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How to say no to phone calls when it’s a lockdown and you have nowhere else to be

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Kayleigh Dray
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Coronavirus lockdown: how to say no to phone calls when you have nowhere else to be

Because sometimes, just sometimes, we don’t want to join yet another Zoom chat.

The coronavirus lockdown may mean we’re all now living in (relative) isolation, but you wouldn’t necessarily know it. Not by the amount we’re talking, anyway. A surge of up to 50% in the number of phone calls being made over mobile and landline networks has put Britain’s telephone system under significant strain. 

Voice and video calls on WhatsApp, meanwhile, are at double their normal volume, and Zoom – which saw a huge rise in downloads since quarantines were imposed around the world – is now being used by millions for work and social gatherings.

Throw in all those other modes of communication – such as Skype, Slack and House Party – and you have… well, you have something of a pandemic. We can’t stop talking. 

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It’s lovely, of course: truly it is. I, for one, have enjoyed (almost) all of my chats with friends, co-workers and family members. I love that we’re all fostering this beautiful sense of community. I, much like my colleague Hollie, wept actual tears when everyone came together to applaud NHS workers from their homes. And my heart was, is, incredibly warmed by humanity’s desire to stay connected, to feel a sense of ‘togetherness’, even as we avoid unnecessary contact with one another in bid to flatten the Covid-19 curve.

And yet…

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Well, as the days in lockdown continue, and the FaceTime requests continue to pile up, I’m starting to find it all just a little much. Over this weekend alone, I spent 356 minutes on the phone. 356 minutes. That clocks up to just under six hours – a mere few hours short of a full working day – and doesn’t even include the multiple Zoom chats I logged into, either.

So what happens, then, when you’re all talked out? When you realise you’ve spent less time with your quarantined partner than normal because you’ve both been on the phone for bloody hours? When your dog needs you to take him on his (once, daily, as per government guidelines) walk, or you genuinely need to pop to the shops for necessities, or you have a wardrobe to declutter? When you want nothing more than to read one of the many books you’ve been stockpiling? When you just want to sit on the sofa and experience the lockdown boredom you’ve heard so much about on social media?

When, above all else, you’re an emotionally exhausted introvert in need of a break from people, both audibly and physically? What then, hmm?

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Well, to be honest, it might feel like your options are limited. You can’t tell people you’re busy, because they know for a fact that you’re not: almost everyone is in lockdown, almost everyone is tethered to their homes and, by default, their phones. You can’t tell them you’re about to pop out for a bit because… well, see my previous statement. And you can’t tell people that you want to spend time with whoever it is you’re isolating with, because anyone – even those not famed for their quick-as-a-whip responses – will point out that, y’know, you’re spending literally every hour of every day with this person.

However, it’s well worth remembering that, while community is incredibly important and we should all make a conscientious effort to be there for one another, we shouldn’t feel guilty for putting ourselves and our needs first every once in a while. I know this is almost an impossible task for all those die-hard people pleasers out there (I feel your pain, folks), I do. 

Don’t despair, though, as there’s a simple trick to it: before you speak to anyone, you need to sit down and work out your priorities and convictions. 

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This could be something as simple as committing to spending evenings with others in your household, or partaking in an at-home yoga session each night, or turning off all devices in the hour before bed. Make promises to yourself, and vow not to break them – unless it’s an absolute emergency. And, above all else, work out what you need to do to prioritise your own emotional wellbeing.

As Stylist’s Lauren Geall points out: “Although I’m really grateful to be able to speak to my friends and family over FaceTime during this difficult period, there are times when I’m finding everything a bit much and would rather spend an evening taking care of my mental health or distracting myself with some Netflix.

“When this happens, I’m not afraid to tell my mates I need some space for a little bit – just because I’m not ‘out’, doesn’t mean I can’t prioritise how I’m going to spend my time when I need to!”

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Essentially, saying “no” to that new digital hangout request – rather than “go on then, just one more won’t hurt” – may have a huge impact on your sense of wellbeing. And, by setting and adhering to our priorities and convictions, “no” becomes a lot easier to say: in fact, almost all feelings of guilt will go out the window because, when we’re keeping promises to ourselves, we realise we’re making the right decision.

Of course, there is a fine line between following our convictions and using them as an excuse to be self-focused. Don’t turn down every request or opportunity: do make time to speak to vulnerable or elderly loved ones, do partake in Zoom conference calls with friends and family, and don’t reject every single call request out of hand: it’s genuinely good for us to stay connected. Indeed, studies have repeatedly shown that those who call rather than just message are flooded with oxytocin, AKA the love hormone, upon hearing their pal’s voice, which in turn causes stress hormones to decrease.

But, with all these caveats in place, don’t be afraid to tell friends and family that you’ll call them back. That now isn’t the right time. That you really need a little bit of a mental breather. We can’t all be switched on and available at all times, after all: just like our phones themselves, we need time to recharge.

Don’t deny yourself that opportunity. Please.

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Kayleigh Dray

Kayleigh Dray is Stylist’s digital editor-at-large. Her specialist topics include comic books, films, TV and feminism. On a weekend, you can usually find her drinking copious amounts of tea and playing boardgames with her friends.

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