Socializing Post-Pandemic: It’s OK to Say No

Right as Rain Fact Checked
A woman stands under the word 'No' and is looking up at it.
© Jennifer Brister / Stocksy United

After a year and a half of lockdowns, loss and uncertainty, it’s nice to be able to get out into the world again and see people we went far too long without seeing. 

The streets are full. Traffic jams are back. Celebrations and social invites are happening. Washington recently fully reopened, with all businesses being able to return to normal capacity and operate without restrictions unless they require it.  

While this sense of normalcy is a relief, reentry can also be anxiety-inducing. It also may reveal some new truths: That we no longer want to be busy with social engagements all the time. 

The new normal part 2 

The pandemic has shown us a new way of being in the world. As we reenter society, many people are going to feel anxious about how to negotiate being this new person and sustaining what has shifted during the pandemic. 

Dr. Doyanne Darnell, UW Medicine’s clinical director for psychological services at Harborview Mental Health and Addiction Services, says she is hearing from many patients that they want to change their social lives. 

“There is this life-or-death aspect to the pandemic which creates a level of seriousness for people where they’re reflecting on what is actually important in their life and who do they want to be spending their time with,” she says. 

For many people, this is one good thing that came out of a pretty bad year-plus. With all the time we’ve had for self-reflection, it makes sense that some of us might want to make some changes. 

A common thing people tell Darnell is that they want to be less busy. 

“People have had calendars filled with activities that they realized they didn’t enjoy doing that much but they felt a compulsion to do it,” she says. “My advice to people is, ‘So, don’t.’” 

Learning how to say no 

Saying no isn’t always easy, especially if you’re a people-pleaser, have social anxiety or just don’t want to hurt others’ feelings.  

Darnell’s solution? Practice.  

“What is going to be your way to say no to people? Have it already written out or say it a couple of times beforehand so it feels natural and you stick by it,” she says. 

Saying no is hard for many people because we hold on to a deeply held belief that you can only say no if you absolutely have to. 

But ‘no’ doesn’t mean you don’t care. It means you can’t be at your best if you say yes to everything.  

Our bodies and minds need time to decompress and let stress melt away. Decompression allows us to have a refreshed mind and more clarity and gives our sympathetic nervous system a break, Darnell says. 

So, as you reenter society, take things slowly. Tell people you need some downtime. You don’t need to jump back into socializing full force.  

And if after that you decide you still want to keep social events to a minimum, more power to you. 

Bobbi Nodell and McKenna Princing contributed to this article. A version of this story originally appeared on the UW Medicine Newsroom.