How to say no in silly season

“If you do too much, things that are supposed to be fun become stressful obligations,” psychologist Dr. Meg Aston-Lebold says “Balance is always important, so it’s healthy to plan some down time during the holidays.”

A 2018 study found that one in three people in the U.S. experience holiday burnout before Dec. 25. Saying “yes” to too many holiday functions can also “exacerbate whatever difficulty you might already experiencing” in regards to mental health. 

We’ve all been there at times – facing a jam packed calendar with so much “fun” that it looks like work. So how do we avoid this, put ourselves first and say no? Well, we have answers…

How to Say No Without Feeling Guilty

“The spirit of the holidays is gratitude and giving,” says Patti Breitman, co-author of the book How to Say No Without Feeling Guilty.  “It’s very satisfying to offer support to the people we love, help out a neighbour, or do something positive for the community,” Breitman writes. But “the conflict arises when we continually agree to things that please everyone but ourselves or when we commit to tasks for which we have no time or desire.

How to say no to an event you don’t want to attend 

“Lavishly thank the person for inviting you,” Breitman says. Then adopt a ‘less is more’ approach and stick with something short, sweet & general such as: “I’m sorry but I already have plans that day”. 

Dr Meg Ashon-Lebold, a psychologist writing for Huffpost, suggests “Adding something like ‘I hope we can connect early in the new year’ can also be helpful. If it’s true, it can open the door to future engagements and shows an interest in maintaining the relationship.”

Breitman writes in her book – ‘Don’t fall into the trap of coming up with new and creative excuses’. Instead, paraphrase yourself: “I won’t be able to come” or “I already have something on my calendar.” You can’t control how someone will react to you saying no, but don’t feel that you owe to to them to share details, a simple response is often the best.

Another tip is to schedule rest and relaxation into your calendar now, so that you have some days when you are unavailable. This can make you feel less guilty about saying no to something when there’s a clear space in your diary.

Saying “no” is a powerful tool. Not only can it help you avoid burnout, but it can also give you a sense of control over your life. Remind yourself that this freed-up time is an opportunity to do something else you really wanted to do. Going to bed early, watching a movie or having a bath are all fine reasons to say ‘no’ to something. Think of it as hitting your goal of spending more time on self-care to help banish feelings of guilt.

Say no to unwanted houseguests

Love them, but in small doses? Wonder why they never offer to help?!

“Keeping houseguests away is a lot easier than getting rid of them,” Breitman warns. “Once they’re under your roof, it’s almost impossible to evict someone in a graceful, guilt-free manner.”

Some preventive tactics she suggests:

  • “You’re coming to town? Fantastic! A great new hotel just opened — you’ll love it!”
  • “Sorry, the house is in no condition for guests right now.”
  • “I can’t wait to see you. Do you need recommendations on a good place to stay?”


Say no to hosting and taking on all the work 

If festive entertaining leaves you frazzled, Breitman suggests a change of scenery. For example, say, “Everyone has been coming here for Christmas for years, but I need a break. Either someone else can do it or we’ll all go out to a restaurant.”

Tell your guests, “I’m starting a new tradition. This year, everyone will bring one dish for the meal.”

Because others are busy, too, “Make sure that they understand that no one has to make it from scratch,” Breitman says.

Say no after saying yes 

Whether you have overbooked yourself, realized you have a conflict, or otherwise can’t or don’t want to participate in a project, it’s essential to uncommit gracefully.” says author and executive coach Melody Wilding. “Doing so will keep your reputation intact and your relationships strong.”

Her recommendation is to be diplomatic, but truthful. She writes “When it comes time to deliver your message, be assertive and clear without overexplaining. In other words, aim to be direct, thoughtful, and above all else, honest.” She gives a work related example “When I said I could join the committee last month, I fully believed I had enough bandwidth to do a great job. After taking a closer look at my calendar, I realized I’ve overextended myself and there are several professional commitments I can’t move. This means I won’t be able to participate.”

Now this might be overly formal when it comes to your book club’s xmas lunch, but taking the time to offer some explanation will help to preserve your relationship with the other person.