November 01, 2019
Group Chat is a weekly series where HuffPost UK writers discuss friendship, diary dilemmas and how to reclaim our social lives in a busy world.“So, when shall we go for Christmas drinks?”
I Dont Have A Free Weekend Until 2020 And I Feel Exhausted Already
My friends and I are panicking that we don’t have our annual December get-together in the diary yet. So what do we do? We plan it, two months early. Get the date fixed now, we think, so everyone can make it. Sorted.
Or is it? It’s only November and I barely have a weekend free for the rest of the year. This habit of planning our social lives eight weeks in advance has sent me to tipping point. I’ve become anxious of adding more events to my calendar, for fear that any control I have over my diary slips away entirely. 
The beauty of a free weekend is so enticing, yet so rare. A lie in with nowhere to be. Alarm off. A chance to get my life admin done. And, most importantly, being able to say yes to any spontaneous plans as and when they crop up.
I know I’m not the only one. I’ve seen the memes.It’s not just a winter thing. In June, I was planning things in August. By July, my September was fully booked up. So in August, when I realised just how much it was stressing me out, I put myself on “social lockdown”. I didn’t want to have all my October weekends marked out two months in advance, again.
The problem with this approach was that it took the over-planning out of my calendar, but also the pleasure. I love seeing my friends. I love brunch and coffee and evening drinks and dancing in a bar – what I don’t love is scheduling everything in.
My self-imposed diary dodge lasted all of a month – by October, the Christmas events started rolling in. Invitations for fun and festive outings with people I love. But instead of getting excited about them (Christmas being my favourite time of year), I bundled them all into one emotion: stress. 
There’s something about this time of year that makes people panic-plan. We want an “early” Christmas with our flatmates or school friends or family who won’t be there on Christmas Day. We need to go for drinks, because... it’s cold outside! There’s a work do (or three). And that friend we’ve not seen for six months? Because it’s Christmas, we have to get a date in the diary.
The scheduling gets earlier and earlier until it’s barely October and you realise you’re booked right up to (and possibly including) New Year. These are mostly things I genuinely want to do. So why can’t I handle the forward planning?
It’s ungrateful, I tell myself. I’m lucky to have people in my life who I love, and who love me back. More than nine million people in the UK – almost a fifth of the population – say they are always or often lonely.
And perhaps you – or your friend – is sometimes one of them. But it doesn’t take much to connect with someone feeling that way. It isn’t about quantity, but quality: an unplanned phone call, a handwritten letter, or even a thoughtful message – rather than hours out of your diary, scheduled weeks in advance. Related... Sue Perkins Left 'Shocked' After Spending 30 Hours In Total Isolation When we do want to see our friends, our “always on, always busy” culture means planning ahead often feels like the only option. And this causes stress. And guilt. And guilt about feeling stressed. And stress about always feeling guilty. 
Looking into why I feel this way, I came across a study that found social planning does have the capacity to make us miserable. It’s not the events themselves, exactly, but the act of scheduling that makes fun feel like work. And in turn that affects how much we enjoy ourselves.
The study suggested leaving blank spaces in our schedules for spontaneity; that those kind of meet-ups give us more capacity for joy than filling every spare hour with commitments. Isn’t joy what we crave at this time of year – and what we should all be aiming for, at least sometimes?
And the other times, when planning seems like the only option? Maybe it’s about calling time on that knee-jerk stress as soon as a plan comes into our diary, focusing on our good fortune instead. After all, we’re lucky to have diary dilemmas in the first place. 
So here’s to a busy rest of 2019. One where I (hopefully) manage to find a bit more downtime, and remember how grateful I am to have people in my life I want to hang out with – and who want to hang out with me.Related... Don’t Diss My Doodle Poll, We'd Never Meet Up Otherwise I'll Never Be Someone Who Can Mix Friendship Groups – Don't Make Me The Notes App Is The Perfect Hideout For My Darkest Secrets
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