FOGO (Fear of Going Out) in the era of COVID-19

Avatar for Mish Khot By in Coronavirus, COVID-19, mental health, social distancing, wellbeing on 16/05/2020
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We know you know what FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) is. It’s that niggling feeling that many people get when they’re at home on a weekend, scrolling through Instagram or Facebook – that their friends are leading better, fuller and more exciting lives than they are.

But that was in 2019. Enter the new face of FOMO 2020: FOGO.

The fear of going out

Mark Manson, the author of best-selling book, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*#k recently wrote that FOGO (Fear of Going Out) was set to become the new FOMO (Fear of Missing Out).

But FOGO isn’t a new concept. Way back in 2015, an article in New York Magazine claimed that FOGO was taking the place of FOMO as people discovered the comforts of staying home instead of attending Insta-worthy social events.

Was this change inspired by a growing trend of TV shows about home-related pleasures like cooking, makeovers and decluttering? Was it because of social media exhaustion? Or was it because OTT platforms like Netflix have so much exciting content now?

FOGO or the Fear of Going Out

Whatever the reason, FOGO in 2015 was an introvert’s dream: stay home, be comfortable, choose to meet only those you want to hang out with, and enjoy cosy meaningful interactions. But thanks to COVID-19, the 2020 version of FOGO will be a darker phenomenon that is rooted in phobia and anxiety.

FOGO in Australia

In early May, VoxPop Labs collaborated with ABC on a survey of 2225 people. The aim was to find out how Aussies were going to handle their re-entry into society after lockdown restrictions were lifted. The results showed exactly how deep FOGO has seeped in:

  • Less than 1 in 5 respondents said they would not get on a plane even when the lockdown ended
  • 60% of respondents said they would not be visiting bars and restaurants immediately after the lockdown lifted
  • 40% of respondents estimated that it would take more than 12 months for things to go back to normal

What does FOGO 2020 look like?

For those who are going to experience FOGO in the New Normal, it’s going to start from here. There will be a constant fear of transmission in public places, and a feeling that everything we knew about life has changed. This fear will manifest in multiple ways, but here are some that we can expect.

Less trust. People will be more distrustful of authorities and will take their own measures to ensure their safety. If there is a difference between what medical sciences are recommending and what political leaders or faith leaders are recommending, people are more likely to choose medical science.

Less social gathering. Most of us will experience anxiety about going into public places for at least a few months. Whether we’re considering going out for business or to socialize, it isn’t going to be as easy as it used to be. This could mean that you’re less likely to participate in social events and gatherings.

More mental health difficulties. For many people, reduced social interaction could lead to feelings of isolation and loneliness. It will be harder for anyone with mental health conditions to deal with this.

Less travel. With FOGO, there will be a clear change in the approach to travel and vacations. Most people will choose (if at all) vacation spots that are closer to their home cities. This is partly to avoid long hours of travel in closed spaces or having to wait in public.

Smaller social circles. Our friend circles will shrink as we avoid meeting anyone but the closest friends. Family gatherings will be smaller as we meet only immediate family members.

New work styles. The way we work will change as people are less willing to commute or to work in offices. Drawing from the enforced experience of working from home during the lockdown, most employers and firms are questioning the need for large offices and mandatory presence in office.

Growing accustomed to lockdown life

With time, everyone has adjusted to the new reality of being home. The initial reactions to the lockdown were disbelief and shock, followed by restlessness, anger or frustration. However, as weeks pass, the habit of staying at home has been forming. When a routine chore like grocery shopping can be lethal, our homes take on the form of a safe haven. Naturally it can be anxiety-inducing for some of us to contemplate returning to public life.

When restrictions are lifted, you can expect to feel a mix of elation and anticipation, as well as a feeling of dread or fear of the virus. We miss many things about our pre-COVID life and the possibility of returning to those is exciting. But after watching the unrelenting spread of COVID-19, we are also apprehensive about the risks of going out into society.

How to deal with FOGO

The anxiety of re-entering society is going to be present for all, but severe or crippling for many. However it is important – both for our mental health and for the health of the economy – that we return to work and to social life when the time comes.

Know what to expect: Life will not be the same as it was before we went into lockdown. As restrictions are lifted, we will still need to maintain caution and practice the hygiene and physical distancing measures that are in place. Your favourite restaurant or grocery store will probably look different and may have new rules in place for customers.

Understand the feeling of anxiety: Anxiety is our brain’s way of protecting us from what it perceives as a risk. As long as you are following the prescribed safety norms, you may carry on with normal life. You may have to tell yourself this many times during the initial days after the restrictions are lifted.

Seek help if needed: If you feel that increased anxiety levels are affecting your daily life, you should seek professional help. It is perfectly normal to feel overwhelmed or upset by the situation, but there are counsellors or therapists who can intervene and help you adjust if needed.

Avatar for Mish Khot

Mishana Khot is a fiction author and co-founder of The Great Next, an adventure travel company. She has been featured in National Geographic, Forbes magazine, and other publications, and has over 15 years of experience with health, travel, and lifestyle brands.

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