Mayo Clinic Health Library

Stress relief: When and how to say no

Updated: 07-23-2013

Is your plate piled high with deadlines and obligations? Are you trying to cram too many activities into too little time? If so, stress relief can be as straightforward as just saying no.

Why say no?

The number of worthy requests isn't likely to lessen, and you can't add more time to your day. Are you doomed to be overcommitted? The answer is no, not if you're willing to say no. It may not be the easy way, but it is a path to stress relief.

Keep in mind that being overloaded is individual. Just because your co-worker can juggle 10 committees with seeming ease doesn't mean you should be able to. Only you can know what's too much for you.

Consider these reasons for saying no:

  • Saying no isn't necessarily selfish. When you say no to a new commitment, you're honoring your existing obligations and ensuring that you'll be able to devote high-quality time to them.
  • Saying no can allow you to try new things. Just because you've always helped plan the company softball tournament doesn't mean you have to do it forever. Saying no gives you time to pursue other interests.
  • Always saying yes isn't healthy. When you're overcommitted and under too much stress, you're more likely to feel run-down and possibly get sick.
  • Saying yes can cut others out. On the other hand, when you say no, you open the door for others to step up. They may not do things the way you would, but that's OK. They'll find their own way.

When to say no

Sometimes it's tough to determine which activities deserve your time and attention. Use these strategies to evaluate obligations — and opportunities — that come your way.

  • Focus on what matters most. Examine your obligations and priorities before making any new commitments. Ask yourself if the new commitment is important to you. If it's something you feel strongly about, by all means do it. If not, take a pass.
  • Weigh the yes-to-stress ratio. Is the new activity you're considering a short- or long-term commitment? For example, making a batch of cookies for the school bake sale will take far less time than heading up the school fundraising committee. Don't say yes if it will mean months of added stress. Instead, look for other ways to pitch in.
  • Take guilt out of the equation. Don't agree to a request you would rather decline out of guilt or obligation. Doing so will likely lead to additional stress and resentment.
  • Sleep on it. Are you tempted by a friend's invitation to volunteer at your old alma mater or to join a weekly golf league? Before you respond, take a day to think about the request and how it fits in with your current commitments. If you can't sleep on it, at least take the time to think the request through before answering.

How to say no

No. Nope. Nah. See how simple it is to say one little word, allowing you to take a pass on tasks that don't make the cut? Of course, there will be times when it's just not that easy. Here are some things to keep in mind when you need to say no:

  • Say no. The word "no" has power. Don't be afraid to use it. Be careful about using wimpy substitute phrases, such as "I'm not sure" or "I don't think I can." These can be interpreted to mean that you might say yes later.
  • Be brief. State your reason for refusing the request, but don't go on about it. Avoid elaborate justifications or explanations.
  • Be honest. Don't fabricate reasons to get out of an obligation. The truth is always the best way to turn down a friend, family member or co-worker.
  • Be respectful. Many good causes land at your door, and it can be tough to turn them down. Complimenting the group's effort while saying that you can't commit shows that you respect what they're trying to accomplish.
  • Be ready to repeat. You may need to refuse a request several times before the other person accepts your response. When that happens, just hit the replay button. Calmly repeat your no, with or without your original rationale, as needed.

Saying no won't be easy if you're used to saying yes all the time. But learning to say no is an important part of simplifying your life and managing your stress. And with practice, you may find saying no gets easier.

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