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‘Say no to unwanted festive invitations’

Doing so can protect mental health and guard against burnout, new study says

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Being able to decline unwanted invitations can help mental health and protect against burnout this Christmas, a new study shows. 

Research shows that 77 per cent of people attend events out of fear of appearing rude if they do not. 

But a new study, from the American Psychological Association, shows that the social consequences of not attending events are rarely as bad as feared. 

And during the festive season, feeling able to say ‘no’ is even more important due to burnout, the study’s authors said. 

“While there have been times when I have felt a little upset with someone who declined an invitation, our research gives us quite a bit of good reason to predict people overestimate,” said Dr Julian Givi, lead author of the study. 

“Burnout is a real thing, especially around the holidays when we are often invited to too many events.

“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.”

The study involved five experiments with more than 2,000 total participants, to help gauge the reaction to people declining invitations. 

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

The participants who were given the invitation were told to imagine they declined because they already had plans during the day and wanted to spend a night at home relaxing. Those who imagined giving the invitation were told their friend declined for the same reason.

The researchers found that participants 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 attend future events than the participants who imagined being rejected rated themselves. 

This may be because participants 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.

“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,” said Dr Givi.

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

In another experiment, the researchers recruited 160 people to participate in what was called a ‘couples survey’ with their significant other. 

Of the couples who participated, four per cent had been together for less than six months, one per cent six to 12 months, 21 per cent one to five years and 74 per cent had been together for more than five years.

Regardless of the length of the couples’ relationship, the researchers found that the person who rejected their partner’s invitation to a fun activity tended to believe that their partner would be angrier or more likely to feel as if the rejection meant they did not care about their partner than they actually did.

The researchers believe their findings show people consistently overestimate how upset someone will be when they decline an invitation, even if they have a longstanding, close relationship.

“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 said. 

“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.”

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