My Grade 11 law teacher, Ms. Allen, was a charming, spirited little creature known for two things: telling her students outlandish and totally captivating stories of her life that had nothing to do with law (one story involved an alien abduction, no joke) and her surprisingly valuable pieces of seemingly basic advice. My favourites? One: Men shouldn’t get their hair cut right before an event because a fresh trim is never a good look—get it done two weeks before. And two: Whenever you receive an invite to something and you’re on the fence about attending, just go. Worst case, it’ll be a story to tell, and we can never have too many of those.
I think of Ms. Allen’s advice (and her creepy alien story) often. She reinforced in me the idea that any event—with the people, food and culture it could expose you to—has the ability to inspire you to take your life in a whole new direction. Her words have acted as a kind of encouragement for me to accept as many invites to events as my iCalendar will allow. But lately, it feels like I need that push to try something new more than ever, as my entire Instagram feed seems to be pulling me in the other direction.
While writing this, I took a break once in a while to scroll through the app (because such is my attention span in 2019) and one of the first posts I saw was by Glamour Paris—an animated video of a phone with the message, “Hey! Are you coming tonight?” The caption of the photo: “Soyez courageux et balancez un bon gros << NON >> !” translates to, “Be brave and swing a big fat, ‘NO.’” It’s cute! It’s funny! But it’s also disheartening. Judging by the number of double-taps the post earned, it seems everyone is waiting around hoping their plans will be cancelled. Other popular meme-focused accounts are full of similar posts; for example, a recent one from My Therapist Says, which shows a renaissance painting of a woman in distress with the caption, “When nobody cancels and you actually have to go out.” Memes, although great for making us laugh, raising awareness on important issues, and helping us feel understood, can also popularize notions that don’t do us any good—like staying home all the time.
Of course, memes aren’t the only branch of pop culture that shares this same messaging. It has transpired past our screens and into real life through graphic tees and even couture. Viktor and Rolf jumped on the stay-at-home bandwagon with the design duo’s latest couture show featuring looks complete with “Fashion Statements,” one in which read, “Sorry I’m late I didn’t want to come.”
Since when did we start hoping we could stay in every night? Since when did we start to avoid texting a friend we made plans with in hopes that friend forgot we made plans or is also avoiding contact so they don’t have to follow through with said plans?
We could point the finger at the fact that we no longer feel the need to leave the house for a certain level of social interaction and entertainment. “With the new lines of communication, social media and Netflix, people find it easier and more practical to engage in more activities inside of the home than outside,” says Dr. Katy Kamkar, Clinical Psychologist for the Centre of Addiction and Mental Health, and Member of Canadian Psychological Association.
Being a millennial myself, I know that quiet nights at home are essential for tending to my energy, stress level and to-do list. With many of us falling victim to “millennial burnout,” having an essentials-only schedule can feel necessary for rebooting so we can be productive at work the next day. “It’s different from generation to generation—today, there are a variety of things to juggle and different responsibilities than decades ago,” says Dr. Kamkar. “Different factors and different demands are involved, plus a variety of new stressors, finances and obligations.”
Watching the new documentary everyone’s talking about, catching up on online articles, doing my Biologique Recherche Masque Vivant face mask and re-painting my chipped nail polish are weekly, non-negotiable tasks in my book. Add Toronto’s frigid winter temps and flurries to the mix, and my withstanding plans are about one meme away from being cancelled. It’s become too easy to rationalize my wanting to stay in and self-care with the fact that it can lead to a better me tomorrow—a calmer mind, a brighter complexion and a feeling that I have everything in my life under control, as evidenced by my unchipped polish.
But, there’s a point at which self-care can become counteractive and, in fact, lead to a worse me tomorrow. “We must be careful not to confuse self-care with focusing on self in a way that disconnects us from others in our lives or our responsibilities,” says Dr. Deanna Bruno, Lead, General Psychiatry and Mental Health in Medicine at Women’s College Hospital and Assistant Professor at University of Toronto. When unwinding with Netflix turns into back-to-back-to-back binge-watching nights, our mental health is put at risk. Depriving ourselves of contact with others can make us feel lonely and could lead to depression. “We need to ask ourselves if our choice to engage in activities in the home aligns with our values,” says Dr. Bruno. If we’re staying home to simply avoid a daunting situation, it becomes easy to “enter a vicious cycle of avoidance,” which could lead to isolation.
Figuring out whether our reasons for staying in are for rest and relaxation or avoidance is key for our well-being, particularly if declining and cancelling social plans is out of character and becoming a pattern. Dr. Bruno recommends asking yourself the following questions: “Does staying in feel like the safer choice with less social risk? Do you worry about being judged, embarrassed, scrutinized in the upcoming social situation? Are you feeling unmotivated, disinterested or disconnected from others?” If the answer to any of these questions is yes, your reasons for avoiding an engagement could be due to anxiety or low mood. For a little push, Dr. Bruno recommends recalling a similar event you attended or activity you engaged in, and determine if it brought you joy and was something you value. If so, “it’s probably worth re-exploring and trying to reinsert into your life in some way.” That said, if an event doesn’t align with my values, I won’t feel bad about declining—because it’s a power move. Most women were raised to be people-pleasers and feel guilty about letting others down by RSVPing “no” to an event. But learning to put our needs and desires first is liberating and fair and completely our right.
Like just about everything in life, balance is key. “We need to do whatever helps us feel healthy and have a sense of fulfillment, personal growth, meaning and purpose,” says Dr. Kamkar. Sifting through my opportunities for social engagements helps me prioritize spending time with those I enjoy, and doing what I love and find important—which helps me identify the times I should push myself to just go. “If an outing will move us in the direction of valued living; such as connecting to a hobby, help to build work relationships, friendships or a sense of community, we might want to reconsider saying ‘no’ and give ourselves a little nudge,” says Dr. Bruno. Most new or unknown circumstances are unnerving for everyone, but I find peace in knowing the anxiety I feel at the beginning always passes—and if it doesn’t, I can just leave and go home to my Masque Vivant.
This week, two of my favourite girlfriends invited me to dinner at a steakhouse followed by drinks at a bar that’s frequented by drink-spilling youngsters. Seeing as this vegetarian wouldn’t exactly call this her “scene,” and vodka soda showers wouldn’t bring her joy, she was going to cancel. But since my red nail polish is perfectly unchipped, I think I’ll go after all. Worst case, it’ll be a story to tell.
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