One of the most common reasons I see folks seeking counseling is related to the issue of managing stress. In my work with them, learning how to reduce stress and improve overall well-being is often our biggest goal. When first reviewing stress management strategies, most people are not surprised by our initial discussions, which are mainly related to increasing exercise, rest and self-care activities. However, once an initial effort is made at increasing the interventions listed above, those same people are often surprised to hear about additional strategies that can help reduce stress. One of these strategies, which is effective for everyone, is learning to say “no.”
I often hear how people feel stressed and overwhelmed. When exploring this further, it is revealed that most people are often overloaded with obligations and responsibilities and do not think they have enough time to get everything done. Given this, it can be really helpful to start viewing “no” as a healthy option and as a strategy for stress relief in and of itself.
Stress and stress levels are unique to each person. This means that what one person may consider stressful and overwhelming, another may not. As such, it’s important for each of us to know our limits, to know how much we can handle and when enough is enough. When discussing saying “no” with people I work with, many recognize that although it may sound easy, putting it into practice is not. When discussing reasons why this may be hard to implement, I hear common reasons given. One reason is that people perceive saying “no” as being selfish. It’s important to know that this is not true. In fact, learning to say “no” to future tasks and responsibilities can help you commit the necessary time and energy to your prior commitments and ensure they are able to be completed to your satisfaction. Another common barrier to saying “no” is often not wanting to let others down. It’s important to remind ourselves that we will never be able to satisfy everyone. No matter what decisions we make, others may disapprove, so getting comfortable with and accepting disapproval from others is another way to reduce stress and increase your ability to say “no.”
Determining when to say “no” can also be difficult. How do we decide which commitments and activities to pass on and which to accept? Strategies to help navigate this include:
• When possible, take time to think about your decision. Sometimes when we make quick decisions, we may not fully understand how it may fit in with our other responsibilities or just how much time it would take away. So … buy yourself some time. Examples of how to do this could be, “Let me take a day to think about how this fits in with my other responsibilities,” or “Let me sleep on it.”
• Prioritize what’s important. First, weigh your current commitments. Prior to committing to any new tasks, ask yourself how much of a priority this new commitment would be for you. If it is important, then go ahead and accept. If not, perhaps this is a task you can practice saying “no” to.
Although the act of saying “no” sounds easy enough, as discussed above, for many, it’s just not that easy to do. Below are some strategies to consider when practicing this strategy.
• Actually use the word “no.” This word is short, but it’s powerful. Being clear and direct can help minimize any confusion about your response later.
• Provide a quick and concise reason for your answer. It can be respectful to give the requester an honest expiation as to why you need to decline; however, avoid the need to provide long explanations. For example, after saying “no,” you might offer, “I’m swamped with my children’s activities this week.”
• Be prepared to repeat yourself. It is not uncommon for requestors to try to change your mind or talk you into taking on the task. You may even experience some guilt during this process. It’s important to be aware of this and repeat your position as needed, especially because other people in your life may not necessarily be used to you saying “no.”
Remember, while saying “no” isn’t always easy, it is an effective strategy to reducing the amount of stress you are experiencing. Also, with practice, it can start to feel more comfortable. If you would like to learn more about stress management and/or saying “no,” you can contact Psychological Services Bureau at (213) 738-3500 to schedule a confidential and free appointment. This information was adapted from the Mayo Clinic (tinyurl.com/daebpef8).