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Ruth C White Ph.D.
Ruth C White Ph.D.

Say No to Stress by Learning How to Say No

Controlling your time is key to managing your stress

Your list is plenty long, and though you may enjoy the ego boost of being in demand, your body and brain are telling you that they need a break. Whether you’re being asked to take on more at home or at work, think about how this new task or obligation will affect you. Will it benefit you or just add to your stress? If it adds to your stress more than it benefits you, gently say no.

Gemma Evans on Unsplash
Source: Gemma Evans on Unsplash

For those requests that are hard for you to decline, think about why that is and develop a strategy for saying no the next time you get asked. Before you automatically say yes, say, “Let me think about it and get back to you.” Take at least one day to think about how this new task or obligation will add to your life and add to your stress. Ask yourself:

  • Is it busy work?
  • Is this something I hate to do?
  • Do I have time for this?
  • Is this something I want to do?
  • Will it get me something I want?

Look at your answers and decide if you want to say no. How do you do that without feeling guilty? Be assertive. Look the person asking in the eye and state your position clearly and firmly. Add a smile to make your answer easier to accept. Thank them for thinking of you and offering you the opportunity.

If you feel a sense of obligation, you can also add one of these caveats:

  • It sounds like a great opportunity, but it doesn’t work for me right now.
  • I’m not sure I’m the best person for the task, but thanks for asking.
  • I wish I could, but I can’t.
  • I’m flattered you thought of me, but I can’t.
  • This is probably not the answer you want, but I can’t.
  • I’m not comfortable doing that.

If you want to say yes but want to change one of the conditions, try to negotiate the time required or the details of the task, or ask for help getting it done. For example, you can say, “I can’t right now but I can in a week when I get this project completed” or “I’d love to but would need some help getting it done in time.” You can also specify what you’re currently working on, and note that you can discuss the current request when you’re done.

Managing your time is key to managing your stress. And managing your stress is key to a happy and healthy life. Saying no takes practice. But the more you do it, the easier it gets.

Excerpt adapted from 'The Stress Management Workbook: De-stress in 10 minutes or less'

About the Author
Ruth C White Ph.D.

Ruth C. White, Ph.D., M.P.H., M.S.W., is a stress management expert, diversity consultant, and mental health advocate, and author of The Stress Management Workbook and the forthcoming Everyday Stress Relief.

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