Catching up with friends is great. Weddings are great. Traveling is great. But when every single weekend is booked, you’re setting yourself up for serious social burn-out. Unfortunately, you’re bound to hit a period in your life when all of your friends are planning to walk down the aisle. With their wedded bliss, comes showers, bachelorette parties, and beyond. Not to mention, these festivities are in addition to the weekend getaways, family gatherings, and special occasions on your personal calendar. Because of this go-go mentality, it’s important to remember that you can say no to social invitations.
We talked with Dr. Kathleen Hall, founder and CEO of The Stress Institute and The Mindful Living Network, about the best ways to avoid over-planning, plus how to hit the reset button if you’re dealing with social fatigue.
How to choose your commitments
Some events, like your best friend’s wedding or your grandfather’s eightieth birthday, are no brainers to attend. But others, like your co-worker’s baby shower, can leave you debating the right thing to do. For anything you’re on the fence about, Dr. Hall suggests doing a cost-benefit analysis. “It’s a tool I have found valuable in my current work with stress,” she explains. “Instead of staying in your head, like a BB in a boxcar, writing this process down on paper creates clarity and reduces stress.”
The process is simple: On a piece of paper, draw two columns. Label the top of the first column “Cost” with a minus sign next to it and the top of the second one “Benefit” with a plus sign. Then, address these major decision-making elements that Dr. Hall highlights below. Thoroughly think about each one before adding it to the cost or benefit column.
What will going to this event cost you in terms of time, money, and commitment from your life?
Do I have enough time to go to this?
How much will this take out of me? Is this one afternoon, one day, or one weekend out of my life? Will this become an energy vampire and exhaust me, or will it be so fun that it’s worth the energy for me to invest?
How much will this cost me? Am I flying, driving, or spending the night?
On a one-to-five scale, how important is it for me to attend?
What happiness will this experience bring into my life? Will I see old friends, meet new friends or get away to a new, fun place?
After you’ve dwelled on each of these aspects, marking them with a plus or minus sign, your finished list will serve as a guide on whether or not to make this invitation a priority. “Don’t choose anything right away,” advises Dr. Hall. “Leave this paper out for a day or two as you process this commitment to avoid knee jerk reactions.” After a little time has passed, make a mindful choice based on the results. Once the decision has been made, Dr. Hall recommends taking responsibility for your choice, and then moving on.
How to say no to invitations
If you’ve done a cost-benefit analysis and realize that this commitment is something you should pass on, it can still be hard to break the news to whoever invited you. First off, remember you don’t need to give an answer right away. If you feel like you’re being put on the spot, simply tell the other person you need to think about it and get back to them when you’re in the right headspace to explain your decision.
Another way to remind yourself that you’re making the right choice is by jotting down a quick list of why you’ve come to this conclusion. Write down why saying no will increase your happiness, productivity, and sense of integrity. This will allow you to confidently turn down the invitation guilt-free.
Oops, you over-planned… Here’s how to deal
Sometimes a packed calendar is inevitable. The best way to combat this social exhaustion is through practicing a regular self-care routine. Putting yourself first (even through small actions) is a way to feel more grounded, even when life seems chaotic. “After many years of experience, I created an acronym called S.E.L.F. care,” explains Dr. Hall. “There are four roots to a life of health, happiness and balance, and these four effective treatments significantly improve all diseases and conditions.”
S stands for serenity. Dr. Hall suggests doing stress relieving activities anytime you’re feeling overwhelmed. They can be as simple as taking a few minutes for meditation or prayer and saying affirmations to yourself, like “I am calm.” Music, journaling, or getting out in nature can also help trigger more serene feelings.
E is for exercise. We all know how working up a sweat can release negative energy, so next time you’re particularly stressed, take a break. Exercising will not only clear your head, but it’ll also give you some feel-good endorphins. If you don’t have time, trying a breathing exercise or get up and walk around the office for ten minutes.
L represents love. Even if you’re traveling a lot, make an effort to reach out to the people you love. “In your appointment book make a point to email or call a friend on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday,” says Dr. Hall. “It can just be a few lines or a short check-in but make that connection.” Other little things you can do is to have lunch with someone face to face one or two times a week or get your coworkers together for coffee. It may seem counterintuitive to plan more when you’re feeling burnt out, but these small acts during the work week can ground you—especially if you’re having a crazy social schedule outside of work.
The last element of Hall’s S.E.L.F. care acronym is F: food. “Food is Medicine. Food changes your mood,” she explains. Fueling your body with the right things, can alleviate stress and energize you. The good list? Omega 3’s which can be found in fish have been shown to help with depression and helps increase memory while upping your B6 intake increases serotonin levels. “Serotonin calms and heals the body. Make sure you take a banana to work, or get tuna, turkey, salmon, rice, sweet potatoes or sunflower seeds in your daily meals,” says Dr. Hall. Other health-boosters include tomatoes, broccoli, and blueberries.