Social Calendars are Back — But Don’t Overcommit

An out-of-focused but totally packed weekly schedule
“Busy schedule ;)” by lewro is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Most of us lost track of our 2020 planners sometime last spring. What did it matter? They were empty anyway. But now, as the ranks of the vaccinated grow, there are suddenly things to look forward to, trips being booked, and plans being made.

And while it’s natural to want to make up for lost time, loading up your social calendar with all the rescheduled events, postponed celebrations, and sorely missed get-togethers, it’s important not to overdo it. Too much obligation, especially after a year of very little of it, could damage our mental states and our relationships.

A 2020 study from Michigan State University found that obligation has a tipping point, past which it can start to contribute to lower overall well-being.

“The line in our study is when it crosses over and starts to be either a massive financial burden or something that disrupts your day-to-day life,” William Chopik, assistant professor of psychology at MSU and co-author of the study, said in a press release.

If all the social events that were originally spread out over 2020 are being rescheduled for the first months post-pandemic, it could quickly become a financial burden. And as far as disrupting your day-to-day life, well, after a year of no plans, any occasion is a disruption.

In addition to lowering overall well-being, too much obligation can make you start to resent, or want to distance yourself from, the people responsible for it. Even when it comes to your closest friends, scheduling too many hangouts will quickly exhaust you.

“Our longest lasting friendships continue because we enjoy them,” said Chopik. “But if obligations pile up, it might compromise how close we feel to our friends. Because friendships are a relationship of choice, people can distance themselves from friends more easily than other types of relationships when faced with burdensome obligations.”

Overcommitting can leave you feeling drained, but you might not realize you’re setting yourself up for burnout while you’re making the plans. In fact, it’s easy to overcommit without realizing it because of a tendency to predict the future optimistically.

A study by researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Duke University found that people believe time will be more available in the future than it is in the present. Because every day is slightly different, the researchers hypothesize, we “forget” how obligations fill our time, and think we’ll be able to do many more things than is realistic.

Then, of course, the day arrives, and we find we’ve overextended ourselves. The effect is likely to be even worse now: after so long without plans that don’t involve our couches, we may have lost all sense of how much is too much.

The solution isn’t to wipe your rapidly-filling social calendar: actually, the same Michigan State study found that some obligation can contribute to positive well-being. Just keep it light, at least to start — make sure you’re continuing to set aside alone time, and don’t feel guilty turning down plans or asking for a raincheck.

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