From newfound resilience to the sudden ability to put together a sour dough starter, the last year has taught us a lot about ourselves - but perhaps one of the most marked observations can be found in our response to social invitations.
Turns out the pandemic has called time on people-pleasing, as women learn that it's ok to say 'no' to things they actually don't want to do.
A new survey by BLOOM Gin has seen women overwhelmingly agree that the events of the past 18 months have made them more comfortable in shaking their heads to things they'd really rather not attend - including boring dates, tacky hen parties or that tedious family gathering with distant relatives.
Instead, nearly half are choosing to invest their time in gatherings and get-togethers that are meaningful to them, opting out of dreaded nights out with acquaintances to spend time in their own company, or with close friends and family they've really missed.
Why has the pandemic inspired us to say no?
With lockdown enabling us to spend more time at home, with more time away from work and social lives, life coach Puja McClymont says it has thrown a light on just how much time, and money, we invest in people and things that don't actually make us happy.
"During this year of reflection, women in particular have realised just how much running around they do, how much people-pleasing - and generally, it has highlighted how much more they need to prioritise themselves," she explains.
McClymont has noticed a growing number of women visiting her practice who are fed up of putting everyone and everything else first and are instead turning to more personal development so that they can start enjoying their lives again - with much success.
"Being able to reflect allows women to make a more informed decision and one that isn’t based on any irrational emotions often felt when we’re burnt out," she explains.
Priory psychotherapist Pamela Roberts agrees that having time to reflect has presented an opportunity for women to reassess how they want to spend their time moving forward.
“During the pandemic many people reassessed their priorities and what time means to them," she explains. "That has encouraged people to say ‘no’ to things they can’t see as adding value or being meaningful."
Roberts believes cultural events have also had an impact on women's ability to say no.
"The #metoo movement has also had a strong effect on women feeling they should be able to take ownership of decisions, earning them the right to say ‘no’ in all sorts of circumstances – professional and personal," she explains.
Watch: Research reveals how tough new parents have had it during the pandemic.
As well as saving you from events you'd really rather not attend, learning to say no to certain invitations and events can also have a positive impact on wellbeing.
"Setting appropriate boundaries is essential for your self-worth or you get stuck in a destructive cycle of people-pleasing and saying yes," explains Roberts.
"That’s not good for mental health, and can lead to exhaustion and a feeling that life is leading you rather than you leading your life."
This switch in mentality has also meant women are opting to take more care of themselves and their emotions.
"Self-care has become far more common in our vocabulary," Roberts explains. "Women now feel they have the right to choose what course we think is best to take, rather than to assume others know better what might suit us."
With so much focus on wellbeing and self-care over the past year, McClymont says it was inevitable that women in particular might notice that we don’t care for ourselves enough.
"This insight has also been helpful in understanding what self-care actually means. It’s not just for Sundays and long baths," she adds. "It’s about our relationships, our energy, how we feel around people, who lifts us up, who supports us - who we want to spend our time with."
How to say no
While many of us have discovered our voice when it comes to saying no, for others the need to people please remains strong.
So if you still find yourself saying yes when really you want to scream no, here are some tips for upping your 'no' game.
Practice the art of saying less
Rather than focussing on saying 'no' McClymont suggests trying to cultivate a response with fewer words - the art of saying less.
"This is something I do a lot with my clients and it has been a huge game-changer for setting boundaries," she explains.
"If you are invited to something you don’t want to go to, just say 'Thank you for the invitation, but I won’t be able to make it' and leave it there. You don’t need to explain why."
Pause and reflect
Consider your body language before giving your response. "When you’re not sure if you should say no or yes to something, just close your eyes and think about it," suggests McClymont.
"If your body feels relaxed, it’s probably a yes. If your body cringes (to be honest, you’ll probably feel the cringe when you get the invitation) then listen to your intuition and politely decline.
"There’s a caveat here though, if you’re naturally an introvert and don’t like being out, or if you get anxious, then I’d recommend taking the decision a step further by asking if it would be good for you before making your decision."
Choose your language
Roberts suggests validating the offer with, ‘that was very kind of you to think of me but I can’t take this on right now’.
"Or simply ‘I am sorry I can't help you or be there on this occasion’. There is no explanation necessary unless you feel you want to give one.
"Sometimes a simple ‘no’ is all that is needed. You are being offered a choice, so by definition it is your choice whether to accept or not," she adds.
Remember it is ok to say 'no'
Next time you’re invited to something, before responding with a knee jerk 'yes', take a moment to check-in with yourself and whether this is something you have the mental and emotional capacity for right now.
"If not, remind yourself that it’s always OK to say no," advises Dr Elena Touroni, consultant psychologist and co-founder of The Chelsea Psychology Clinic. "We tend to overestimate the potential for a negative reaction when saying 'no' - whereas people often respond positively when we’re open and honest.
"Confidence comes from practice so the more you practice saying 'no' to things, the less difficult it will start to feel," she adds.
Saying 'yes' to you
In order to encourage women to continue on their journey of self-discovery, writer and broadcaster Katie Piper has partnered with BLOOM Gin to launch BLOOM Bright, a fund of £20,000 to help women spend their time wisely and say ‘yes’ to the things that really matter to them.
“We want to encourage more women to say ‘yes’ to themselves and the things they love, and hopefully we can help a few tick off some big bucket list dreams along the way," Piper explains.
“Many put their passions on hold in order to support and nurture the people around them - which is fulfilling in many ways, but sometimes can mean you don’t leave yourself enough time to really make your soul shine. This is a wonderful project which focuses on looking after yourself, and saying yes to things that bring YOU joy.”
To win funding from BLOOM Bright to pursue your post-lockdown dream, all you need to do is submit a 250-word description explaining why you deserve it on www.bloomgin.com/bloombright. Entries can be submitted from the 29 July to 23 September 2021.