New Year’s offers both the joy of welcoming our 2021 selves to life and the challenge of obligations, expectations and FOMO. (Image source: Danil Aksenov)

By Michelle Wakim | @MichelleWakim

If there is ever a time for people to exclaim ‘New year, new me!’, this new year will be it. Upon entering 2021, this ‘new me’ is hyperbolic, as it represents not only expectations for a new individual, but for a new us, a new world and a new normal to replace the one we have been given.  

Religiously, on December 31, we offload weighty expectations onto the versions of us who sit on the other side of midnight. We are like overbearing helicopter parents, living through our future selves hoping they achieve everything we couldn’t in the past year.

These expectations – a result of reflection, sentimentality, and the human tendency to apply meaning – are logical. We crave improvement, timelines, and ways of tracking progress over our lifetime. This life is too long not to be broken down into chapters: the turn of the year seems to be the most suitable marker.  

But these chapters, and the relentless hunt for the ‘new me’ at a new chapter’s opening, swells anxieties and insecurities to the point where New Year’s Eve is considered “the most depressing day of the year,” according to the Telegraph.

The pressure to celebrate appropriately is as ritualistic as the new year itself. Ironically, the celebration rituals often perpetuate disappointment and distress.

Such let downs largely begin and end with FOMO (the Fear Of Missing Out).

It is easy to dismiss FOMO as one of many acronyms employed by millennials to simplify complex insecurities – YOLO, TBT, IRL –, but FOMO is giving language to feelings that were always there. Millennials are not the first to fear missing out but are the first to have devices which heighten the burden of choice.

Much of FOMO is born out of comparisons, unsurprisingly exacerbated by social media (the consistent culprit at the core of our contemporary social problems).

With constant access to the curated world of social media, there is no surprise our self-esteem plummets when we sink deep into an Instagram rut, sizing ourselves up against our partner’s best friend’s ex.

FOMO, in truth, is a marker of the zeitgeist and considered increasingly problematic by mental health organisations. Headspace have endless resources and chat portals to combat FOMO, Beyond Blue has forums which discuss FOMO specifically during the December period, and Suicide Line Victoria has released an article titled Avoiding New Year’s Eve FOMO.

FOMO festers differently in everyone, but it “mostly stems from the inability to focus on the moment”, as characterised by Headspace.

Instead of practicing mindfulness, we are addicted to finding moments that are worth social media validation. We are so addicted we no longer know how to choose the moment we actually want to experience, and we don’t know how to experience a moment without justifying its validity. 

Why is this so greatly enhanced on New Year’s?

The ‘New Year’ is a marketable concept. It’s sold to us. We sell it to ourselves. We even sell it to other people.

New Year’s is the perfect time to reflect and increase expectations of ourselves. But, as a generation in a constant, year-round state of reflection and self-improvement, an event marked exclusively for such activities topples us over the edge.

I am right there with you. Each year, I spend New Year’s in an emotional state, sparked by the confusion and conflict which sits at the heart of FOMO. 

I worry whether I’ve drunk too much or too little to create noteworthy memories, or whether I didn’t want to drink at all and preferred to sit at home cradling a cup of tea. At the same time, I’m glad I left the house to be around my friends. 

I worry about the unknown of the coming year and the choices I will have to make, as if I won’t know how to function in the new world that awaits. At the same time, I’m grateful for a fresh start.

I worry about the experiences I missed out on in the past year. At the same time, I acknowledge how lucky I was to live it.

This New Year’s will probably be the same.

Then, the clock will strike midnight and the 2020 version of me won’t vanish like Cinderella’s glamour. She’ll still be there, but as the handover period begins and my 2021 self takes over, I, like many others, will be greeted with a pile of expectations to sort through.

Unless we choose hope over expectation.

As a broad and fluid well-wish, hope is safe. It is not measured with timelines or numbers, but it’s powerful and sustainable (unlike resolutions). Most importantly, as it cannot be quantified, it is relatively incomparable or vendible on social media – a quality which cuts off the oxygen keeping FOMO alive.

Let’s hope 2021 will be kinder. Let’s hope it will be riddled with fewer problems. Let’s hope it relieves our 2020 selves of some of their stresses.

If you or someone you know is struggling, support is available via:

  • Lifeline: 13 11 14
  • Beyond Blue: 1300 22 4636