How To Say 'No' To Virtual Hangouts (Even If You Don’t Have Plans)

It's OK to decline some of those Zoom invitations. And you don't have to feel guilty about it.

In some respects, socializing during coronavirus quarantining is easier than before. You no longer have to change out of your pajamas or get off the couch to hang out with friends or family.

But even virtual get-togethers can be taxing in their own way. Receiving a bunch of invitations to FaceTime, Zoom, Google Hangout and Houseparty can feel overwhelming when you’re exhausted just trying to get through the day.

“Being quarantined has added a layer of emotional stress, along with doing our paid jobs, cooking more, and perhaps homeschooling our children or supervising their online classes,” social psychologist Susan Newman, author of The Book of No: 365 Ways to Say it and Mean it―and Stop People-Pleasing Forever,” told HuffPost. “Factor in wiping down groceries and cleaning. Most of us are not chilling out and watching Netflix or TV.”

As Vice’s Rachel Miller put it, “Simply being alive during a pandemic requires a ton of energy.”

So why is it hard to say no when someone wants to make plans with us, digital or otherwise?

In general, we have a tough time when we think we’re letting people down, Newman said. “If you are a people-pleaser who wants to keep others happy or someone who avoids confrontation, you will have more trouble saying ‘no’ to meeting up virtually,” she said. “You might also worry you will miss something important, even fun, by not joining in.”

Under normal circumstances, if a pal asks you to do something and you’re busy, you just say so ― your kid has a birthday party that day or you’re out of town for the weekend. But now, with almost everyone home all the time, “legitimate” reasons for declining invitations are harder to come by.

“Because you are home and they know it, your usual ‘outs’ are out,” Newman said. “You can’t claim you are racing off to a meeting, you have a date or are driving your child to a soccer game.”

You don't need to make up some elaborate excuse. A polite but firm "no" gets the job done. 
You don't need to make up some elaborate excuse. A polite but firm "no" gets the job done. 

Some people will feel a sense of guilt if they don’t accept every Zoom invitation that comes their way — even though they shouldn’t. Right now, protecting our time is especially important.

“Every person reading this has every good reason to set boundaries in order to take care of themselves right now, including declining virtual social invitations,” said Nicole O-Pries, a therapist at Virginia Affirming Counseling in Richmond, Virginia.

So it’s OK to be a little more selective when it comes to what online gatherings you say yes to these days.

“Be choosy about the meetings you accept and be sure they fit your schedule, not everyone else’s, or you will resent the time online,” Newman said. “Self-care should be your top priority so you have the energy and time to meet all the demands being made on you during this period of social distancing.”

While some virtual hangouts cheer you up and make you feel more connected, others may leave you more anxious than when you started. Feel empowered to say “no” to anything that’s going to make you feel worse right now.

“This is particularly the case when the virtual happy hour becomes a round-robin of sharing the most recent terrible truths of this pandemic,” O-Pries said. “These social interactions may feel similar to watching too much COVID-19 media coverage.”

How To Decline A Virtual Invite

You don’t need to make up some B.S. reason to justify your not wanting to socialize at the moment. Give a polite but firm “no” and move on.

Something like: “I can’t this time, but I hope you will continue to invite me to any future events,” O-Pries suggested.

But if you want to explain why you’re choosing to sit this one out, keep it honest and brief. O-Pries and Newman offer some suggestions below ― just go with whatever best captures your reasoning.

I’m limiting my screen time.

“Thank you for inviting me. I am actually trying to limit my screen time a bit more, since social distancing has me looking at my devices most of the time,” O-Pries recommended. “I just need to give my eyes and my mind a break. I’m sure I would like to do this sometime in the future.”

I promised my partner/roommate/kids I’d spend time with them.

“Or, the kids and I are going for a run, walk, jog, or playing a board game,” said Newman.

I’ve had too many Zoom work meetings this week.

“My office is waiting for a huge report from me,” Newman suggested. “Or, I have virtual meetings with my office every day weekly. I can’t handle any more.”

I’m just not up for a video call right now.

“I’m ‘virtual-ed’ out — let’s try texting,” Newman said. “Or, let’s set up a time to talk on the phone.”

Remember that while you may be concerned that you’re disappointing your family and friends by declining, they’ll probably be quite OK with your refusal, Newman said.

“What most don’t realize is that when you say ‘no,’ people are not thinking about you as much as you worry about what they think,” Newman said. “Friends, in particular, will move on to find someone else to fill the virtual spot you open up by turning down the invitation.”


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