Avoiding overwhelm; It's Okay to say No


As women, whether we are working or not, mothers or not, grieving or not, we can often find ourselves with a sense of overwhelm.  Generally, our society expects us to be wonder-women; to do everything with style and grace, and of course, with a smile. But so often this sense of expectation leads to overwhelm, burnout and resentment.

What if it was Okay for us to simply say no?

Let's say no to the things that tip us over the edge.  No to the things that cause us to feel stressed and overwhelmed. And, the big one, no to the things that are wrong for us to pursue.

We've all had experiences where we have said yes when we really wanted to say no. And the result is, we feel stressed, overwhelmed, resentful and occasionally, bitter.

And that is the core of the problem.


Putting yourself first

Being kind to ourselves (which can mean learning to say no), regardless of our situation is important for our own well-being.  Showing some self-compassion is vital as part of being kind to ourselves.

When we say yes when really we mean no, we end up doing things for everybody else and putting ourselves last.  Each time we do this, we are putting other people's needs before our own.  This is not being kind to ourselves.

When we consistently put ourselves last, we have nothing left to give; our cup is empty.   When we have nothing left in our tank, nothing left for ourselves - that contributes to the feeling of burnout, stress, resentment and can have negative health impacts too.  Being kind to ourselves is learning to say no and occasionally, putting our needs first.

Avoid burnout = say no

Saying no can feel very uncomfortable.  I've worked with a number of clients about how to say no without the guilt.  I realise this might seem a little odd, but as women and as mothers if we don't learn to say no we can risk burning out. And that's not good for anyone.

Here are some ideas of how you can say no without having the person you're saying no to feel wounded and hurt. As after all, we don't like upsetting others, which is part of the reason why we find it hard to say no in the first place!

To help you practice learning how to say no here are some phrases you can use. The key word here is practice.  Saying no does not come easy.  A habit of people pleasing and saying yes took a lifetime to develop, and thus it will require practice and time to break that habit too.

How to say no nicely

Learning how to say no politely can be a sanity saver.

Here are some phrases that you can try.  Some of these can be used where the moment doesn't feel right, others will be used for when the whole request does not align with you and what your soul needs.

  • I would love to do that! But I'm pressed for time this week. Can we schedule a time in a few weeks?

  • That sounds really interesting, but not really right for me at this point in time. Thanks for thinking of me though.

  • I know just the person for you to ask to do that! How about I refer you to (insert name)

  • I'm sorry, that does not feel aligned with where I want to be at this point.

  • I can't help you with that. Perhaps (insert name) could instead?

  • Thanks for thinking of me, but not this time.

An alternative; say yes

If none of the above phrases feel right, what about saying yes?  I know, the whole point of this post is about saying no - but stick with me.

Say, "Absolutely, yes I can do that for you. I'm doing these five other things at the moment, what of those would you like me to prioritise lower? Or put on hold, or do later?"

This approach means you are saying yes, but you're letting the other person know you are already very busy.  This might mean they will realise how busy you are and withdraw their request.  It may involve something else falling off your To-Do list (which apparently wasn't as important in the first place).  Or perhaps, the person  making the request realises they can manage that task themselves. This is particularly useful when you realise they were just asking you because they didn't feel like it doing it themselves! (hello husband and children...)

Saying no is very much about time management. It's feeling you have some power in a situation where otherwise you feel put upon, or worse, overwhelmed.  Due to societal expectations, when we say no, we can feel like a failure, or that we have let someone down.  But this is not the case.

Let's be clear.  Saying no is about respecting your own time and helping others to respect how you use that time also.

Like all things worth doing, it takes practice

Practising saying no and knowing it's okay to say no are important life skills.  These are skills we require to put ourselves first and avoid overwhelm. To be the best wife, mother, friend, sister or anything else we want to be, we need to put ourselves and our well-being first.  We cannot help others when we are overwhelmed. We can only help others when we learn to say no and take time for ourselves.

Learning to say no is not easy, and is something many of us need to learn and work on for the majority of our lives. It is not something that comes naturally, but it can be learned.

What can you do today that will help you avoid overwhelm and practice saying no?  What can you do today for your well-being?

Remember for your own well-being, it's okay to say no.

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