How to Say No to Protect Your Mental Health

I’ve been saying this word a lot recently. It’s a word that I’ve always wanted to be able to say more. Not because I’m a particularly contrary person or a petulant toddler. But because it took me many years to realise that I had a problem with it. It’s a problem that I think many of us have. We find it hard to say no to other people – whilst ironically this means saying no to ourselves.

So, why have I’m been saying ‘no’ quite so much? I’ve finally learnt how to say no because I’ve needed to. A period of ill health meant that I was plunged into the ‘no’ deep end. Suddenly I was starting to say that two letter word left, right and centre. It started to feel like the only thing I was saying. Which was frustrating in it’s own way.

My ‘No’ Journey

I had started to improve with saying ‘no’ slightly more before all this happened (more here). I had dipped my toe in the water and the world hadn’t come to an end. No-one hated me or thought I was lazy or selfish. People still spoke to me and invited me out to social things. If you’d asked me if I really thought the world would end if I said ‘no’, I’d have known logically that it wouldn’t. But knowing this simple truth and fearing it anyway are two different things.

Either way, I had begun my ‘no’ journey and was pleased with myself for trying. I was also relieved that everything I subconsciously feared might happen if I said ‘no’. Had not. Everything was okay. I think at this point I decided that was enough. I had said ‘no’. A few times. I could say ‘no’ again. I could officially be safe in the knowledge that ‘no’ could be a tool in my toolbox if I needed to take it easy or give myself some space.

And then this happened. My doctor offered me time off work but I thought I’d go mad sitting at home. I opted for amended duties, which has been a life saver. And alongside this came the word ‘no’. I started having to say ‘no’ to training I had in the diary. Luckily in most scenarios I was able to rearrange or arrange cover. But there were times when I did have to say ‘no’ and there was nothing I could do to try and make it better. It was, and still is, a bitter pill to swallow.

It affected not just my professional life, but my personal life too. I had to turn down multiple social occasions. Some were spontaneous and I could explain or excuse. But others had been in the diary for months. In some cases I had not only spent money on something I couldn’t attend but I had genuinely been looking forward to it.

My Next ‘No’ Steps

And now. I’m not yet through the woods. Having to say ‘no’ is a spectre hanging over me. It’s an on-going process. There are events, both social and professional, coming up in the next few weeks which I simply don’t know if I’ll be able to attend. This, in and of itself, is causing it’s own levels of stress. The uncertainty of will I/won’t I is hard to bear. I’m hopeful that I’ll be back to normal soon. But I also have to acknowledge that if I don’t look after myself now this could last. And I don’t want to feel ill longer than I need to.

I’ve also FINALLY realized the true reason why ‘no’ has always been such a hard thing for me to say. Having needed to say it so often I’ve realized that, whilst people have been great, it’s my own associations with the word that I need to shift. With every personal and professional event I’ve cancelled there’s been a sense of failure. Whilst it’s been manageable – I’ve been keeping an eye on my mental health – saying ‘no’ feels like I’m admitting defeat. Or at least admitting that I can’t do something. I’m not infallible or perfect by any stretch of the imagination. And yet, not being able to do something hasn’t come easy.

Silver Linings

Photo by Reafon Gates from Pexels

There has, however, been a silver lining to this ongoing story. Whilst saying ‘no’ has been a bit of a culture shock and has been hard to do it has shown me one thing. I am incredibly lucky to be surrounded by so many people who have shown me such care, consideration and understanding.

This begins with my family and friends who have accepted that I’m doing everything I can but at the moment I’ve had to take a step back. It ends with my wonderful employer and colleagues who didn’t bat an eyelid when I needed to adjust my working life for the time being. Not only were they accommodating but they’ve gone above and beyond encouraging me to look after myself. All these things have made it so much easier to say ‘no’. Despite that it still remains such a little word and yet still so hard to say!

What are your thoughts about saying ‘no’? Does it come easily to you or is it a work in progress? Have you had to learn to say it more? Let me know your thoughts below!

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12 thoughts on “How to Say No to Protect Your Mental Health

  1. Saying no is such a liberating action! It’s important to take control of things we want and need, even if this means ignoring pressure from others. It’s definitely difficult getting to a spot where saying no is comfortable, but it’s worth it. Keep up the good work!

  2. Lovely! I still struggle with saying no but I’m working on it. You’re right, when you own your truth, and are honest with how you feel, those who love and support you will still be there.

  3. This is a brilliant post. Saying “no,” can be so hard for anyone. I’m a people pleaser, and often feel the need to say “yes,” to things, even when I don’t want to, especially in social situations. I want to use “no,” more every day, and learn how to liberate myself with those two words. Thanks!

  4. It’s very difficult for me also to say ‘No’.Specially to close people.But after reading this I feel like for your inner peace and your happiness it is required to learn to say ‘No’.
    Thanks for writing on this beautifully..

  5. It’s freeing, isn’t it? When you finally realize that saying NO is ok and the world won’t end and people will still like you (and if they don’t then it’s their loss) I had to make that journey when I started to feel my aversion of confrontation and wanting to always be “nice” is starting to cost me in stress and anxiousness. SO glad you are taking care of yourself and your wellbeing. Such an important post to share.

  6. This is so true. I think, especially women, are expected to give so much of themselves, help everyone, say Yes to everything regardless of their own needs or wellbeing. We need to be more confident and empowered with how we actively choose to spend our time.

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