How to Deal When Other People’s Holidays Make You Feel SadDo the holidays low-key suck for anyone else?
If you’ve been personally victimized by families in matching pajamas on Instagram, you may be entitled to compensation. Just kidding (sadly). But you are entitled to some advice and solidarity, because let’s be real—the holidays aren’t always cheerful. In fact, they can feel pretty sucky, especially when you’re comparing your life to others.
From sizing up how lavish other people’s gifts are next to yours to wondering why you and your family don’t have a big non-dysfunctional dinner like you see in the Hallmark movies, there’s no shortage of opportunities to feel sad and less than, says licensed clinical social worker Abby Wilson, LCSW. “This could make somebody feel empty, like their life is lacking in some way. Or, it can bring up shame of not feeling good enough,” Wilson says. You might find yourself wondering, What's wrong with me? or Why don't I have this picture-perfect life? or Am I ‘behind’ in life? And that inadequate feeling can also exacerbate anxiety or depression, Wilson says.
But before you end up throwing your phone against the wall or ripping down your innocent neighbor’s decorations, know that all hope isn’t lost. Read on for some therapist-backed tips to cope with holiday comparison—because you deserve some tidings of comfort and joy too.
1. Do a social media detox.
You already know social media can be kind of evil for your mental health, so you’ll want to check in with how you’re truly feeling before and after using your typical platforms during the holiday season, says licensed clinical social worker Elise Robinson, LCSW. “Which apps trigger unwanted feelings and thoughts the most? Are there certain accounts or app features that cause more stress or make you feel worse than others?”
Mulling this over will give you the best idea of what’s causing the most damage. For example, if you’re noticing certain Instagram accounts (like that rando from your high school who already has a home with a white picket fence and two kids) are triggering you, consider unfollowing, muting, or blocking the accounts—at least for now, Robinson says. Getting rid of these accounts on your feed can help the time you do spend on the app feel a little better.
To go a step further, take a look at your screen time. You might be shocked by how much time you actually spend on your phone, and it may inspire you to cut down. “Reducing your time on apps can help you avoid sinking further into rumination, doom scrolling, or a social media rabbit hole,” Robinson says.
2. Remember that everyone’s feeds are fake.
Say it with us: Social media is a highlight reel!!! Seriously, most people only post the joyous, not-so-humble braggy moments on their feeds. Which, fair. But “these snippets show us only what this person wants to share and in the way they want to share it,” says Robinson. You never know what’s going on behind the scenes. Who knows, maybe they’re in crippling debt, just lost their job, on the verge of a breakup—you name it. When you take a sec to zoom out and look at the big picture, you can feel a little more chill knowing that everything is not always what it seems.
3. Refocus on yourself.
It’s easy to spiral so hard about what the hell someone is doing in Jamaica at Christmas that you end up neglecting yourself. Sometimes, you don’t even realize you just spent two hours scrolling in bed when you had big plans to finally develop a hobby. So, take a step back, put your damn phone down, recenter, and put the focus back on you, Wilson recommends. Don’t know what that looks like? Think about your favorite self-care activities and go do one of them. Wilson also suggests asking yourself, “What can I do today that's going to feel nurturing and comforting?”
That will look different for everyone, but some ideas include taking a hot bath, watching a comfort movie, talking to a friend, or making your own highlight reel with cool things you’ve done recently to remember your life doesn’t totally suck.
4. Connect with your values.
In the same vein as Tip 3, remember to connect with your personal values, which may be different from your friend’s/your coworker’s/some random influencer’s. Your values guide you in prioritizing what’s most meaningful to you, and when you’re aligned with your values, you’ll be less likely to fall victim to comparisons. Then, you’ll feel increasingly hopeful, calm, and connected, says Robinson.
So while you might feel a twinge of inadequacy when you see a family in matching PJs under the most lavish in-home Christmas tree, ask yourself, Are those material things really what I value in life? Am I even ready for kids? Is this what’s most important to me right now?
Even if your values do align with whoever you envy, think of ways to tap into that ideal lifestyle so you can feel more fulfilled, Robinson says. For example, if you’re into family time, could you host a get-together with your crew? Or if you value giving back to a cause you’re passionate about during the festive season, this can look like volunteering at a book drive at your local library, Robinson adds.
5. See it as an opportunity.
Comparison on its own? The thief of joy. Comparison with some self-reflection and, in turn, motivation? Maybe not so bad. Dig deep in these moments to notice what themes emerge as you study how you stack up to others, Robinson advises.
For example, are you noticing the main feeling coming up is loneliness? If so, try to view this as helpful info to fuel your goals. “Maybe you recognize, OK, I want a stronger sense of community. I want a support system,” says Wilson. “It can be an opportunity to really reflect on what you might want in your life that isn't there.” Sounds depressing at first, but stick with her.
Then, take one small step toward that goal. Reach out to friends you’d like to be closer with and start a group chat to make plans. Start a new family tradition. Send some cute holiday cards to your long-distance friends so you feel more connected. Instead of feeling envious, you’re now primed for change.
6. Practice some realistic gratitude.
During the holiday season, you might feel pressure to look on the ~merry and bright~ side and notice all the amazing things around you. It’s good to be grateful, but there’s an important caveat to ensure that a gratitude practice doesn’t veer into toxic positivity and make you feel like you’re faking it.
To do that, validate what doesn't feel good while also acknowledging what you’re thankful for, Wilson says. Try this: Sit with the not-so-good feelings (grief, sadness, loneliness, etc.), then take a few minutes to note some things you’re truly grateful for. It doesn’t have to be anything monumental—it could be as simple as the delicious oat milk latte you drank this morning, a new episode of your favorite show releasing tonight, or a fun FaceTime you had with your bestie. The more detail and specificity, the better. This paints a picture and helps it all feel more real than just saying, “I’m grateful I had a pretty good day today.”
A gratitude practice doesn’t cancel out the negativity in your life, but it does help you see and acknowledge the positive when you’re caught up in tough times and envy.
7. Give yourself grace.
For many people, the winter low-key (or high-key) blows. There's seasonal depression, the fact that the sun sets offensively early, and maybe even some childhood trauma that can bubble up to the surface, Wilson says. There may also be grief for lost family members and closed life chapters, and there's often a lot of uncertainty and anxiety about the year ahead. So yeah, the festive season isn't all it's cracked up to be and can make it easier to slip into these comparison traps.
So give yourself some grace in the face of all these potential obstacles. Remember that times aren’t easy right now, but know that you have the strength to get through it and that it’s OK if this is hard for you.
Also, if you feel like you don’t have the strength to make it through the year on your own, now’s a great time to reach out to a mental health professional, a support line, or someone you trust for extra support.
Wondermind does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Any information published on this website or by this brand is not intended as a replacement for medical advice. Always consult a qualified health or mental health professional with any questions or concerns about your mental health.