Mental health

Nicola Baxter, AXA Health Psychological Coach

Saying no

Have you ever noticed you say ‘yes’ to things but then regret doing so?

3 August 2023

Have you ever noticed you say ‘yes’ to things but then regret doing so? Do you end up feeling overloaded, over-stressed or even resentful that you're in this situation and perhaps unable to do the things you want to do and that make you happy? Saying no can be difficult, but it can be really helpful for our wellbeing.

AXA Health Psychological Coach Nicola Baxter shares tips on why and how to say no.

“You can do anything, but you can’t do everything” as this saying goes, we can’t do it all. And most importantly, we can’t do it all at once. When we say yes to lots of things, we can quickly become overloaded and stretch ourselves too thinly. So why do we feel the need to say yes?

‘No, you can’t’, ‘Sorry, but no’, ‘Unfortunately not'; it’s not what we want to hear, is it?! The word ‘no’ has long been associated with the negative or viewed as something we ought not to say. So how can saying ‘no’ be viewed in a more positive or helpful way?

Why we struggle to say no

  • We fear others’ reactions. We may worry others will get angry, or think of us unfavourably if we say no. We may even intend to say no, then find ourselves saying yes in the moment. 
  • We want to please others. Saying yes can often keep other people happy but come at our own cost.
  • We think with our emotions. Sometimes we feel compelled to say yes, because we experience intense emotions such as guilt, shame, embarrassment if we don't; we might think we haven’t done enough work, given enough time to our friends or family. 

Why can saying no be a good thing?

Saying no can help us filter what we do and don’t do, and what we can and can’t take on. When we say no, it can provide opportunities to say yes to the things that make us happy or help us achieve realistic goals. If you imagine a bottle of cordial the more, we dilute it with water, the weaker it becomes. Some will like it stronger, some will like it weaker. There is a balance that will be right for everyone. And a bit like ourselves, we need to work out when we’ve become a little diluted and find a balance of how much we can say yes to. 

Knowing when to say no

  • Prioritise. First, ask yourself what are the things that are most important to you? What makes you the happiest? What do you want to do?
  • Plan your working day. Set time out to plan your day into order of importance and urgency; what must be done today? It might be helpful to colour your tasks. Perhaps red for the most important, amber for things that can be done today, and green for what can wait or be delegated. If something is asked of you, can check your red tasks and see if it is something that can realistically achieved that day.
  • Know your own limits. Know how much you can manage at any one time, and don’t take on any more commitments until you have time or capacity to take on more.
  • Value your time. Your time is as equally important as anyone else’s. Value your time, your skills and your presence. 

How to say no

Slow down your thinking. Take a breath and think about what is being asked of you; what are the consequences or impacts on your time? Is it realistic to achieve with your other commitments? 

Practice. If declining an invitation is filling you with dread, practice saying it before you do it in person. Write down what you want to say and use it as a script to practice. This will make it easier to say in the moment.

Saying 'no' and giving and alternative. Sometimes you may need to say 'not now' but can do it later.  Saying something like “I can’t make Tuesday, but I will have time next week if that’s good for you?”. 

Ending on a positive. Sometimes the word no can feel abrupt, so saying something like, “I’m sorry but I can’t make your party, but have a great time!”, can help to show you care and help you feel more comfortable. 

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