How Social Media and Peer Pressure Create Anxiety of Missing Out?
A few months ago, I turned 25. I’ve never paid much attention to my birthday or the social expectations that come with it. But the more time passed, the more I started to notice that the switch to the second half of my twenties made me anxious.
Yes, millennials are known for anxiety, but this time it was different. I began to think, 'oh snap, I’m coming closer to my thirties, I should do something about it.' However, I didn’t know what to do precisely, which led me to a minor existential crisis.
With the time on my hands (hello lockdown), I was looking for answers. ‘Is my career enough? Should I have enough money saved for the down payment for my own place?’ It got ridiculous by the minute: ‘Can I still party in my late twenties like I used to, or is it sad by now?’
I was trying so hard to fit my life into one of the boxes that I forgot that my life has its own box. Little that I knew, that I was experiencing fear of missing out (FOMO), but this time it was more existential, and it got stuck in my head so much that I felt anxiety creeping in.
So, there I was in my mid-twenties, living a life of a digital nomad in Spain, a country where it’s difficult for me to settle down. My first impulse was to call a friend and talk it through to see what she had to say. My fear list started:
Should I come back home, where everything is ten times easier, and start saving for a house?
Should I finish dealing with everything in Spain and settle there?
I need to figure this all out NOW.
My heart was racing from all the confusion and fear of missing out. My friend, who also has a severe case of FOMO, told me to calm down. ‘You’re still young, you don’t need to worry,’ she told me. And for a moment, I got myself together and looked at it from an objective perspective.
Yes, I’m getting closer to my thirties, but that doesn’t mean anything. I have a satisfying job, I’m in a long-term relationship, I’m living in a sunny country, and I have no deadline to have kids or get married because it’s not on my agenda. So, there’s nowhere to rush.
By the crippling thought of wasting my time was keeping me up at night. I began to wonder why so, and then I found a culprit, in fact, two culprits.
Growing achievement anxiety
Fear of missing out is often linked to millennials and their excessive use of social media. In other words, we see our friends and influencers living lives that look better, more enjoyable, more rewarding, more satisfying, more, more, more than what we have. That encourages us to try and achieve all those things, but one life isn’t enough to fit everyone’s shoes, so we stay with our ordinary lives, and all that is left is FOMO.
69% of millennials experience FOMO, often induced by social media. It didn’t take long for brands to use it as an advantage and promote their products and services based on nervous millennial shopping habits.
The more we fear, the more triggers we receive, which puts us in a vicious cycle of buying, attending, following, ordering without satisfying our starving FOMO.
The second culprit is more traditional: social expectations and peer pressure to follow a set script of life. While my generation might be breaking free from it, our parents and previous generations definitely suffered from social expectations to build our lives in a certain way. The life script comes as follows:
Graduate college and get high paying job before 23;
Get married by 25;
Have kids by 27;
Buy a house by 30;
And then… Who knows what’s then, as long as you aren’t having too much fun.
I know that many people from my generation don’t care about these expectations, but many still do, and sometimes this pressure can be even worse than the FOMO of social media. What’s worse is that social media externalizes these expectations and turns them into something as easy as a walk in a park.
Late-bloomers in their twenties
People in their early twenties who teach you how to build a dream career and be a CEO by 25. Mothers and fathers with idyllic families and jobs in their mid-twenties. Influencers who have perfect two-floor houses next to the beach by the time you just barely managed to graduate.
The other day, I saw a post on LinkedIn from some startup founder saying he’s a late-bloomer because he started a business in his late twenties. Some people don’t graduate until they’re 40. But when you see someone calling a 20-something a late bloomer, you can’t help but think that something isn’t right with you.
Everything is exaggerated, and exceptions are becoming the norm. So, I’m not surprised that so many young and promising people feel like failures, like they missed out on something, that they are late to live their lives. But where are we rushing?
Of course, it would be amazing to have a mortgage-free house by the time you’re 30. It would be wonderful to find your calling in your early twenties. But life doesn’t come with a script. And living by someone else’s script would just make one bad movie.
Although I still catch myself rushing to make my next step and plan my life to my last breath, I want to give you and myself permission to relax. You can quit your job at 40, go back to college, and follow your path. Or maybe you don’t even look for a calling in your work, and that’s completely fine. You can party, travel, and live in foreign countries in your 50s because who said that you couldn’t? You can have a family later in life and find it rewarding.
There’s no timeline for life, as long as you make it yours.