Do You Have FOGO, the Fear of Going Out?

Over the past few months we've been besieged with constant news updates, orders, commands and admonishments about the dangers of going out due to the global pandemic. We've seen outrage at pictures of large groups of people flouting the rules and even been encouraged to report on disobedient neighbours. Going out has become a stressful, much less appealing activity, resulting in some people developing FOGO, the fear of going out.

Many of us have discovered that we can comfortably live well with much less than before, how few things are actually essential and how convenient it is to have food, clothes, work, education and socialising delivered to our homes. By not going out we save time, possibly money on random purchases and avoid the stress of leaving home.

During this period many of us have invested significant time, love and attention into our homes, cleaning, baking, sorting out the garden, doing those jobs that we've never had time to do. Making our homes cosy and comfortable strengthens our attachment to staying indoors. Becoming established in new home-based routines for work, exercise, mealtimes, where everything's to hand and we've everything we need, can make hibernating an easy, attractive proposition.

Now that restrictions are easing it's no surprise that some people are apprehensive at the prospect of leaving home. We've had weeks of scary statistics, posters, TV adverts and conflicting information everywhere we look. Some of us have got so used to staying in, dressing casually, living this new routine that going out feels overwhelming, too much effort, 'can I be bothered?'

In fact, fear of going out can become a convenient reason for staying in, remaining on our devices, not have to make an effort, able to hunker down.

What's the appeal of going out when we're faced with ongoing regulations; queuing, mandatory face coverings, one-way systems, no browsing, no trying on in shops, pre-booking, social distancing, limited numbers, table service only, no cash accepted in some venues. While places are coming to terms with the new codes of practice going out is not such a pleasant experience. It's more pleasant to stay home!

Overcoming the fear of going out has to handled sensitively. There are still many unanswered questions and no clear end to the pandemic in sight. Many families have lost loved ones, their businesses and livelihoods have been impacted, their relationships have suffered; no one has been unaffected by this situation. But being ruled by fear, running worst-case scenarios is debilitating and unhelpful.

When you're struggling with fear of going out, FOGO, start by being gentle with yourself and accept that you've been through a tough time. You may berate yourself by saying that others have suffered more loss, been more seriously affected, but your feelings, fears and concerns need to be acknowledged nonetheless.

Some people have personal reasons for feeling uneasy at the prospect of going out. They may have put on weight, feel they look a mess, have nothing to wear, nothing interesting to say. What can they talk about if they arrange to meet friends; all normal topics of conversation have long gone or seem trite and trivial now. When nothing much has happened apart from box sets, family tensions and online courses the thought of starting a conversation can seem daunting.

But remember that everyone's been through the same experience, they most likely have also struggled with mental health, sleep, motivation, issues with their children, partner, concerns about socially distanced relatives.

Set small goals for yourself. It might be an errand, a visit to the bank, shop or service provider. Have a reason for going out. You may need a haircut, to pay a bill, to buy a particular item. When you focus on your goal it can help to minimise the fear of going out.

Drive yourself there if you can. That way you're independent of public transport and can travel to suit yourself, free of timetables and other passengers. Or keep the taxi number to hand, noted clearly in your phone.

Maybe arrange to meet a family member or friend. Someone who knows, understands and is supportive of you. They'll be able to distract, support and provide the right kind of encouragement if you start to feel stressed, anxious or panicky.

Add in a reward. As you start to feel more positive about going out find a pleasant cafe. Many offer seating outside. Treat yourself to a coffee or light lunch. Hospitality is very stringent about enforcing the rules, so you can be reassured that table service, social distancing and rigorous hygiene standards are in place.

Take a book. If you're going for a walk or getting used to going outside, extend your time outdoors by taking something to read or distract and engage you. While the weather is good it's a perfect opportunity to widen your comfort zone, work on your confidence and practice doing a little more.

Many people are determined to keep some of the benefits from the past few months. Saving time by shopping online, working from home, spending more time in the garden and in nature, valuing family and regular together time; all ways to appreciate what's really important and keep in our lives once lockdown ends.

Yes, we need to maintain sensible precautions. Historically few would choose to eat in a grubby restaurant, we'd seek recommendations when contracting work out. Now it's time to venture outdoors again apply that same common sense approach. We need to go out, turn fear into reasonable concern, overcome FOGO, spend money, invest in our local businesses, support our communities, but recognise that for many of us that will look a little different from now on.


Susan Leigh, Altrincham, Cheshire, South Manchester counsellor, hypnotherapist, relationship counsellor, writer & media contributor offers help with relationship issues, stress management, assertiveness and confidence. She works with individual clients, couples and provides corporate workshops and support.

She's author of 3 books, 'Dealing with Stress, Managing its Impact', '101 Days of Inspiration #tipoftheday' and 'Dealing with Death, Coping with the Pain', all on Amazon & with easy to read sections, tips and ideas to help you feel more positive about your life.

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