If television shows and movies have taught us anything it’s that everyone has a ‘role’ in their friendship group. There’s the funny one, the one who always says yes to a night out, the one who's always late, and so on. In my group, I’m the planner. If you want someone to buy the festival tickets, find an Airbnb, or book the table for dinner, I'm your girl – and it’s always been a role I’ve revelled in. That was, until lockdown. Stuck indoors, I had time to consider the effect that being the group’s events planner was having on my mental health. And what I discovered has changed my ‘role’ for good.
I'm an anxious person, meaning I tend to overthink the small details on absolutely everything. And this is especially true when it comes to organising plans.
My closest friends are all people I met at university. When we were studying, we all lived close to each other, so planning things felt relatively easy. But now we’re young adults and the time we spend together feels much more precious, so it’s important to me that we make the most of it. I want it to be perfect.
"In my group, I’m the planner. If you want someone to buy the festival tickets, find an Airbnb, or book the table for dinner, I'm your girl."
As social distancing came into place, I kept up my planning persona, organising Zoom calls, online game nights, and Netflix parties to make sure everyone stayed in touch. And when lockdown began to lift, the excitement to see my friends was at an all-time high. But soon I realised: so was the pressure.
I assumed getting back into the swing of IRL planning would be easy but, of course, there were so many new questions to consider. How comfortable did people feel about leaving the house? Were people willing to get public transport? Do we need to book the pub? Who's going to put their name down for track and trace? I was juggling all of these different factors while still desperately trying to plan something perfect.
"I assumed getting back into the swing of IRL planning would be easy but, of course, there were so many new questions to consider."
"Perfectionism is when we set a mythological sort of goal for ourselves that, by definition, can't be achieved," Clinical Psychologist Eric Goodman explains. "When you strive for perfection, you’ll always feel like things aren’t good enough and you’ll always feel that you fell short of whatever the goal is."
Environmental psychologist Lee Chambers says something similar: "When we’re planning things with a large group of people we know that there's the social judgment of the event that can kind of almost trigger that. We start to think about what people are going to think if it doesn't go to plan."
What's important to remember, says Lee, is that "you can't control everything" and "striving for perfectionism can stop you from enjoying the day."
"Whenever I plan something, instead of thinking about the time I’ll spend with my friends, I’m too focused on making sure every detail is sorted out."
It's hard to deny that this is exactly what happens with me. Whenever I plan something, instead of thinking about the time I’ll spend with my friends, I’m too focused on making sure every detail is sorted out. I end up sucking the fun out of the thing I've spent so much time trying to make as fun as possible.
So, for the sake of my mental health, I had to give up my obsessive planning, and what I found actually really surprised me. My friends were more than willing to step up to the plate and I found a new kind of joy in organising things with them. Finally I could relax and enjoy our meetups for what they were: a chance to catch up, chat, laugh, and enjoy each other's company. And in the pandemic, that feels more important than ever.
Lee says the best way to approach any plan is to let go of perfect and just hope things go "as well as they can." For me, that idea is going to take some getting used to, but with life (and lockdown rules) changing so much day by day, and with a supportive group of friends around me, I’m definitely planning to give it a good go.