The mental health benefits of saying 'no' to Christmas parties: 'Don't force yourself'

Woman bored at a Christmas party. (Getty Images)
Turning down Christmas party invites could be good for your mental health. (Getty Images)

The social pressures of the festive season are oh. so. real. But turning down an invite to a Christmas party you actually don't want to go to could be the best thing for your mental health.

A new study has revealed politely saying 'no' to unwanted invitations during the holiday season has a bigger positive impact than dragging yourself to countless get-togethers you may not want to attend in the first place.

The research, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, found that more than three-quarters (77%) of those surveyed accept invitations to gatherings they don’t want to attend out of fear of being judged for declining.

However, scientists found that friends and family not only don’t care about rejected invitations as much as people think they do, but saying "no" more often can also be beneficial in avoiding burnout.

"I was once invited to an event that I absolutely did not want to attend, but I attended anyways because I was nervous that the person who invited me would be upset if I did not – and that appears to be a common experience," Julian Givi, an assistant professor at West Virginia University, explains in a media release.

"Our research shows, however, that the negative ramifications of saying no are much less severe than we expect."

To examine whether people were right to be concerned about turning down invites researchers conducted five experiments with more than 2,000 total participants.

In one of the experiments, people were asked to read a scenario where they either invited, or were invited by, one of their friends to dinner on a Saturday night at a local restaurant with a celebrity chef.

Woman feeling stressed at a party. (Getty Images)
People worry turning down invites could impact relationships, but it is vital for your mental heath. (Getty Images)

Those who were given the invitation were told to imagine they turned it down because they already had plans during the day and wanted to spend a night at home relaxing. Those who had been told to imagine giving the invitation were told the reason for their friend declining.

The study found people who imagined turning down their friend’s invitation often believed it would immediately have negative ramifications for their relationship. They were more likely to say that their friend would feel angry, disappointed and unlikely to invite them to future events than people who imagined being rejected rated themselves.

According to the findings, this may be because people who rejected the invitation were also more likely than those who were rejected to say their friend would focus on the rejection itself rather than the deliberations that went on inside their friend’s head before they declined.

"Across our experiments, we consistently found that invitees overestimate the negative ramifications that arise in the eyes of inviters following an invitation decline," Dr Givi explains.

"People tend to exaggerate the degree to which the person who issued the invitation will focus on the act of the invitee declining the invitation as opposed to the thoughts that passed through their head before they declined."

Dr Givi believes the findings show that people could benefit from turning down invitations on occasion when it could help them avoid burnout, as doing so will not necessarily have the major consequences they expect it will.

"Burnout is a real thing, especially around the holidays when we are often invited to too many events," he says. "Don't be afraid to turn down invitations here and there. But, keep in mind that spending time with others is how relationships develop, so don't decline every invitation."

Woman running a bath. (Getty Images)
Turning down invites could be good for your wellbeing. (Getty Images)

Why saying 'no' is good for our mental health

According to psychologist Barbara Santini our societal structure puts immense pressure on individuals to be socially active.

"There's an underlying belief that attending every event or party is synonymous with being happy or successful. However, this perspective can be misleading and harmful," she explains.

"When we force ourselves to attend events that don't align with our interests or emotional state, it can lead to feelings of exhaustion, anxiety, and even depression. It's a classic case of overextension, where our social batteries are drained, leaving little energy for self-care and introspection."

Santini says she has observed a significant correlation between the ability to say "no" and improved mental health.

"By declining invitations that don't feel right, we practice self-compassion and self-respect," she explains.

"This act of setting boundaries is crucial in managing stress and preventing burnout. It's a form of self-awareness, where one acknowledges their limits and honours their emotional and mental needs."

Another aspect to consider, according to Santini, is the quality of social interactions versus the quantity.

"It's more beneficial to engage in fewer, meaningful interactions where one feels genuinely connected and valued, rather than attending numerous gatherings out of obligation, which can lead to superficial connections," she explains.

"Quality interactions are more likely to contribute to a sense of belonging and happiness, key components of good mental health."

Woman relaxing at home at Christmas. (Getty Images)
Staying in is the new going out this Christmas. (Getty Images)

How to say 'no' when you don't want to go

But knowing the benefits of saying "no" and actually being able to say it are two different things. While many of us have discovered our refusal voice, for others the need to people please remains strong.

So if you still find yourself saying "yes" when really you want to scream "no", the experts have put together some tips for upping your 'no' game:

  • Be honest with your reason for saying no. "No need to give an extensive reason but people always prefer honesty and lying can affect relationships in the long term," explains Alison Goolnik, integrative psychotherapist at

  • Build up your 'no' confidence. "Start with saying no to easy invitations first and once your confidence has grown from saying no to those, move on to the ones that are more difficult to say no to," suggests Goolnik.

  • Make a list of how you want to use that time differently for yourself. "This will help to motivate you to say no to those invites," Goolnik explains.

  • Identify the reason for saying no. Is it because you need some self-care? Are the people a bad influence? Or is it because you are anxious of the event or party but actually it would be positively beneficial for you to attend? Goolnik says it is helpful to understand your motivation for declining the invite.

  • Challenge your negative thoughts regarding saying no. "Saying no does not make you a bad person," Goolnik reminds. "Challenge these thoughts and replace them with positive ones instead."

  • Offer an alternative plan. "If you're declining an event but still value the relationship, suggest another way to connect that feels more comfortable for you," explains Santini.

  • Understand it's okay to prioritise yourself. Many people struggle with guilt when saying "no." "Remember, prioritising your mental health is not selfish; it's necessary," says Santini.

  • Set and maintain boundaries: Consistently honouring your boundaries is key. "It becomes easier with practice and reinforces your commitment to your mental wellbeing," Santini explains.

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