Mental health 101: How to say no
If you find yourself tongue-tied at the prospect of saying no, here are a few things that can help you make a change.
Whether it’s with family, friends or colleagues - many of us find it hard to say no to people. This might not always feel like a big problem, like when your work friend wants to go get a cup of coffee when you’re in the middle of something. Or when your mother wants you to pick up groceries on the way home even though it’s out of your way. But things can pile up - like if your boss keeps expecting you to stay late, night after night, or your friends keep picking venues that are out of your way, or your family keeps expecting things from you that you just can’t accommodate in your schedule right now.
We can often find ourselves saying yes to situations that might go on to make us feel worse mentally, physically or spiritually - just because it might seem easier to say yes than taking a stand, prioritising yourself, maybe risking conflict and saying no.
While saying no may often be associated with negativity, it actually holds a lot of power. From being able to shut down unwanted advances to politely declining professional requests, there are infinite times in a day when this single-syllable word can come in handy.
If you find yourself tongue-tied at the prospect of saying no, here are a few things that can help you make a change:
1. Put your needs first
Repeat after us - “my mental peace is important”. Put your needs first, even if it is just the need to rest. You’re the best judge of what you need when. Don’t let anyone else decide that for you. Also, don’t get lost in the maze of what other people will think of you if you say no - that’s their prerogative. Don’t base your decisions on other people’s opinions.
2. Question the guilt
Many times saying no can be attached to a feeling of guilt. It might be a good idea to take a minute to analyse this - were you harsh when you said no? Did you hurt someone’s feelings by saying it? Was there a compromise you could have offered that didn't require you to go out of your way? Deal with the situation accordingly, once you have your answers. Looking at a thing practically may slowly reduce the associated feeling of guilt.
Practice can make you perfect at anything - even saying no. Look in the mirror and say it five times every morning, in five different ways. Make a game out of it and challenge yourself to say it using different words, facial expressions, body language, accents - anything that makes it seem as normal as saying hello. Soon it’ll start flowing off your tongue with ease.
4. Be precise
Don’t leave room for interpretation and don’t beat around the bush. If you know you want to say no, stick to the word exactly - don’t say maybe, don’t say you don’t think you can, don’t say it doesn’t seem likely. And say it again if people don’t take your no seriously the first time. Be louder, there is nothing to be embarrassed about. Be polite while you can but be firm if that doesn’t seem to work. Maintain eye contact until people take you seriously.
On the other hand, don’t say no when you really are undecided. This might lead to signals getting mixed in the future.
5. Take some time
If you’re very new at saying no, we know that it can be a bit hard. If you want to take baby steps, here’s an easy one - say you need some time to think it over and will get back soon. This lets you off the hook for an immediate response and you can practice like we discussed and come back later to say no, with confidence.
6. Establish boundaries
If people are taking things for granted with you, it’s a good idea to establish boundaries by pointedly asking them for their consent in similar situations. For example, if someone routinely vents about their relationship to you and this isn’t a welcome conversation, you might want to ask them if it would be okay for you to talk to them about your relationship before discussing it.
7. Respect it when others say no
This should go without saying but we’ll say it anyway. To have other people respect your decisions, you need to show them the same respect. When someone says no, don’t take it to mean that they need more convincing. Respect their decision, and respect it still if they change their mind later on - everyone is allowed to do that.
The inability to say "no" may also have a strong correlation with self-esteem. People lacking in the confidence department might be more likely to want to seem agreeable and say yes to things they don’t necessarily want to do.
Having said that, we have all given into peer pressure to be liked at one time or another. Being able to say "no", however, is something we all need to learn. At the very least, it can pull us out of some sticky situations. And at, it can help us be healthier and happier.
For more on this topic, please read our article on Stress: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment and Prevention.
Health articles in Firstpost are written by myUpchar.com, India’s first and biggest resource for verified medical information. At myUpchar, researchers and journalists work with doctors to bring you information on all things health.
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