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Monday 2 October 2023 Dublin: 14°C
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Festive FOMO 'Nobody is going to take a photo of a singed Christmas ham'
He may have said it over a hundred years ago, but Theodore Roosevelt’s claim that ‘comparison is the thief of joy’ could be more relevant now than ever, writes Amy Plant.

IN AN ERA dominated by social media, we are constantly bombarded with images, peddling the notion that other people are living lives that are vastly more exciting, more glamorous and happier than our own. This may be particularly true during the festive season, when social media goes into overdrive, filling our feeds with images of the ideal Christmas.

While it’s traditionally a period of celebration, for many Christmas can be a source of anxiety. Some of us will be looking forward to time off work, but others may be impacted by increased family conflict, alcohol misuse, financial concerns or loneliness. This time of year can be tough and often it’s made worse by the underlying assumption that you should be having a great time.

Add a Facebook feed that’s stuffed to the virtual seams with carefully crafted images of idyllic Christmas scenes, and what’s left is a recipe for annoyance and suffering for many. So what can one do when the festive season feels more like a stress fest than a haven of festive joy?

Try limit your time on social media

We live in a culture that places a high value on social media so this one might seem like a challenge, but it’s the simplest solution for those of us comparing ourselves to others on the likes of Facebook.

If you don’t want to go cold turkey (pardon the Christmas pun) by deleting or completely ignoring your social media accounts, try limiting your online activity to a few minutes a day.

Keep Perspective

“The reason we struggle with insecurity is because we compare our behind-the-scenes with everyone else’s highlight reel.”

This quote from Steve Furtick reminds us that perspective is paramount, especially when it comes to what we see on social media. Not a single person is going to take a photo of a singed Christmas ham, a tangled mess of fairy lights or a pair of bickering family members, let alone share it on Facebook. But that doesn’t mean it’s not happening.

Social media is like a family photograph album made public, with all the best bits put forward for the world to see. It is important that we recognise it for what it is, a carefully constructed snapshot and not an accurate representation of real life.

shutterstock_203343031 Shutterstock / Andrey Armyagov Not a single person is going to take a photo of a singed Christmas ham, a tangled mess of fairy lights or a pair of bickering family members. Shutterstock / Andrey Armyagov / Andrey Armyagov

Be kind to yourself

The nucleus of the Christmas spirit is caring and compassion for others, but it is crucial that we extend this kindness to ourselves most of all.

If you’re having a stressful festive season, there’s every chance that plenty of others are too. Give up on self-criticism and unhelpful virtual comparisons. Allow yourself to relax and do some things you enjoy.

Connect with others

Christmas is largely thought of as a time to spend with friends and family, but for those who do not have this option, it can be a solitary time of year. This loneliness can be made more acute by constantly seeing images of happy families on social media.

If you are alone this time of year and would rather not be, think of ways in which you can reach out to people who might also be in your position. Volunteering is an excellent way to spend time and has been shown to have positive effects on mental health, both for the volunteers and the service users.

Whether it be staying in touch with loved ones abroad or reconnecting with old friends, it would be unfair not to recognise the benefits of social media. It can increase our connectivity and be used to revive or preserve relationships.

Gone is the era of the “American wake” when a loved one moving continent meant rarely or sometimes never seeing them again. There are teenagers alive at this moment who have never known a world in which social media did not exist and studies have shown its effect on mental health to be both positive and negative. However, like most things, moderation is key.

So if this festive season sees you stressed and anxious, remember to be kind to yourself. Maybe step away from the phone or laptop and go for a walk. Eat mince pies and watch a cheesy Christmas movie, and remember not to compare your behind the scenes to someone else’s highlight reel.

Amy Plant is a counsellor/psychotherapist practicing in Dublin. She works extensively with depression, anxiety, anger issues, sexuality (LGBTQ), grief, low self-esteem, relationship issues and stress,

Guess what? It’s OK to be single, feel sad or have a few pounds to lose>

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