Create more awareness on your social media usage, try to limit it to a maximum of 30 minutes a day
- Disclose to a friend you are feeling lonely and plan something to do together
- Be more open about what you are experiencing to someone close to you to normalize talking about mental health
- Be attentive to your surrounding and check how others are doing
- Don’t believe everything that your mind makes up. Challenge your thoughts
- Be kind to yourself and check in what you need
There are different initiatives to facilitate getting to know new people. For instance, the buddy project of ESN Groningen.
For more insights on this topic you can have another look at the previous blog on this topic here. If you recognize yourself in this blog and would like some personal guidance, don’t hesitate to contact one of the Wakker Bij Bakker coaches in your region.
Hunt, M. G., Marx, R., Lipson, C., & Young, J. (2018). No more FOMO: Limiting social media decreases loneliness and depression. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 37(10), 751–768. https://doi-org.proxy-ub.rug.nl/10.1521/jscp.2018.37.10.751