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Holiday anxiety: Don’t put pressure on yourself by comparing your break to other people’s

We can put huge pressure on ourselves, robbing us of precious downtime joy

Social media is awash with happy holiday snaps. Images from friends and influencers of exotic locations, bikini bodies, romantic dinners and well-turned out children can make a holiday seem daunting.

“We’re definitely seeing a rise in stress relating to holidays. It’s not something that everyone is looking forward to any more,” says counselling psychologist and Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (IACP) member Jade Lawless. There are the expected stresses such as the cost and time away from work, but there is also something new, she says.

“What we are seeing now is a rise in stress brought on by unrealistic expectations and social comparisons,” says Lawless.

“We see glimpses of seemingly perfect holidays on social media, when the reality is these images are just tiny moments and might not reflect reality.


“You have to work so hard to go on holiday and then you feel you have to put on a show when you get there. We can put huge amounts of pressure on ourselves, and that robs joy from our own precious downtime,” she says.

Compare and despair

When we ogle another person’s glossy holiday snaps, we can engage in what’s called “upward social comparison”, says Lawless. Comparing your break to someone else’s can end up being a downer.

“We negatively compare ourselves to people who we think are doing better than us. That’s who we are benchmarking ourselves against, and it can be really dangerous for our mental health. Research shows it impacts negatively on our body image, our self-esteem and how we think and feel about ourselves,” says Lawless.

Reality check

It’s natural to compare. It’s an automatic thought, and about 10 per cent of our thoughts are comparisons. When you notice yourself doing it, however, take a reality check.

“Remember that photos are only tiny glimpses, they are polished and controlled. People are only showing what they want you to see. They are most certainly not fully representative.” You are not comparing yourself to something real if you rely on others’ photos.

Happiness trap

Something called the “happiness trap” makes us think we should be happy at all times, says Lawless. Constant happiness, even on holiday, is unrealistic.

“You are not going to be happy all the time, even if you are in a beautiful setting, so take the pressure off,” says Lawless. Squabbles, sunburn, tummy bugs, delayed flights – things happen.

“Lower the bar. Don’t expect your holiday to be perfect. There will be good moments and bad moments, just like any other day.”

Remember your values

Before going on holiday, remind yourself of your values. “Have a conversation with yourself about what’s important to you and let that be the goal,” says Lawless. “Set boundaries around how much money you want to spend, what activities you want to do, and don’t overreach trying to make something a ‘perfect’ moment,” she says. Set boundaries on posting to social media too.

Remember what you want from your holiday – if that’s getting to read a book by the pool in a reasonably priced hotel which has chicken goujons for the kids, fantastic. If your friends are island-hopping in French Polynesia, good luck to them.

Joanne Hunt

Joanne Hunt

Joanne Hunt, a contributor to The Irish Times, writes about homes and property, lifestyle, and personal finance