“Swipe This!” is an advice column about how to navigate human relationships and connections in an age when we depend so heavily on technology. Have a question? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dear Swipe This!
I hate the way Instagram makes me feel over the holidays.
I know lots of people get sad around the holidays, but for me, it comes up as intense FOMO. I don’t just get sad, I get deep anxiety that I’m constantly missing out. Especially when I look at Instagram! I scroll through pictures of other people’s families and holiday parties, and I feel like everyone is having an amazing time—except me!
I usually spend the holidays with my mom. We’re very close. She raised me on her own and she’s from a small family so our holiday gatherings are usually small. I guess part of the reason holiday Instagram posts can be so triggering for me is I see posts of big happy families, and I know that’s something I’ve never had, and most likely never will…
I know I’m probably not the only person who feels this, but it makes me feel so alone. This year, I really want to stop my FOMO before it starts. I’m just not sure how. Should I delete Facebook and Instagram from my phone? And if I do, how will I summon the willpower to not log back on? Is there a way to look at social media over the holidays without feeling like garbage? My goal is to get to a place where I can get through the holiday season without constantly feeling like I’m missing out on a better party or a better family or a better life.
A Recovering FOMO-holic
Dear Recovering FOMO-holic,
I know you said you hate FOMO, but have you ever stopped to consider that—much like a bag of extra salty potato chips makes my taste buds sing before it makes me crash—your holiday FOMO is getting you high?
You’re familiar with the drop and the dread, which is all too real. But you’re skipping over that in-between moment where your brain is actually having a lot of fun. It’s fun to imagine having the things we don’t. The same way when you lust after a gorgeous pair of shoes or fantasize about getting an especially adorable dog, you think, “Oh my gosh, I’m going to be so happy when…” It can make you feel excited or even giddy until you remember that your landlord has a no-dogs policy, or your budget is too tight for a splurge this month. Reality comes crashing down, and so does your mood.
But you love the fantasy. At its root, your holiday FOMO is an escape.
I think the emotions you’re struggling with most are some really sour ones: loneliness, envy, and even a hint of despair. Facing them may not be your preference, but I think the best way to lessen them is actually to give in to them. Why not let yourself have a pity party?
Most people would advise you against having a pity party—it’s self-defeating! It’s too negative!—but my experience has been the opposite. When I actually let myself feel sorry for myself without holding back, all those awful feelings tend to dissipate. Sometimes, they start to feel silly. Other times, it’s just a huge relief to finally get it all off my chest. Sometimes I can’t even put my finger on the reason why I feel better. I just do!
Two rules keep my pity parties grounded and effective:
- I am allowed to complain as much as I want.
- My pity parties always have a firm end time.
Having a pity party will not work if I police myself and say “nope, that’s too angry,” or “ugh, you’re overreacting.” All kinds of furiousness and envy and despair are allowed at my pity party! Pity parties also suck if they exist without a time frame. If I tell myself, “You’re going to feel super bad and this could last for an indefinite period of time,” I won’t feel safe. So I set a timer for what feels like a reasonable amount of time—for me, that’s five to 15 minutes—and I take comfort in knowing that I can feel as bad as I want for that window. When it’s over, I can still go back to a less heightened version of the yucky feelings.
If you really want to get creative, you can have a pity party with refreshments like tea and cookies (I would avoid mood-altering substances, though). You can wear a fancy dress or a pair of super comfy sweatpants. You can choose a setting that feels right. Maybe it’s your bed because that feels really safe, or maybe it’s out in nature because fresh air clears your mind. Just pick a spot that’s right for you! And then be your messiest, crankiest self.
What happens when a pity party ends?
That’s up to you. Sometimes after a pity party, I feel so good that I start to write down things that I’m actually grateful for. Sometimes I still feel kind of crappy, so I take a shower or make myself a cup of tea or call a friend. I don’t have a specific goal of how to feel or what I’ll accomplish after the pity party. And that’s part of why it works.
I’m not going to tell you to delete your apps for the holidays. You can if you want to, but I don’t think you’ll stave off the FOMO unless you make space for yourself to actually feel it. So welcome it with open arms. Throw a holiday party for your FOMO. You’ll feel better once you do.