December can be a blur of glitter, booze, family catch-ups, parties and secret Santas, which sounds great on paper but in reality often ends up being extremely stressful.
But, saying no to invitations – particularly with the added pressure to make up for lost time after lockdown – can come with a barrel-load of guilt. You don’t want to upset anyone, but you definitely can’t say yes to everything either.
So, how can you get the best of both worlds with your social calendar in December?
Set boundaries that work for you
There may be a lot of pressure to see everyone and join in with everything, but remember that you get to decide what you say yes to – and honouring your limits is certainly not a bad thing.
As clinical psychologist Dr Marianne Trent says: “It is ok if you have time off over the holidays to choose rest and recharge, instead of additional stressors that may include social obligations with friends and family that can come with complications as well as joy. It is ok to set boundaries and prioritise yourself.”
Make a list of what’s coming up
Getting organised could help remove some of the overwhelm. Lizzie Grant, professional organiser and founder of Declutter on Demand, suggests: “Make a list of social events and ‘must do by’ deadlines you have coming up in December. For example, booking theatre tickets, restaurants and travel.
“Then add these events to your digital calendar, with alerts with the correct date and time. Include addresses for events, so you’re not scrambling around trying to find those last-minute. Sync your digital calendar electronically with relevant friends and family, or print out a physical copy as well and put it in the hallway or on the fridge where everyone in your household will see it.”
It may sound over the top, but feeling calm and organised means knowing where your time is being spent. Time-blocking is a great way to approach this – basically assigning a set block of time to each thing you need to do.
“Put chunks of time in for social engagements and tasks, with a start and finish time, including how long it will take you to get there,” says Grant. “This enables you to see exactly how much time you have available to commit to things other than the festive period. Remember, it’s always better to over-estimate than under-estimate how long things will take.”
Planning to only be at a party for a couple of hours before heading to something else? Allow an extra hour at whichever one you would prefer to be at.
Get important dates in the diary quickly
“For organising a social calendar, scheduling is key,” says Emma Clark, professional organiser at Living Organised. “Get those dates in early and stick to them.
“Plan in lots of reset breaks and resist flaking for a better offer, which can cause offence and increase your guilt at letting someone down,” Clark adds.
Prioritise what you enjoy
Stop committing to 1000 things – and leaving no time or energy for the things you truly love along the way.
“Identify what you most enjoy doing and who you most enjoy seeing at this time of year, to make it special for you. If you take a moment to do this, you will be much more likely to prioritise those things which are most important to you,” says Grant.
“It’s tempting to feel that you have to cram every social event into this side of Christmas, but remember it’s nice to have things to look forward to in the new year as well. Keep your social engagements to those things which are special to you. You will preserve your energy to truly enjoy them and you won’t get FOMO for turning down other social events.”
Be honest about your plans to attend
Don’t say yes to an invite if you know, deep down, you’ll probably cancel on the day. “We all have to say no these days,” says Clark. “With the ability to keep in touch with everyone through social media, our friendship groups have grown larger. However, with only 24 hours in a day, it can be impossible to keep up with every social engagement.”
But, according to classic etiquette, there is a right way to decline – and you don’t need to over-explain things.
“In classic etiquette, when you reply to an invitation, you didn’t need to say why you couldn’t attend. A simple ‘regrettably can not attend’ would suffice and be acceptable,” says etiquette expert William Hanson. “You can’t attend everything and hosts shouldn’t expect everyone on the guest list to say yes.
“If you repeatedly say no to the same person’s invitation, then it’s understandable that offence may be taken. But, if you really cannot go, or feel you wouldn’t be an asset, then thank the host, enthuse about how wonderful it sounds, but tell them you are already committed – and leave it at that.”