Most of us are guilty of overscheduling ourselves. No matter how overwhelmed we are by work and life commitments, we struggle to turn down an invite to a happy hour or fun weekend event with a seemingly simple no. Why are those two little letters so difficult to spit out, even when the stakes are as low as a casual dinner? To start with, when you say no to a social invitation, it鈥檚 easy to feel like you鈥檙e letting the other person down.

The truth is, though, that saying no doesn鈥檛 have to be a disappointment鈥 to anyone! A little practice at gracefully turning down social invitations can go a long way toward making you happier and your relationships more genuine. 鈥淚f you are already overbooked and going in a million directions, you really aren鈥檛 showing up as your best self,鈥 transformation coach Brandyce Stephenson tells us. 鈥淭he guilt you feel isn鈥檛 serving anyone, especially not you, and you鈥檙e just adding more stress to yourself.鈥

If the mere thought of saying no in your social life makes you feel a little sick to your stomach, don鈥檛 panic. Keep scrolling for 11 expert tips that will help you do so kindly and authentically 鈥 and free up the time and energy that you need for yourself.

Overwhelmed woman at work

1. Say it from the start. Your first instinct after receiving a social invitation might be to say 鈥淢aybe!鈥 or 鈥淚 don鈥檛 know鈥 because you don鈥檛 want the other person to feel rejected, but according to mindset mentor Yvonne Lines, it鈥檚 better to be direct from the start than to string them along while you gather your courage to say a more final no. 鈥淒on鈥檛 leave a friend hanging,鈥 Lines says. 鈥淭hat鈥檚 not respectful of their time or their desire to bring friends to an event. Don鈥檛 worry about not liking all the same things they like, but do be kind enough to let them know.鈥

2. Start with gratitude. 鈥淚t might sound a little strange saying 鈥榯hank you鈥 at the beginning of a conversation where you鈥檙e about to let somebody down, but it will make all the difference,鈥 blogger Jess Keys (better known as The Golden Girl) suggests. This tip is especially important if you鈥檙e responding to an invitation via text or email, as written replies can more easily come off as cold or unthoughtful. Start with a genuine thank you, then don鈥檛 be afraid to say no in the end.

3. Be assertive and courteous. Yes, these two adjectives can, in fact, exist in the same sentence 鈥 and you can even embody them in the same face-to-face scenario! Author, columnist, and psychotherapist Jonathan Alpert suggests 鈥淚鈥檓 sorry, I can鈥檛鈥 as the basic template for any social no, because it鈥檚 both polite and definitive.

4. Use 鈥渘o鈥 as a complete sentence. Not every polite denial requires further explanation. Get comfortable with saying 鈥渘o鈥 鈥 and nothing else. 鈥淪etting the requirement for yourself that you have to provide an explanation will only make you feel guiltier for saying no,鈥 Ambrosia Treatment Center clinical social worker Dr. Sal Raichbach says. 鈥淵ou don鈥檛 always have to offer an explanation, but do it if you want to. It can help to clarify your reasoning.鈥

5. Don鈥檛 make up an excuse. As with most things in life, honesty is the best policy when you鈥檙e politely turning down an invite鈥 even if you鈥檙e worried that your reason for doing so isn鈥檛 legitimate. 鈥淚f you don鈥檛 feel as though you can say that you鈥檙e just too tired, the worst thing you can do is make up an excuse,鈥 clinical social worker and relationship expert Erin K. Tierno advises. 鈥淩eal friends see through this immediately and get the feeling you really just don鈥檛 want to be around them.鈥 Leave less room for interpretation by telling the truth about why you鈥檙e not up to accept the invitation.

6. Offer an alternative. Chances are that the reason you鈥檙e turning down an invitation has nothing to do with how you feel about the person extending it and a lot more to do with your schedule and bandwidth. Coach and assertiveness trainer Anne Brackett says that offering an alternative is a great way to make this distinction clear. Be firm with your no, but suggest another specific plan to demonstrate that you鈥檙e still invested in the relationship.

7. Blame self-care. Self-care is one of the hottest buzzwords out there right now, which means that your friends are more likely to be understanding if you invoke it as the reason to decline a social event. 鈥淚f you offer up that you can鈥檛 participate in the scheduled plans because you need to practice good self-care, you鈥檙e less likely to get a lot of pushback,鈥 licensed therapist and wellness coach Jor-El Caraballo says. 鈥淭hese days, more and more people are considering self-care both sacred and necessary.鈥 If you decide to go this route, make sure you鈥檙e being honest by setting up a plan for self-care and actually following through with it.

8. Establish a policy. The word 鈥減olicy鈥 sounds pretty formal, but what we鈥檙e really talking about here is clear standards that you can use to evaluate whether or not you鈥檒l accept an invitation. When you know that you鈥檙e reviewing invitations in a consistent manner, you might find yourself feeling less guilty when you do say no. Consider, for example, keeping your Saturday afternoons free or establishing a price threshold above which you won鈥檛 be able to attend an event. 鈥淎dopting a policy is a way of drawing a boundary,鈥 coach and consultant Amy Gardner tells us. 鈥淏ecause it鈥檚 presented as policy, [the statement] 鈥業 don鈥檛 want to do the thing you asked me to do鈥 doesn鈥檛 convey the same judgment.鈥

9. Follow-up when you are available. Being an effective naysayer doesn鈥檛 stop just because the initial invitation has passed. Per clinical psychologist Dr. Julie Gurner, you鈥檒l increase your future credibility by following through on checking-in with the other person when you are feeling up for being social. When you do this, saying no to them will feel a lot easier in the future.

10. Understand what鈥檚 at stake. As difficult as it can be for us to say no (just look at all of the guidance we need in order to do it!), the alternative can be even more challenging. As you work up more courage to turn down friendly invites, life coach Tiffany Toombs recommends that you keep your own needs top of mind 鈥 especially because those needs affect how you interact with others. 鈥淲hen you do the best thing for yourself, you do the best thing for others,鈥 Toombs says. 鈥淲hen we say yes when we wanted to say no, we鈥檙e wasting the other person鈥檚 time and stopping them from spending time or being with someone who would show up and be fully present for them.鈥

11. Remember that 鈥渘o鈥 is not a dirty word. It鈥檚 all how you look at it! 鈥淩ethink your attitudes about saying and hearing no,鈥 author and self-proclaimed 鈥減rofessional encourager鈥 Karen Southall Watts notes. 鈥淒eclining an invitation is not a rejection of an entire relationship.鈥

How do you gracefully turn down a social invitation? Tweet us @BritandCo!

(Photo via Getty)