Stress relief: When and how to say no

Sure, it’s easier to say yes, but at what price to your peace of mind? Here’s why saying no may be a healthier option for stress relief.

By Mayo Clinic Staff

Is your plate piled high with deadlines and obligations? Are you trying to cram too many activities into too little time? If so, stress relief can be as straightforward as just saying no. Saying no is a complete sentence.

Why say no?

The number of worthy requests isn’t likely to lessen, and you can’t add more time to your day. Are you doomed to be overcommitted? The answer is no, not if you’re willing to say no. It may not be the easy way, but it is a path to stress relief.

Keep in mind that being overloaded is individual. Just because your co-worker can juggle 10 committees with seeming ease doesn’t mean you should be able to be on several committees. Only you can know what’s too much for you. Each person knows their own mental and physical limits.

Consider these reasons for saying no:

  • Saying no isn’t necessarily selfish. When you say no to a new commitment, you’re honoring your existing obligations and ensuring that you’ll be able to devote high-quality time to them.
  • Saying no can allow you to try new things. Just because you’ve always helped plan the company softball tournament doesn’t mean you have to do it forever. Saying no gives you time to pursue other interests.
  • Always saying yes isn’t healthy. When you’re overcommitted and under too much stress, you’re more likely to feel run-down and possibly get sick.
  • Saying yes can cut others out. On the other hand, when you say no, you open the door for others to step up. Or you can delegate someone to take over the task. They may not do things the way you would, but that’s OK. They’ll find their own way.

When to say no

Sometimes it’s tough to determine which activities deserve your time and attention. Use these strategies to evaluate obligations — and opportunities — that come your way.

  • Focus on what matters most. Keep the main thing the main thing. Keep first things first. Examine your obligations and priorities before making any new commitments. Ask yourself if the new commitment is important to you. If it’s something you feel strongly about, by all means do it. If not, take a pass.
  • Weigh the yes-to-stress ratio. Is the new activity you’re considering a short- or long-term commitment? For example, making a batch of cookies for the school bake sale will t