Does “Instagram-itis” Wreck Your Holiday Spirit?

Tips on how to create holidays that fit you, not Instagram.

Pamela B. Rutledge Ph.D., M.B.A.

Instagram is a great place to get holiday ideas.  It’s also a great place to go if you want to beat yourself up about the holidays you think you should have, but can never quite manage.  If you find yourself dreading the holidays, even while you’re putting cranberries, mistletoe, felt, and glue guns into your shopping cart and collecting recipes for the perfect roast turkey, you’re not alone.

Pamela Rutledge/Shutterstock
Source: Pamela Rutledge/Shutterstock

In spite of its name, holiday cheer isn’t a guarantee when the holidays roll around.  Holidays are full of emotions of all kinds.  For many, they trigger negative emotions like anxiety and even depression due to the stress of expectations and obligations that are hard, if not impossible, to meet.

To be fair, for those who thrive on family gatherings and social events, much of the holidays can be a mood booster.  However, it’s easy to have a little search for ideas turn into a downward spiral of social comparison if we get sucked into ‘Instragram-itis.’  Instagram can turn the hunt for clever holiday ideas into unrealistic standards about what our holidays and families should be like. Pictures of perfect families with perfect decorations and perfectly-sliced, golden brown turkeys can highlight what feels like our less-than-perfect lives and less-than-perfectly decorated house as we manage family discord, increased awareness of loss and change, and face mountains of end-of-the-year obligations at work.  It’s hard enough to figure out what presents to give and how to find a parking at the local mall without feeling like you’re not going to measure up.

Research suggests that many of us don’t have our holiday expectations met.  Not too surprising when you think about how, as we get older, we often take on more and more responsibilities for orchestrating the holidays, cooking, shopping, planning—and frequently with less help.  Any feeling of being overwhelmed can be quickly amplified by the sheer volume of perfection on Instagram.  When the work begins to offset the joy, it’s easy to be discouraged and, instead of making a few adjustments, eat the cookies, turn down invitations and close the blinds.

While being just this side of Scrooge may be a protective stance in the face of Instagramitis, it isn’t necessary.  Instead, consider taking a few small steps to adjust, rather than abandon, your hopes of holiday cheer.

Holiday Cheer Do’s and Don’ts


  • [DO] Use social media wisely.  You don’t have to delete your Instagram, Pinterest, or Facebook accounts to have a positive experience on social media.  Use them to connect with old friends and find true inspiration, not points of comparison.
  • [DO] Focus on the small stuff.  Here’s where Instagram can actually help.  Capture what makes you happy about the holidays.  Those badly formed gingerbread cookies were part of a fun afternoon.  Even a crowded shopping mall looks really pretty at night.  Post it so YOU remember it the moment.  Positive psychologists call it savoring.
  • [DO] Identify your goals. This has nothing to do with what you see on Instagram. This has to do with you and what will make you feel good.  I know it’s out of character for most of us to think this way since we run around making the holidays nice for everyone else. But seriously, what would make a good holiday for you?
  • [DO] Make a list of all things you “have to do” for the holidays.  Take a moment to be proud of your ambitions and generosity, then tear it up.
  • [DO] Announce what you’re willing to do ahead of time.  If minced meat pie is on your list because someone else always likes it, call them and ask them to bring it. Did you know that people can have a good time without turkey and all the trimmings?  Anyone who complains just volunteered for your jettisoned chore.
  • [DO] Take mindfulness moments to focus on gratitude rather than “have to’s” every chance you get. Stop anywhere and appreciate the moment.  Find something you like – the flowers, a happy child, a good song, holiday lights, or a ripe pear or text a happy face to a friend or family member.  By feeling gratitude for the small things you will increase your mood. This influences how you experience everything else.   You will be much more inclined to not judge the holidays as an “Olympic event” with scoring.
  • [DO] Take time out for self-care.  Take a break when you need to—a walk, a massage, a cup of coffee—opt out of some “have to’s.”  The world will go on and the holidays will still happen if you don’t put ribbons on all the boxes.  One year, I wrapped presents in pink trash bags.  It all works.
  • [DO] Give yourself permission to feel a little sad part of the time.  Holidays remind us of change—aging, loss and even shifting holiday traditions.  You may have always been the host and now your children have taken over or have moved away.  It would be weird not to be a little sad.  It doesn’t mean you’re unhappy.  Those are two very different things.


  • [DON’T] Judge your holidays by what you see on Instagram.  There are a million reasons for this, but the most important is that you’re judging your insides against a picture of someone’s outsides.  The really good pics probably used PhotoShop or got paid for it anyway. Don’t take on fiction as a real-life goal.
  • [DON’T] Post for the Likes.  It’s easy to be fooled by the bit of dopamine that squirts when you see a Like and have a ‘Sally Fields’ feel-good moment.  Likes are not emotions.  They are a button.
  • [DON’T] Make plans that thwart the goals you made about what would make a good holiday for YOU.  If you want a little more time with family, then don’t plan a meal that only you can cook and has you locked away in the kitchen for three days.  Plan one that includes all your cooks and don’t expect the gravy to be Instagram perfect. If you don’t want to travel for the holidays, I know this is bold, but stay home.
  • [DON’T] Allow the hustle bustle to keep you from noticing individual moments.  Set your phone for mindfulness reminders so you stop and take a deep breath and look around.
  • [DON’T] Apologize for anything you didn’t do “perfectly.”  Not the burnt pie, the forgotten gift or for not changing out of your sweatpants on Christmas Eve.  Remember, these were all your expectations, no one else’s.  If you don’t bring their attention to it, who’s to know?
  • [DON’T] View Scrooge as a good role model.  If your world has changed, find new ways to celebrate and new people to celebrate with.  Learn to say “yes, that will be fun” even if you don’t mean it at first—fake it ‘til you make it actually works!

Whether on Instagram or at home, focus on the good stuff. Mindfulness, gratitude and setting a few boundaries will not only improve your holiday cheer, but it will also improve your health, energy, and relationships.  You will have a lot more fun and you will be more fun, too.

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