How to Decline Virtual Hangouts, Even When You Don’t Have Plans

As I transitioned to online classes and a virtual social life over the last few weeks, I naively thought that now would be a time to slow down. I dreamed of doing yoga every day and making my way through my list of Netflix shows and New York Times best sellers. Several weeks into isolation, however, I have only just recently settled into a schedule to accommodate class, work, exercise, relaxing, and socializing.

Depending on your home city, state or country, the regulations regarding COVID-19 are different. Regardless, many are looking ahead to at least four more weeks of social distancing. This means four more weeks of Netflix parties, Zoom chats, and twelve-way FaceTime calls. While we are fortunate to have access to advanced technology which makes it possible to stay in contact with loved ones, there's a new social pressure to say “yes” to everything. 

Below you can find tips on how to take a step back from all those Zoom happy hours, even if your only plan is to watch Tiger King on Netflix. 

  1. 1. Evaluate your (virtual) schedule for the day

    Silver macbook by planner and flowers

    Social distancing and shelter-in-place regulations have prompted a new wave of creativity, resulting in lots of virtual Netflix parties and birthday gatherings. While these new trends in socializing are helping us feel connected during isolation, for some they carry the same stress as in-person activities do. 

    It’s hard to imagine having a busy schedule when we are all stuck at home, but the virtual world remains active. That being said, when a friend or family member asks you to hang out over video call, evaluate your schedule for the day and reflect on if you have the time to give them your attention. If you have already gone to online class, cooked food, and watched an episode of your latest show, don’t feel pressured to say yes to a casual invite. Burnout culture exists within the virtual domain, too. 

  2. 2. Be honest with yourself and others

    Due to the continuum of burnout during this pandemic, it is more than okay to take a step back from online socializing if it becomes overwhelming. Transiting to online learning or working impacts not just how you communicate with your colleagues and conduct assignments, but also affects your alone time. You now have a new schedule that is coupled with confusing software. Not to mention, this includes balancing other daily tasks like grocery shopping, being active, or picking up a prescription––all of which have become more difficult to carry out.

    Even if Zoom hangouts feel like they should be less overwhelming because you can attend a party from the comfort of your bed, the same frantic emotions college students often feel at the end of a hectic week remains. That it is why it is important to be honest with yourself and others when accepting or declining virtual chats. Flora Goodman, a 2018 graduate from Bryant University, says, “I think being honest and open about how you are feeling is the most important. People will understand because we’re all going through such a range of emotions right now.” Ariane Vigna, a journalism student at Boston University, agrees with Goodman. “At the end of the day, you should feel comfortable setting boundaries with your friends––if they make you feel guilty, you probably don't want them in your life anyway.” 

    Related: The ‘Hustle’ Lifestyle is Secretly Toxic – Here’s Why 

  3. 3. Craft a polite response

    a hand holds a pen writing on sheets of paper on a wooden desk. there's a coffee cup and a notebook in front of it.

    Even though you are practicing social distancing and therefore can fall back on a quick text, it is still important to follow certain manners, or Zoom etiquette, when declining an invitation. Writing a polite message to briefly explain why you will be unable to attend the hangout is best practice, especially if it's for a work-related event.

    Being as straightforward and honest as “I am feeling overwhelmed right now. I am just going to spend some time by myself tonight” will suffice. Personally, I always prefer someone being honest with me when they reject an invitation, instead of some sketchy “my dog ate my (virtual homework)” type of scenario. If you don’t want to disclose how you are feeling, or really just want to binge-read an eBook that night, that's okay too. Ana Hilario, a student at Montclair State University, recommends: “One excuse that never fails is saying you have homework/have to study. This is more believable than ever (at least for me and my friends) since online classes are reallllly piling on the work.”

    Responding to a friend or family member with a message similar to this will go a long way. Even if you don’t engage in a phone call or FaceTime, at the end of the day people just want some kind of contact. During a time of crisis, we have to be respectful towards one another and extend understanding when it comes to boundaries.

  4. 4. Don’t feel guilty

    I am certainly responsible for feeling guilty when declining a coffee date or video call with a friend who I haven’t spoken to in weeks. It's natural to feel guilty for canceling plans, not to mention the fomo you may feel after seeing an Instagram story of your friends having a virtual Saturday girls' night. 

    However, even if you don’t have any plans but to take time for yourself on a Tuesday afternoon or Saturday night, remember that you committed no crime. All you did was take care of your health, both mental, emotional, and physical. 

    Ariane found that in the beginning of lockdown and isolation, all she wanted to do was reach out to friends and talk. However, as the weeks progressed, she has found she needs more alone time. “There's a lot to process, and homework is piling up, so I only call friends two or three times a week, rather than every day. I know it helps some people to have a full planner of virtual events to attend, but for me, I enjoy calling whenever I feel the need to and leaving every evening to relax and watch a movie.” 

My personal goal for this isolation time is to slow down and stay in the present. These mindful slogans seem cliché, but I urge you to remember that staring at a screen all day is draining. So, don’t feel pressured to attend every virtual hangout thrown your way. Take this time to find a healthy balance between socializing and self-care.