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Karen Maleck-Whiteley: Relieve your stress by learning to say ‘no’

Live Well Stress Less

Posted: April 3, 2009 12:23 a.m.
Updated: April 3, 2009 4:55 a.m.
For some of us, saying "yes' to too many things is one of the biggest contributors to our stress. Do you say yes to people when you know you should say no? I know I have in the past and sometimes still do.

Obviously there are times when you have to say "yes" to a boss or client or family member when you would prefer to do something else. However, it is important to think about and identify those things to which you can and should say "No." Saying "yes" when it would be better for us to say "no" causes us stress in many ways.

We cram our schedules and set ourselves up to have conflicting priorities and to feel we are neglecting important tasks or people. We feel inadequate or sloppy, as we cannot possibly do everything in the way we wish we could.

We feel we let ourselves and others down and sometimes end up in conflict with important people in our lives.

Saying "yes" when we should say "no" can lead to resentment, overwhelm and other uncomfortable feelings that can be hard to dig out of. Taken to extremes, your sleep can be affected, and of course your health.

While I do know people who are very good at not over-committing, I seem to know more people who have an issue with it - especially women. Here are some things to consider each and every time you are asked to consider a new social invitation, to "help out" or to take on a new task, project, or committee.

Why we say "yes" when we should say "no"
Here's a list of reasons we say "yes" that are not always healthy. These come out of my own experiences; I know you can probably add some from your own. When you are tempted to say "yes" to something that puts pressure on you or your schedule, thinking about your reasons for wanting to say "yes' can help you clarify times when ‘no might be a better answer for you. See if any of these fit for you.

n Ego - I want to be asked and involved, or I know I can do a good job and want to be seen and acknowledged for my abilities.
n It sounds fun. I focus too much on the positive parts of the project and underestimating the time commitment and difficulty of some of the tasks.

n Not getting a good picture of what I was really saying "yes" to - and thus saying "yes" too fast.

n Not taking the time to look at my schedule to see I am already booked.

n Guilt.

n Not wanting to make someone mad, disappoint someone, or let the group down.

n No one else said yes - someone has to do it.

n It is something I am good at.

n I like to help.

n I like to be in control.

n I like to be in the spotlight.

n I don't like to feel left out, or I am afraid I'll miss out on something.

n I like the feeling of adrenaline and pressure that being against a deadline produces.

n It's easier for me to do it than to train someone else.

n It's easier for me to do it than to watch someone else do it differently or not as well.

n I have always done it.

n I don't know how to say "no" or don't feel comfortable saying "no."

What you can do
Make a pact with yourself to stop and consider all invitations and requests for your time before you give your answer. Look through your calendar and see if there are any things you have already said "yes" to that need to be renegotiated or changed to a ‘no.'

What do you need to release, even if it is uncomfortable or will take some time to get out of? It is OK to change your mind or renegotiate if and when life circumstances change. It is more than OK to consider all of your circumstances, needs and feelings before you give someone an answer on an invitation, assignment or project. For purposes of this assignment, pick at least one thing that requires you to say "no" to someone else. If nothing seems obvious, simply keep your eyes and ears open - you'll have an opportunity soon enough.

Five ways to say no
When saying ‘no' to someone, be honest, calm and polite. It will help you keep control, and avoid escalating the situation or alienating the other person. People are happier to accept an honest ‘no', than be faced with indecision and a delayed refusal.

Think about how you feel.

Most of us completely understand when our friends or colleagues need to say ‘no' to something, yet we are uncomfortable saying it ourselves. Know that for many of us, this takes practice.

n The direct "no"

When someone asks you to do something you don't want to do, just say ‘no'. No apologizing; just be direct and succinct. If someone asks you to join them for lunch and you do not want to go, simply say:

"No, no thank you."

n The broken record

This can be used in all sorts of situations. Repeat the simple statement of refusal again and again. No explanation, just repeat it. It may be necessary to use this with particularly persistent requests:

"No, I can't have lunch with you."

"Oh, please, it won't take long."

"No, I can't have lunch with you."

"Oh, go on, I'll pay."

"No, I can't have lunch with you."

n The reflecting "no"

Here you acknowledge the content and feeling of the request and then you add the assertive refusal at the end:

"I know you want to talk to me about organizing the annual department meeting, but I can't do lunch today."

"I know I have the most experience on the finance committee, but I cannot be the chair person this year."

n The reasoned "no"

Give a brief and genuine reason for the refusal without opening up further negotiation:

"I can't have lunch with you because I have a report that needs to be finished by tomorrow."

"I can't take on the rummage sale this year because I need to be available for my kids in the evenings and on weekends."

n The rain check "no" or the modified "no"

A way of saying "no" to a specific request without giving a definite "no." It's a prelude to negotiation, not a rejection of the request.

It is perfectly fine to be clear about when or under what circumstances you will take on something new or add it to your schedule.

Only use this if you genuinely want to meet the request or would consider meeting it in a modified form:

"I can't have lunch with you today, but I could make it sometime next week."

"I would consider hosting the meeting at my house if someone else could handle the food."

Next month, I'll be discussing saying "yes" to yourself more.

In the mean time, I encourage you to set a goal of saying ‘no' in a healthy way at least once a week. Once you start to practice it, you'll find it is not as hard as it seemed in the past, and that a few well-considered "no's" can significantly reduce your stress levels.

Karen Maleck-Whiteley is a certified hypnotherapist, coach, speaker and author. She is also the co-owner of Balance Point Spa in Canyon Country, where people go every day to reduce their stress. If you would like information or assistance with learning to say "no" more effectively call (661) 252-0650, or e-mail Find out more by visiting,,, or www.Five4Me/ (free downloads). Her column reflects her own views and not necessarily those of The Signal.


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