Feeling Tired? Say No To Holiday Plans Like These Women Have

Photographed by Erin Yamagata.
“It’s become a treat to myself to spend Christmas alone, having a couple of days completely to myself,” says Rachel, a 32-year-old nurse. It might sound odd to some, but for Rachel, saying no to her partner and family is a wholehearted choice — and one that she enjoys, at that.
At this time of year, calendars tend to stack up with work parties, friendship gatherings, and New Year’s celebrations — a lot gets packed into a short space of time. Saying no to any of these invites might feel taboo, invite waves of FOMO, and leave you worrying you’ve caused offense. Though it might not be traditional, women are benefiting from turning down invites — be it to a casual meal with a friend or Christmas Day with family.
Rachel, who wants to keep her surname private because she is estranged from her family, has learned this through the experience of cutting contact with most relations. “I don’t really have anywhere to go ‘home’ to. My flat is my home, there is no childhood place to go visit,” she says — but by no means is she mournful at this time of year. She relishes the chance to rest.
“This is the main benefit for me. The majority of the country is busy and everything is closed so I just get to be by myself and have no expectations of doing things," she says. "I’ve started to really love that, but I think people are almost weirded out when I tell them.”
Some might assume that people in Rachel’s situation don’t have any other options, but they couldn’t be further from the truth. Rachel’s partner “always encourages” her to spend time with his family, but due to her stressful job with long hours, she takes the opportunity the holiday season presents to spend time recharging alone. “Maybe in the future I’ll go with him, but I’m just exhausted from my job and I would like to have some peace and quiet. He respects it and I don’t mind him going away for a few days to visit his family. I’ve also had invites from friends who know that I’m estranged but I always decline,” she adds.
Rachel knows she’s making the “best choice” for herself in rejecting holiday invites, and will spend Christmas Day this year “playing video games and eating well,” or helping a charity like she has done in previous years. Calling herself more of a “summer person,” socializing and mingling at this time of year feels draining. “It’s not guaranteed to have Christmas off when you’re a nurse, so I’ve always had this expectation that I will work on it or around it and not have this quiet two-week period that a lot of other people seem to have,” she says. “So for me, it doesn’t feel that special or unique, rather just annoying and expensive and a socially pressured thing you have to do like everybody else does.” 
Social pressure gets to most of us, in one way or another. According to a survey published by the American Psychological Association, 41% of adults said their stress increases during this time of year while 43% said that the holiday stress interferes with their ability to actually enjoy them. A poll of 2,000 British adults found that meeting the expectations of relatives, attending social commitments, and the pressure to spend more left many feeling stressed and overwhelmed. As many as 70% said the burden of this was negatively affecting their mental health.

How to set boundaries during the festive season

Tara Quinn-Cirillo, chartered psychologist, says it’s an issue of boundaries, which many of us struggle to put in place or uphold. “At this time of year, there can be fears around upsetting people, or being judged as unsociable or labelled a ‘scrooge,’” she says. However, turning down invites sometimes “can be an essential part of your own self-care and positively impact your emotional health and overall wellbeing.”
“Many people struggle with taking on more than they can manage both at work and in their personal lives and this can easily lead to overwhelm and even burnout being not appropriately addressed,” she warns. Even the small things add up — and cutting some of them out of your schedule can have a big impact on your wellbeing. Kiran Bird, 29, who works in PR, recently said no to dinner plans with a friend, after a feeling “like I physically couldn’t be ‘on’.” She felt bad and “ummed and ahhed over the decision.” Instead, with the time she gained from declining dinner, she rested at home, watched Netflix and spent time with her pet rabbit. 
“I love this time of year and you do see so many people which is nice, but it’s so exhausting and really expensive. You have after-work plans, weekend plans… I think it’s important to say no sometimes so you don’t burn out,” she says. “In January, I tend to lay low for a while because of how intense December is.”
Meanwhile, Sophie Trotman, 31, who works as a nutritionist, has a different approach by delaying some social events until the (calmer) new year. “There have been some meetups with friends that I have suggested we do in January. And there have been some dinners that I have suggested we turn into lunches or brunches, to make them less booze-orientated,” she says.
“In December, there is this pre-Christmas rush to see friends and work colleagues, often to my detriment!" she says. "I’ve had years in the past where I felt exhausted by the time the bigger events rolled around. It is almost as though we forget that January exists.”

How to get better at saying no to invitations

Saying no might feel uncomfortable, but Dr. Quinn-Cirillo says it is worth the initial discomfort. It’s useful to begin by thinking about your boundaries privately first, so you can better communicate them. She says: “Think what your boundaries could look like before sharing them with others. Where would you like to say no, where would you like to make changes in how you manage this time of year with others? How can you begin to communicate this with others? Think about what the benefits would be of saying no. This can help with managing any guilt that shows up. It can also help to think about what you value in your relationships: For example, if you value relationships where you can be honest, supported and heard.”
Caroline Plumer, psychologist at CPPC London, says: “Saying no is all about setting boundaries, which lots of people find uncomfortable. The more we do it, the easier it gets.” She believes saying no in this context begins with noticing why our energy levels are depleted — in an ideal world, we’d have started using this word before feeling drained.
“We are generally not very good at listening to our bodies’ cues, so it’s vital we find ways to better hear our bodies and give them what we need,” Plumer says. “If you are finding yourself physically tense, suffering from headaches, feeling anxious or anything that you might just write off as a bit of stress, consider slowing down. You might feel guilty for cancelling or rejecting plans, but guilt is only a useful emotion if we have genuinely done something wrong. If we haven’t, then it becomes unproductive. 
“It is also worth reminding yourself that by keeping yourself emotionally safe and well, you are likely to be of far more value to those closest to you," she says. "If you’re spreading yourself very thin, not only will you have less time for who and what is most important, but also less energy and emotional bandwidth.”
Both Plumer and Dr. Quinn-Cirillo believe compassion both for others and yourself is key. What that might look like more practically is to speak gently, and not over explain why you’re not attending something — which we tend to do when we feel guilty or worried about a person’s reaction. They warn “long justifications” aren’t helpful, and neither is canceling at the last minute or even going silent. Oftentimes, it’s enough to just say "thanks so much for asking but unfortunately I won’t be able to make it.”
People have different relationships with this time of year, so if you need to switch off for a bit, give yourself permission to do so. Saying no might be the best gift to yourself of them all.

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