Why We Dread (and Ditch) Our Own Social Plans, Plus 3 Tools to Try (2024)

A reader named Meg asked a question that was so relatable, it felt like a family reunion.

With permission, here’s the question:

“I make plans in advance and then consistently ditch those plans. As the plans approach, I begin to absolutely dread them. What is this?? Why??

Meg has a hypothesis: “I think part of me starts focusing on only negative outcomes and not good possibilities.”

Why We Dread (and Ditch) Our Own Social Plans, Plus 3 Tools to Try (1)

Meg hit it on the nose. Of course our brains focus on what might go wrong—that’s millennia of evolution converging so we don’t get blindsided at brunch.

But all that worry about what terrible things could happen is overwhelming. What if it’s totally awkward? What if I don’t have anything to say? What if I say stupid things?

Here’s the part we often forget: focusing on what could go wrong implies we expect ourselves to do everything right.

Being social can feel like a performance, with your Inner Critic holding up metaphorical scorecards. Your joke was lame: 2 out of 10! You laughed at the wrong part of her story: points off!

It feels like there are so many contradictory rules: we have to ask questions but also talk about ourselves. We have to be cool but not detached. We have to be smart and informed but not a pretentious know-it-all.

All of this is exhausting. If brunch with our friends feels like an exam, of course we’d prefer to stay home.

Why We Dread (and Ditch) Our Own Social Plans, Plus 3 Tools to Try (2)

So what should we do when we feel the urge to text and cancel? Here are three tools to try:

We’ve all been there: We make a plan that we’re (genuinely!) looking forward to, and then, as it approaches, all the energy drains out of us like a deflating balloon. Our brain latches on to excuses: “Last time parking was a giant hassle,” “But I’m exhausted,” “Do I even like these people?”

But consider this: when you go to a restaurant, what happens? The hostess greets you, seats you, and hands you a menu. The server comes and takes your order. They return with your food, you eat, you pay the bill, you leave.

It’s a script. It’s what always happens.

What if social anxiety before an event is also a script? Get invitation, be excited, accept invitation. Time passes. Start to dread the event, come up with lots of reasons I can’t go, feel anxious. Go anyway.

This happens to me with big work events and conferences. My brain comes up with a zillion reasons not to go, but I know it’s just what happens. It’s part of the script, which means I don’t have to fight it. It will pass. I can watch it like a movie I’ve seen a thousand times.

And then I walk out the door and usually end up having a decent time.

Am I 100% anxiety-free? No.

Am I glad I went? Yes.

Regarding anxiety as “just part of the script” helps us see it not as a screaming alarm system we have to heed, but as a phenomenon that simply plays out in the theater of our mind. All these thoughts—”I don’t want to go,” “I should stay home because I value self-care”--are just passing through.

Why We Dread (and Ditch) Our Own Social Plans, Plus 3 Tools to Try (3)

It’s just what my brain does, but that doesn’t mean I need to listen to it.

2: Ask yourself what’s most likely to happen.

Our brains are wired to zero in on the worst-case scenario. The anticipatory movie in our mind pauses on the moment we go blank, feel left out, or feel as awkward as a cow on crutches.

But worst-case scenarios are rare.

Why We Dread (and Ditch) Our Own Social Plans, Plus 3 Tools to Try (4)

Instead, gently try to redirect your brain to the most likely scenario. Most likely, one friend will hype you up but go on too long about her dating life and another friend will tell hilarious stories but check her phone a lot. There will be mostly nice moments of connection peppered with some awkward moments of miscommunication or misunderstanding. In other words, it will be a mix of ups and downs, not a giant catastrophe.

Can things go horribly wrong? Yes, absolutely. But don’t mistake possibility for probability. Worst-case scenarios are possible in this universe, but they’re not what will probably happen.


Our brain reasons, “If I follow the rules and do everything right, I’ll be accepted—or at least not rejected.”

Needing to do everything right usually means we’re measuring ourselves through our social performance. If we do well, that means we’re ok. If we slip, even just a little, that means we screwed up. And then we review that lowlight reel over and over when we get home.

But this is perfectionism.

Remember, you are not your social performance. Whether or not you tell a good story or act appropriately isn’t a test of character.

You can still be liked by the group, a good friend, a cool person, or whatever value is important to you and make a blunder here and there. Give yourself some grace. It’s time with friends, not a final exam.

Are there times when canceling is the right thing to do? Of course. But try taking your anxiety along with you as you go to game night, axe throwing, or weekend brunch. Surprisingly, you and your anxiety may end up having a nice time.

Did you find this note from me useful? If so, please share it with one person you care about. Even in our digital world, a word of mouth recommendation is still the most valuable.


If you received this from a friend, sign up for more (hey, there’s a button right there) or at ellenhendriksen.com.

Be kind to others and yourself!

Why We Dread (and Ditch) Our Own Social Plans, Plus 3 Tools to Try (5)
Why We Dread (and Ditch) Our Own Social Plans, Plus 3 Tools to Try (2024)


Why do I dread plans? ›

Also, for some people, planning can instantly invite worry to set in because they might feel like a failure if their plans don't work out exactly the way they are supposed to. And when this happens, it's easy to go down a dangerous rabbit hole.

Why do people ditch you? ›

This is just part of getting older. However, some people grow so much that they feel they need to surround themselves with new people who share their newfound identity. Oftentimes, this is when they ditch you (abruptly and seemingly-rudely) for other people.

Why do I have the urge to leave everything behind? ›

The urge to run can be normal, and it has a basis in the nervous system every human is born with. For many, the fight or flight response can be heightened, and the desire to flee may occur. However, leaving everything in your life behind might not be a realistic answer to your challenges.

Why does having plans give me anxiety? ›

You're Over-planning

Trying to control everything around you and adhere to an overly rigid schedule can cause anxiety. If you don't build in flexibility for the unexpected, then you'd get stressed out every time something doesn't go exactly according to plan—i.e., life happens.

Why do I dread social interaction? ›

It can be linked to a history of abuse, bullying, or teasing. Shy kids are also more likely to become socially anxious adults, as are children with overbearing or controlling parents. If you develop a health condition that draws attention to your appearance or voice, that could trigger social anxiety, too.

Why do I hate sudden change of plans? ›

Why do I get upset when plans change? Fear of change is not uncommon. It can make you feel anxious, out of control, or unprepared for what's next. You may also be worried that plans will change again, leaving your brain to cycle through all the potential scenarios, unable to rest until the plans are finally over.

Why do people cut you off so easily? ›

The ability to cut people off with ease might also be a symptom of being non-confrontational. 'Someone may have grown up in an environment where problems were swept under the carpet,' Dr Elena adds.

Why is someone distancing themselves from me? ›

They Are Going Through a Big Change

“When a person is going through a big life transition, such as starting a new job, moving to a new home, transitioning to a new school or going through a divorce, they can distance themselves from family and friends,” she shares.

Why someone leaves you? ›

Incompatibility and differences. One of the most prevalent reasons for leaving a loved one is the realization of significant incompatibilities or irreconcilable differences. Over time, individuals may discover that they have conflicting values, goals, or lifestyles.

Why do I suddenly want to get rid of everything? ›

Often, constantly feeling the need to declutter can be linked to feeling stressed or anxious. If you are experiencing lots of stress from something in your life (work, school, family, etc) you can feel urges to clean. These urges stem from not being able to relieve the stress but needing to do something to feel better.

How to escape your life and start over? ›

Feeling Stuck in Life? 5 Tips for How to Start Over
  1. Assess the Situation. The first step to starting over is to step back and take an honest look at your life. ...
  2. Start Over With a New Job. Your career can be daunting to change. ...
  3. Move to a New City. ...
  4. Immerse Yourself in New Activities. ...
  5. Embrace the Challenge!
Jul 10, 2023

How to leave everything and start a new life? ›

How do I start over in life?
  1. Start with reflection.
  2. Examine your value system.
  3. Revisit (and rewrite) your goals.
  4. Work up the courage to change.
  5. Make your next move.
  6. Get a coach.
  7. Keep checking in on yourself.

Why do I always cancel plans with friends? ›

Excitement can turn into anxiety

The problem is people don't know how they will actually feel in the future. While the plan sounded good as a hypothetical, the reality is that on the day, you can have a headache, a bad day at work or just not be in the mood to socialize.

Why do I hate committing to plans? ›

They often just haven't thought about what they want to do yet and it feels like a lot of energy to think about something that's not immediately relevant. It's hard for them to know in advance how they will feel. And they don't want to be held to plans that no longer make sense to them in the moment.

Why is everything giving me anxiety? ›

Are you always waiting for disaster to strike or excessively worried about things such as health, money, family, work, or school? If so, you may have a type of anxiety disorder called generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). GAD can make daily life feel like a constant state of worry, fear, and dread.

Why do people with ADHD cancel plans? ›

They may also struggle to control impulsivity or hyperactivity, which may be difficult if they have incompatible needs with friends. ADHD can negatively impact short-term memory, sometimes causing individuals to cancel or forget plans with friends or show up late.

Why do I always have the urge to cancel plans? ›

Typically, it is because your needs are not being met in one shape or form. When you do not check in with yourself, you can be neglecting important messages that your mind and body have been trying to tell you. For example, let us say that you agreed to go out on a date on Saturday night.

Why do I have a hard time making plans? ›

Perhaps you're afraid of failing or don't know where to start. Or maybe you're struggling with a physical or mental health issue that is zapping your energy or increasing your anxiety levels. You could even be struggling with perfectionism.


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