Have you learned to use the word “no”? Yes and no are often some of the first words a child learns to say, but it can take some people decades to learn to use them. Knowing how to learn to say no to people when you need space, when you need to focus, and when you need to create boundaries for yourself is crucial for your mental health and physical well-being. The power of being able to say and use “no” wisely can change your life for the better while helping you manage conditions like anxiety or depression.
You Can’t Be Everywhere at Once
There are only so many hours in a day and so many things we can dedicate those hours to. As much as some of us might want to be everywhere at once or be there for everyone in our lives, it isn’t possible – and the people who end up trying to do it all often find themselves burnt out because they failed to do what they really wanted to, aren’t getting the rest they need, and completely neglected their own needs.
It’s Okay to Say Yes, Sometimes
Sure, it is important to keep an open mind and learn to say yes to other people as well. But not at the cost of your sanity and your priorities. We all learn to give and take, but there should be an individual limit that you must find and respect. If you feel like you really need that weekend to relax, unwind, and take care of a few things around the house, don’t say yes to helping a friend move instead. If working overtime means missing out on your daughter’s play or being home late for your anniversary, tell your boss that you can’t. If a buddy of yours wants to hang out after work, but you’re beat and really need a good night’s rest, ask for a rain check.
Many people who struggle to say no might give the excuse that they’re doing so for others, but failing to set boundaries for yourself for the sake of others is not a sign of selflessness but a sign of fear – a fear of rejection, a fear of retaliation, a fear of what might happen when you stick up for yourself and simply say that you haven’t got the time nor care to be there right now.
The Importance of Setting Boundaries for Yourself
There is an important difference between constantly looking out for number one and knowing when certain things are too important to compromise on for others. If you’re always the person drawing the shorter end of the stick, your own self-confidence and self-value will erode – not to mention that you lose valuable time needed to cope with stress, chill out, and take a break.
How do you know when you’ve reached the point where you might need to re-evaluate your relationship with the word “no”? It’s a completely subjective and personal feeling. Some people can “take” much more than others, but everyone has a limit. If you want to put an analogous spin on it, it is hard to beat the words of the great J.R.R. Tolkien: do you ever feel thin, stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread?
How to Learn to Say No to Improve Mental Health
It can take time and practice to find the right way to tell someone that you need to prioritize something else, other than what they might be asking you to. Here are a few key things that might help.
It Might Not Be Your Responsibility
There is a difference between doing the things expected of you, and going the extra mile for others, every single time. While it’s admirable, it often is not sustainable. And in those moments, it’s important to step back and recognize that you can and should limit yourself to what’s currently doable and dedicate the rest of your time to rest and recuperation. Doing what is expected of you, or never refusing because it might be rude, is a sign that you’re worried and scared of how you might come across. It’s important to stand up for yourself.
You Don’t Need to Give an Outright Rejection Just Yet
Sometimes, a wishy-washy answer is also a good deterrent if you simply do not have the confidence to give a full “no” right now. Say that you’re not sure, that you might have other plans, that you need to think about it, or that you can’t promise anything and might be busy. There are a million ways to tell someone that you don’t have the means or the time right now without feeling like you might be rude.
Don’t Say Sorry Every Time
If your problem is people-pleasing – that is, if you can’t help but focus on what other people want in order to avoid ever coming off as unpleasant or disagreeable – it’s important to emphasize that you shouldn’t apologize every time you aren’t making yourself available to the people around you.
It’s okay to struggle with saying no the first few times. But it does get easier. Start putting yourself first in other ways, like by saying, “I’m not able to this week,” or “I’ll have to check my schedule, but I think I’ll be busy.” Eventually, you will feel more comfortable putting yourself first when you need to and can learn to be more upfront with people when they become overly demanding of your time and attention.
When Should You Talk to Someone?
If it were as easy as simply telling people “No,” it wouldn’t be as much of a problem. It can be difficult to ease into learning how to prioritize your own well-being and recognize that you deserve time to dedicate to your mental and physical health.
Even if you understand the value of taking care of yourself from an outside perspective – where your own improved mental and physical well-being can help you be a better friend, a better sibling, and a better coworker – it’s often similar to knowing the difference between erroneous negative thoughts, and healthier thinking patterns, but still struggling with these negative thoughts, nonetheless. We often need help to ease us into healthier habits, whether they’re behavioral, cognitive, or both.
Get Mental Health Help at Amend Treatment
That is where therapy can help. Talk to a professional if you find yourself struggling with your mental health, regardless of whether you have a history of mental health issues or are even currently at risk for a diagnosis. A person does not need to be ill to ask for mental healthcare, and working with a mental health professional can give you a better perspective on how to tackle your current stress problems, formulate effective stress management plans, and pick up healthier coping habits for long-term mental health.