We’ve all experienced that niggling feeling of guilt when we’ve chosen to stay in instead of heading out with friends. With Christmas around the corner, that feeling might increase. But here’s why you shouldn’t feel guilty for cancelling on friends and taking some time for yourself.
Burnout has been the buzzword of 2019. For millennials especially, the term put into words the exhaustion that comes with overpacking your schedule. Due to forging ahead in your career by day but maintaining a glittering social life at night, lots of us have felt over tired and unrested, and the thought of dedicating some time to self-care has felt like a distant dream.
So, when the late nights and early mornings have all got a bit much (fitting in a fitness class and planning your friend’s hen do will do that, we guess), it is little wonder that so many of us have turned to flaking.
We’ve all done it. Come Thursday evening after a long week of after-work drinks and deadlines, we’re in dire need of a hair wash and an early night. So we start a text to the friend we were supposed to be meeting, with something along the lines of “I am so sorry, I completely forgot I needed to…”
Whether it’s a fantastical excuse or just the cold hard truth that we don’t feel up to it, cancelling last minute can feel like a necessity.
But unfortunately, that much-needed night in can’t always be enjoyed because of the niggling feeling of either FOMO, or guilt that we’ve let a friend down.
Apparently, this feeling now has a name. Coined by writer Natalie Morris, cancel anxiety is what happens when we cancel on plans but are unable to feel good about that decision. The site points out that if the reason you’ve cancelled is to prioritise self-care and make time for yourself, these negative feelings can be counterproductive and create a vicious cycle. After all, who can enjoy an evening of working on their mental health, when they’re worrying about what they’re missing out on?
We spoke to Dr Sarah Brewer, Medical Director of Healthspan, about why we feel cancel anxiety and she explained: “Social media is full of others seemingly having a fun, fulfilling life and you may feel pressure to prove you are equally successful. When you cancel plans due to exhaustion or the need for some quiet ‘me-time’, you may worry about not having anything exciting to share. If others then post images or comments about the event you’ve cried off from, your feelings of missing out are intensified.
“In addition, if you are used to doing things to please other people – family, work commitments, friends – that cancelling can leave you feeling guilty for letting others down.
“Another factor is that, if you are used to a busy, high-octane life, you can feel anxious simply because, having cancelled, you suddenly have nothing to do to occupy your mind. You end up second-guessing your decision to cancel.”
But how can we avoid feeling like this? Dr Brewer says that the first step is acceptance. “Accept that there are times when you need to put yourself first. As on a plane, the instruction to put on your own oxygen mask first before helping others is equally valid in real life.”
She also says we should just bite the bullet and tell the truth to those we’re cancelling on: “There’s no need to apologise – you are an adult and can make your own decision – but if pressed to explain why you’re cancelling, be honest and own it. You’ve simply taken on too much recently and need to catch your breath, or whether the reason is. Don’t be tempted to tell fibs or you’ll just add to your sense of guilt.”
Next, we need to commit to that self-care time and don’t let this night become wasted with worrying. Dr Brewer advises: “Switch off your phone and don’t check social media every five minutes to see what you’re missing out on. In fact, it’s a good idea to limit your interaction with social apps to just 30 minutes per platform per day.
“If you use three, that’s no more than 10 minutes on each (eg Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat) per day. Research shows that this has significant benefits for well-being. Those who do this are happier, experience less feelings of loneliness, depression, anxiety and fear of missing out as a result.”