Living in the 21st century comes with a range of stresses. It’s no wonder it often takes a toll on our mental health. That’s why we’re always looking for ways to feel better.
According to Her World’s Health & Wellness Report 2022, 65% consider themselves somewhat mentally healthy and 43% feel like they are pretty balanced when managing it. However, there are some challenges in the way – 51% are inclined to try to resolve their problems before asking others for help, while 32% don’t know what they can do to resolve their problems. And 30% aren’t sure how serious their mental health issues are.
One simple way to improve our mental health is to learn to say no. Many of us find it hard to refuse invitations or turn down someone when they ask for help.
Dr Natalie Games, a clinical psychologist at Alliance Counselling, believes this is an issue that women experience more, as society encourages us to develop a habit of saying yes as we strive to be generous friends, wives, mothers, sisters and daughters, while achieving a successful professional life. However, this isn’t good for our overall wellness.
“If we continue to say yes, we are headed for a life of burnout, exhaustion and resentment from saying yes too often when we would rather say no,” Dr Games explains. “Actually, when we say no, we can create more mental health stability, as we assess what is important to us and helps us with self-care and building self-esteem and confidence by setting boundaries.”
If we continue to say yes, we are headed for a life of burnout, exhaustion and resentment from saying yes too often when we would rather say no.
Saying no makes you feel empowered, while still maintaining your relationship with others. It helps you establish healthy boundaries and enables others to have clarity about what they can expect from you.
Dr Games shares a quote by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend, authors of the New York Times bestseller, Boundaries: “The most basic boundary-setting word is no. It lets others know that you exist apart from them and that you are in control of you.”
“I help my therapy clients implement these skills in their lives, as I have witnessed how a lack of emotional boundaries and chronic people-pleasing is at the root of many clients’ anxiety, depression and family problems,” says Dr Games.
Is saying no difficult for you?
Unfortunately, it’s harder for some people to say no. Dr Games says sometimes society and different cultures teach us that the word ‘no’ can be impolite and inconsiderate. Therefore, we may feel more obligated to agree to do things we honestly do not want to do, in order to be socially accepted, seek other’s approval or please others.
And, in the case of high achievers and young professionals, they have a tendency to believe that saying yes makes them better. Dr Games points out that there’s just as much power in a wise no as there is in an enthusiastic yes.
The most basic boundary-setting word is no. It lets others know that you exist apart from them and that you are in control of you
Saying yes could also be rooted in fear. You may ask yourself, what if I say no to that extra project at work or if I say no to chairing that committee and I’m never offered the opportunity again? What if I say no and that changes what people think about me? What if people think I said no because I’m incapable of taking it on? If that sounds familiar, Dr Games says you’re not alone.
Stick to your boundaries
People’s reaction to you saying no to them could also have a bearing on why you don’t say it. They might react with anger as they can’t understand why you would refuse them. However, it’s crucial if you’ve said no that maintaining your boundary will be an important learning point for that person too.
Dr Games recommends steps to consider when someone responds to your boundaries with anger:
- Recognise it’s not your problem that the person is angry at you for setting boundaries.
- View anger realistically. Anger is only a feeling inside the other person. It cannot ‘get inside’ you
unless you allow it. Let the anger be in the other person.
- Do not let anger be a cue for you to do something. People without boundaries respond
automatically to the anger of others. They rescue, seek approval or get angry themselves.
- Make sure you have your solid support system in place. If you are going to set some limits with a
person and you’re concerned they may respond with anger, talk to the people in your support
system first and make a plan. Know what you will say. Anticipate what the person will say and plan
- Stay calm. Remember to breathe and focus on walking your why – why you decided to say no
and why that’s important for you. Do not allow the angry person to get you angry.
- Be prepared to physically distance yourself and other limits that enforce consequences.