For some of us, it's a bit of a running joke that when you're introverted, and especially when you're introverted and mentally ill, cancelling plans can be one of the best feelings in the world. Cancelling, and therefore instantly signing yourself up for a night with Netflix instead of a night out at a restaurant or a party, can be a huge #blessing when you're not having a good mental health day, or when you're just not feeling quite up to it. But cancelling can get a little dicey when you're cancelling on a friend who knows about your struggles with mental health, and can be doubly dicey when you want to flake on plans made for self-care.
Chances are, if a friend knows your plans are intended specifically for self-care, that friend likely also knows if you have a mental illness like depression or anxiety. And if they're not aware, well, now is a good time to tell them. While I know from experience that cancelling self-care plans is guilt-inducing, you have to remember that if the "self-care" you're doing is actually stressing you out more, it's not self-care anymore.
One person with anxiety, quoted as Emma C., explained their experience with anxiety and cancelling plans to The Mighty: "There are days when I physically struggle to leave the house, let alone get out of bed. I am left shaking, feeling nauseous, [experiencing] bad chest pains and uncontrollable crying." If a friend told you they were experiencing these symptoms, chances are you would be more than understanding about their need to take some time to themself. You've got to afford yourself the same care.
So, if your friend isn't aware your time together was meant to be self-care, maybe take this opportunity to really open up to them and explain that you need to cancel for mental health reasons. Mental Health America offers a great template for opening a conversation about your mental health, including tips about what may happen afterward, like your friend wanting to ask you some questions, both of you experiencing some awkwardness, and, thankfully, you feeling some relief.
But if your friend is aware your plans were meant to be self-care, you should still open up to them and be honest. Don't tell them you have a migraine, or that you need to give your sister a lift: Let them know the type of self-care you have planned is just too much for you today.
Because, of course, it is OK to cancel. It is 100 percent OK to flake on plans for self-care. If you've been Googling around about cancelling plans, you've probably seen stories explaining why "scientists say" you need to stop being a flake, or stories about folks who split up with friends they considered toxic because those friends kept cancelling plans. Make no mistake — there is certainly a line between needing to cancel plans to help preserve your mental health and falling into a habit of never following through, where you maybe aren't treating your friends as well as you could be.
Something you should consider before you cancel wholesale, though, is altering your plans, Alisha Ramos, CEO of Girls' Night In, told Elite Daily. If you're capable, "Recommend a more low-key activity, like hosting a girls' night in, rather than going out, if your goal is to recharge and relax for a bit," she explained.
That means if you'd planned to do dinner and the latest summer blockbuster, you can ask your friend to do takeout and Netflix instead. If you were planning a hike, offer to let your friend bring their dog over and have a pup playdate. Or ask them to just sit around your home and try out a new batch of exfoliating face masks with you. Remember that you made plans with this person because you want to spend time with them — and they made plans because they want to spend time with you.
If you're concerned that you may be falling into a pattern of cancelling even self-care plans, however, a good way to see what your habits are is to start keeping a self-care diary, whether it's jotting a sentence down per day, or downloading a full-suite self-care tracking app like Aloe Bud.
Self-care takes many forms, and those forms can change depending on your day-to-day needs. The type of self-care you need one day may not work for you the next, and if that's the case, it's really, truly, honestly OK to duck out.