I don’t know about you, but I used to be a serious people pleaser. If someone asked me a favor, I would almost always say yes to it, even if it was something I didn’t want to do or if it was out of my way. While this usually pleased the other person (hence the term), it would impact my mental and emotional health, especially the more often it occurred. The times when I would decline, I’d end up feeling guilty for saying “no” or afraid of disappointing the other person.

Now this isn’t to say that doing favors for others is a bad thing. However, you shouldn’t agree to do something if it makes you uncomfortable, goes against your ethics, crosses boundaries, if you feel obligated to say yes, or if you generally just don’t want to. So, why is it important to learn to say no? Saying “no” can be a great form of self-care. When you feel yourself stretched too thin, whether it be with work, school, or your personal life, adding on another task (even if it’s small), can feel incredibly overwhelming. Saying “no” to something can open up space for something else, such as important self-care activities, and give you time to rest and recharge.

Saying “no” also helps teach boundaries and respect amongst both parties, which can help build and/or strengthen relationships. If the other person continues to push after you already declined, chances are they don’t respect your boundaries. Last, but not least, learning to say “no” can help you focus and prioritize one thing at a time. Focusing on one task a time, as opposed to multiple, can help not only prevent stress or overwhelm, but also help produce higher quality work.

Learning to say “no”, especially to people or situations that you may not be used to doing so, can be fairly difficult. That being said, it is possible! It often requires us to be assertive. Here are some ways on how you can learn to be assertive and how to say “no”:

Practice. Knowing when to say “no” won’t happen overnight, but it will happen the more you practice saying it. You could start with some smaller, everyday scenarios and work your way up. The more you practice saying “no”, and general assertiveness, the easier it will get.

Be direct. Sometimes when I say “no”, I add on a long-winded reason on why I can’t do it. In my mind, if I provide a long and detailed response on why I can’t or don’t want to do something, I feel less guilty. The truth is that it just makes everything more confusing and I’m certain the other person starts to zone out the second I start explaining. Also, this can leave the door open for other people to try and convince you otherwise knowing why you can’t make it. Instead, stick to something short and straightforward.

Be respectful. Even if you are planning to decline, it is still important to be respectful while doing so. Something along the lines of, “Thanks for thinking of me, but I’m not able to do that” or similar, which shows you to be polite in your refusal.

Ask advice. While I would say I’ve gotten better with voicing my desire not to do something, it is still difficult to find the right words sometimes. This is when I turn to a close family member or friend to ask them for advice. This also helps, as most likely they are not as close to the situation or other person as you are.

Contrary to some popular belief, there is nothing wrong with saying “no” or refusing someone who asks you do to something. While it may be hard to do, especially at first, it is an important skill to have and one that can ultimately benefit your mental, physical, and emotional health. Although there is nothing wrong with helping out someone else, it’s also good to remember that you cannot fully commit to the person or task if you, yourself, are running on empty. So, remember to set boundaries, practice self-care, and that it’s truly okay to say “no.”   

Staff Blogger: Mollie Clupper

Mollie Clupper works for MHA as a Communications and Support Specialist. Using her own experiences, she wants to help bring awareness and end the stigma surrounding mental health. In her spare time, she enjoys hiking, drinking coffee, and spending time with loved ones.