How to Say No and Let Go of Stress

It was one of the first words you learned to say and you used it at every opportunity. Until someone convinced you that you couldn't, or shouldn't.

Others don't like to hear you say no. Parents/teachers/friends/employers/significant others and even strangers will do whatever they think it takes to get you to do what they want you to do instead of what you want to do.

Why should you? So they'll be happy instead of you? They get to live their life, shouldn't you get to choose how to live yours?

I know, they sound so convincing when they tell you they're counting on you, they need your help, it's your responsibility, if you loved them you'd?

And they'll keep sounding convincing as long as you let them! Okay, maybe they've convinced you that what they want you to do is for your own good. That's not the point. If you're at least 18, you're old enough to decide what you want to do and what you don't. Will you make mistakes? Of course. Everybody does. That's part of life.

So how can you say "no" without feeling guilty? If they want you to go into a career you don't want to go into, marry someone you don't like, have children or not, find a close friend, a school counselor or a therapist to help you realize it's your choice and not theirs.

If they complain that you don't visit often enough, do what you can and look for ways to let them know you're thinking about them in between visits.

Bosses are notorious for asking their employees to do things they don't want to do. They're probably paying you do to some of those things but the trend is to have fewer employees and work them harder and they'll keep pushing until you (kindly but firmly) let them know you've reached your limit. If it doesn't seem appropriate to say no when you're asked to take on one more project, tell the asker you'll see how you can fit that in. Then make a list of your current projects, tasks involved and deadlines, and ask which of these tasks you should set aside till you complete the new task. If your boss can't or won't honor your limits you probably need to say "no" by finding another job.

Spouses, friends and children all (rightly) feel they have certain claim to your time and attention and so the key is to get very clear about what you can and cannot do. On the one hand, you don't want to say "no" to every request. On the other hand, you can't say yes to all of them because it's important that when you do say yes, you deliver.

If you're not certain whether you can say yes, buy yourself some time. If you can't decide on the spot, say that. Say you need time to think about it and tell them when they can expect an answer.

Begin to notice how your body feels when someone asks you to do something. If it tightens up just hearing the request, it's trying to tell you something. Chances are very good that if you go ahead and say yes you'll regret it, your body will create a host of unhappy chemistry that is harmful to your immune system and that chemistry will be present while you're doing what you didn't want to do.

I know how important it is to say no because I learned the hard way. Even before Oprah named it, I had it ? the disease to please. The only person I was really good at saying no to was myself.

Then I was diagnosed with breast cancer. When the surgeon said she hadn't gotten clean margins and she needed to do a mastectomy, chemotherapy and radiation, I noticed the way my body felt and after much research and introspection, I said no. I went to a naturopath instead.

You don't have to have breast cancer (other cancer, stroke, heart attack, etc.) to learn what I learned. Practice saying "no" when you mean it and live your own life.

Karin Ireland, author of the award-winning Learning to Trust Myself: Lessons From Cancer and Other Life Dilemmas and 10 Practices That Will Bring You Peace, Confidence and Success: The Workbook is a popular speaker, workshop leader, and personal coach. Visit her at

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