Hi there, I’m back! I’ve been meaning to talk about this for a while now, but have only really managed to put together something that I hope is comprehensible and that it makes sense.
Anyway – today’s thoughts come from a place I never really thought I’d be in – on talking about FOMO. Now, before you think “Hannah, what on earth is ‘FOMO’ and what planet have you walked into at university?” – please bear with me; I’ll explain.
What even is ‘FOMO’?
For those who don’t know, ‘FOMO’ is, according to the Urban Dictionary (trust me, hard to find a reliable source): “a state of mental or emotional strain caused by the fear of missing out.”
In other words, it’s an acronym for ‘Fear of Missing Out’ – just people use it as a normal word. If you think back to the time of ‘YOLO’, which has now died down in its use (thank goodness for that!) – it’s a bit similar to that.
FOMO is something that often strikes in social settings; the need to be a part of something, or so often linked with peer pressure.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m aware this is something that is present in all aspects of life, but I’ve never really struggled with it until coming to university.
At school, I could let things pass by me – I didn’t need to be included in what was going on, or to an extent, even know what was going on. There were always conversations or topics that would circulate round the year group; and I could be totally oblivious. I reckon the closest I got to FOMO at home was not knowing what was going on in the family. I liked to be aware of where people were going to be – but wasn’t bothered about whether I was included or not.
So – to come to university and suddenly have to learn to navigate what FOMO is, and how that pans out in everyday life – has definitely been a challenge.
In a place where everything is new; from where you’re living, to who you’re living with – to the people you’re spending time with and just in general, navigating a completely new place – it seems as if FOMO is inevitable.
With every social thing that arises, there’s a question of “If I don’t go to this, am I going to miss out on opportunities to make friends?” or worrying that you’ll miss a big opportunity to deepen friendships, meet new people and just be in the loop. These kind of questions or doubts can be hard to deal with – and if you don’t stop them in their tracks, it can be debilitating.
And I guess this is where many different pressures come to a head. You see, coupling FOMO with anxiety is a brutal mix – one that can knock you for six before you’ve even realised it.
Let’s Talk About Raisin
Now, I’m aware that every university has its own traditions, but without a doubt, I’ve discovered that St Andrews has some rather unusual ones – ones that are quite hard to explain to people who don’t study or live there. I’m going to attempt to explain briefly here – but stay tuned for a more detailed look into life as a St Andrews student – traditions, oddities and all.
Raisin stems from a historic tradition based around academic families – something that is more common at other universities too; i.e. a first year student gets adopted by two older students as a way to help settle into the new life at university, and have a form of support network that’s not entirely reliant on university staff.
In reality, this can look like all sorts of things – but in general, means you’ve got a family with your academic mum, and also your academic dad. On Raisin Sunday, there are various odd challenges that you partake in, and the ‘tradition’ culminates with a big foam fight on Lower College Lawn, complete with costumes. It’s quite something, and generally makes the papers – and let’s be honest, it’s total madness.
For weeks, it seemed all that anyone wanted to talk about was Raisin. It was a hot topic in Freshers Week, as third year students were looking for Freshers to adopt. In the run up to Raisin Weekend, there was talk of academic family events, the local shops selling out of shaving foam, and the odd horror story of past raisins. Even after Raisin (when you’d think it was all over) – people continued to talk about it – and for a long time, I felt like I couldn’t escape it.
See, the overall message when it comes to Raisin is – “that it’s going to be the best time of your university experience; you’re going to love it” – and therefore it comes with the expectation to have fun. The anticipation beforehand was rampant, and afterwards all we could find was people talking about how ‘good’ it was.
But for me, Raisin holds an entirely different bunch of memories. I can’t tell you stories of bonding with my academic siblings; or of running into the North Sea at sunrise having gotten to the beach for 7:04am precisely. I have no photos to show of the mayhem of a paint fight with lots of other families, or of the random tasks I had to undertake during a scavenger hunt. I’m one of the few who didn’t have an egg smashed over their head that weekend, or get punished for bringing the wrong kind of milk to my dad’s raisin.
All of what I’ve just mentioned, could very easily have been my raisin experience – and very nearly was. Yet instead, I’ve got a very different story to tell – and this is where ‘FOMO’, and our dear friend ‘anxiety’ comes into play.
It’s taken me over two months to try and work out how to tell this story. Thinking about the whole weekend is still a bit weird, even now – and it took a while to process what happened, and why I reacted in the way I did.
As I mentioned before, in my ‘Let’s Talk About Anxiety’ post – anxiety is something that I struggle with, and have been trying to learn how best to manage and deal with on a daily basis. I’d noticed in the week leading up to Raisin that I was worrying too much about it – I wasn’t sleeping properly, and decided I needed to do something. A key aspect of Raisin is that the children are in the dark, and there are a lot of surprises. For me; control is a key aspect that keeps me grounded, and this just felt like too much. I messaged my parents (academic ones) – and explained how I was feeling; and both of them were so kind, telling me a plan for the day, and that I wouldn’t be pressured into anything.
For a while, I thought that would be enough – and that I could battle through whatever anxiety cropped up: after all, this was supposed to be one of the BEST experiences of university…
By the time we got to the evening before, I think it dawned on me that I wasn’t quite so content to go with whatever happened. In fact, this realisation happened mid-panic attack – and for me, this was a wake-up call. I felt well and truly out of control, worried that I couldn’t say ‘no’, and that I was powerless in the situation I was in. I didn’t want to give in and pull out of it; for fear of letting people down, but also for the fear of missing out.
Yet what my body was telling me was that I needed to say ‘no’. I needed to listen to reason, rather than my irrational, anxiety-filled thoughts. Words can’t really express the gratitude I feel for the two girls who went out of their way to look after me that night. From sitting and breathing with me, to praying and reminding me of WHO is in control of all things, and giving me a bed to sleep in when I couldn’t make it back to halls – they showed me love when I felt so small and broken.
The following day was pretty emotion heavy too. I headed to Church, still undecided of what the day would look like, and whether I would go to any raisin activities in the afternoon (having skipped the early morning beach trip). As I proceeded to cry throughout the whole service, I realised I still wasn’t ready to face it. Despite the feeling that all other freshers around me; even those at Church, were caught up in something special about St Andrews that I possibly will never understand properly now – I couldn’t do it.
I had to make the decision that my well-being was more important than a bunch of random tasks and old traditions. But that wasn’t a decision I made easily.
In the end, I missed out all of my mum’s raisin. By the evening, I’d calmed down enough to contemplate going to my dad’s. By this point – anything would be an achievement. I was still hesitant, and slightly anxious, but I got there.
I may have only stayed for 30 minutes – and even that was overwhelming – but making it there, and conquering at least a little part of my fear was huge. That said, I was more than ready to crawl into bed with a cup of tea, hot water bottle, and my book. (And I then did just that.)
The Foam Fight
Is it just me who finds the idea of having foam shoved into their face from a complete stranger totally unappealing? There wasn’t very much of me that considered this prospect fun, but I was determined to see it through. I may not have stayed in that mass of foam covered people for very long – but I showed up, followed through, and felt victorious as a result.
I probably stayed about 10 minutes in the end – but after the weekend I’d had – that was enough.
I’d love to say that things went back to normal straight after that weekend, but in reality, they didn’t. Being so anxious to the point of panic attack shocked me, and left me feeling vulnerable. But also, Raisin was still talked about. I tried my best to avoid the “How was Raisin?” question – or if I couldn’t escape it, try and divert the question to someone else.
But I realised that I was being silly. I needed to face the reality of that situation – and say “I didn’t really do Raisin”. It took realising that I’m no less of a St Andrews student if I didn’t do raisin, or if I didn’t enjoy it. I’m no less of a person because I got so anxious about the situation that I felt I had no choice. I didn’t ‘miss out’ on a life changing experience – and while yes, my St Andrews experience may look different to other Freshers’ – that’s not a bad thing.
FOMO is a very real thing, for a lot of people. A lot of it boils down to the need to be included, be part of what’s going on, and fitting in with the trends. Social media has a lot to answer for; that’s for sure. It isn’t always about the big things too, but can be equally as problematic for the little things in every-day life.
But – sometimes it’s important to take a step back. I know that at times that’s not easy, but taking a moment to re-evaluate and stop those lies in their track, rebutting them with what is true.
I always thought that I would be able to escape the FOMO hysteria – but maybe that was naïve of me. I’ve now seen quite how powerful it is – and how tough it is to get out of that mindset.
But it’s a dangerous one, and worth fighting. Your friendship will be no less because you didn’t go to that one social event last Friday night. Your friends won’t exclude you from the friendship group if you miss one party. You’ll still make friends at university even if you don’t go clubbing in Freshers’ Week. There are so many more lies that FOMO/the world – tells us, and they’re just not true.
The world may tell you you’re missing out on the next ‘big thing’, but you’re not.
Social media may say that you’re nothing unless you do a certain thing, or act a certain way, but that’s not true.