There’s no doubt that sharing your best moments on social media can be fun, but what happens when you’re not living it up quite as much as those on your feed? Frankly, it can be a major drag to see others having the time of their lives on Instagram if you’re not—especially over the holidays.
But instead of sulking in your FOMO and feeling like the Grinch, there are ways to harness your jealousy when looking at social media. Whether you’re envious of someone getting the extravagant gift that you wanted or taking a trip that looks amazing but would be totally out of your budget, it’s important to remember that it just might not all be rainbows and butterflies when the Instagram Story stops.
“The major problem with social media comparisons is that we’re comparing our insides to someone else’s outsides,” explains psychologist Danielle Keenan-Miller, Ph.D to InStyle. “Taking a picture that appears happy is not the same as truly being happy; you can’t know whether the person taking that ‘perfect’ pic was in the bathroom crying twenty minutes later. It’s a losing game to compare our lives—with all of the challenges, pain, and boredom inherent in being human—to a highly curated selection of moments in someone else’s life.”
While you might find yourself a bit bummed and in need of a good Tinder sesh after scrolling through a never-ending deluge of engagement and pregnancy announcements, you can’t punish yourself for being on your own timeline. Instead, you should embrace all of the good things that you do have.
“Jealousy tends to be focused on only one aspect of someone’s life,” says Keenan-Miller. “We may be jealous of someone's seemingly vibrant social life, high-end purchases, or adorable family photos. We overlook—and may not even know about—the challenges in someone’s life: a sick parent, a health crisis, a child with special needs, or financial difficulties. The more we know about someone else, the less we tend to think we would want to trade our lives for theirs. Usually, we realize that their life is also a mix of joy and pain.”
RELATED VIDEO: Watching These Kids Open Holiday Gifts Will Make You Smile
If you still find yourself feeling down when looking at Instagram, take comfort in knowing that it can actually help you in the long run. “One important function of jealousy is that it tells us what we want,” says Keenan-Miller. “Sometimes that message is healthy: it reminds us that we want to be closer to our families, to make an effort to see our friends, or to travel. It’s sometimes possible to tune into what is underneath the jealousy to reconnect with our deeper values and needs. If you are feeling especially jealous this holiday season, ask yourself what you can do next holiday season—or even next week!—to have a life that is more in line with your values.”
Of course, if you’re struggling with such intense Instagram-induced jealousy that you’re unable to open the app without getting upset, it might be healthiest to hit the unfollow button. “There are times that it is not productive to be in touch with that jealous feeling,” says Keenan-Miller. “If the posts are not inspirational and just painful, it’s okay to step away from following someone on social media. For example, if you are facing infertility, it may not be helpful or useful to follow women who are posting constantly about their baby bumps or newborns. Looking at pictures of your ex with a new partner is unlikely to be helpful, and almost guaranteed to be hurtful. If you’re trying to reduce your drinking, following a friend who is always out at a bar may not be a great idea.”
Your best plan of action? Asking yourself if the follow is worth it.
“Everyone needs to tune into their own intuition [and ask], ‘Is following this person helping my growth or happiness?’” explains Keenan-Miller. “There is a large body of research suggesting a link between high levels of social media use and poor emotional health, such as increased loneliness and decreased self-esteem. Most people would benefit from reducing their social media intake to a more moderate level, such as thirty minutes per day or less.”
May the odds be ever in your favor.