My struggles with a condition known as ‘Academic Fear of Missing Out (FOMO)’

I recently read a blog post about another postgraduate student who suffers from Academic FOMO – that is, the Fear Of Missing Out. I have Academic FOMO. I have it bad. If it were a serious medical condition, which I know it isn’t and so don’t want to play around like it is because it’s offensive to people with genuine mental health issues, but if it were, I would need to seek treatment.

Currently, my PhD to-do list is overwhelmed with tasks that aren’t ultimately related to my PhD. This includes six different people I would like to collaborate on a paper with, four conferences or symposia that I am presenting at during the next six months, a list of twenty or so potential blog posts, awards to submit applications for, committees that I sit on and things I should probably be reading. As an excessive case in point I was on about seven committees last semester – you can find details on them here. I have also completed several additional course-based qualifications while I have been doing my PhD, including the Postgraduate Teaching Internship Scheme and the Alternative Dispute Resolution for Practitioners course. Both these courses were discontinued as of the end of 2015, which resulted in me doing additional research on the first and composing a 33 page report on its costs and benefits.

I’m out of control.

The source of my FOMO is a little harder to pin down. I want to take advantage of all the opportunities that doing a PhD has to offer. I also want to be an accomplished graduate so that I will be more likely to secure my ‘dream job’ (when my brain decides to pull up that dream memory for me!). I also want to help people, and be part of an active research community, which is how I end up on so many committees. And finally, as strange as it might be to say so, I’m much more healthy from a mental health perspective when I’m super busy. If I lie around too much I get sad. That’s just the way it is.

The Academic FOMO post I read concluded with the postgraduate questioning academics to find out whether this is a condition that people get on top of, or whether it persists indefinitely in academia. I think I know the answer. My friend Rachel has started working for the public sector and has mentioned the extent to which she is reliant on other people finishing work, which she deems to be inefficient. I had forgotten about the extent to which doing NOTHING while working in the public sector drove me to distraction. I couldn’t sit around doing nothing, I had to do something, and I would do anything. I was the queen of archiving. I was on all the office-based committees. The truth is, busy people like to be busy.

This is hard for me to come to terms with. What it really means is that my beloved will probably spend our eternity together waiting for me to be stress-free. It means that there will always be that endless list of opportunities that I just didn’t have the time to access. And it means that whenever I’m not so-busy-I’m-stressed I will be so-sad-because-I’m-not-doing-anything.

So, now that I have recognised that this is a life-long condition, it’s worth thinking about how to manage it. Firstly, I now recognise that yoga helps. Secondly, I don’t need to say yes to everything, and I should probably trust my gut instinct when it says ‘no’. Thirdly, I should just accept that weekends are for taking time out. Finally, I should be grateful, every day, for my amazing mind, body, friends and family for giving the strength and opportunity to get up and fill up all my minutes with amazing opportunities.

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2 comments

  1. Hmm, so that’s what this condition is called. I had it bad for years xD! Never knew what to call it ha ha. But it’s good that at least you’re self-aware and are taking the steps to improve yourself, acknowledging that getting anxious over seizing every opportunity may only stress you it more. I can relate so much, I was like that my first two years of college. I was happy but also Miserable, if that makes sense? But I grew out of it. Too much, though, I think, now I take things wayyyyy too chill, I need to regain my sense of urgency or life will pass me by! Rock on, random blogger, I look forward to the day I can call you Dr. Random Blogger 🙂

    1. I know what you mean about wanting to regain a sense of urgency. Now that I’m writing up all my results and have no pressing committee obligations I can’t help but feel I’ve lost my sense of ‘get-out-of-bed-and-go!’, now I’m much more ‘just-lie-in-bed-for-a-bit-longer-because-there’s-not-much-that-needs-to-get-done-today’. It’s a tough balancing act!

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