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How to Say “Yes” to Saying “No”

Turning someone down is sometimes hard but may decrease your stress. Try these healthy ways to say “no.”

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Do you find it hard to turn people down? Are you a people pleaser? Or do you do too much even when your schedule is out of control? Perhaps you think people in your life don’t respect your boundaries. Or maybe you sometimes feel the way Priya does:

As a home baker, Priya is in demand. Family, friends and friends of friends all want her deliciously decadent cakes. If there’s a bake sale or birthday, Priya knows what’s coming: “Your cakes are wonderful! Could you do me a favor…?” That’s OK. Priya loves baking and loves that people love her cakes. But lately, she’s feeling overwhelmed and, honestly, a bit resentful. She doesn’t want to let people down but wonders, “Can’t someone else, just once, bake the cake?”

If any of this sounds familiar, maybe it’s time to do yourself a favor — and learn to say “no.”

Why “no”?

Constantly saying “yes” to others may not be healthy. If you’re overextending yourself, it can lead to stress and anxiety. Over time, this stress can take a toll on your health and may result in symptoms like digestive issues, headaches, sleeplessness, and irritability.

If you find yourself saying “yes” when you don’t want to, saying “no” when appropriate may be an important step in taking care of your own needs and health. Keeping yourself from getting overloaded may help decrease stress, allow you time to focus on other existing obligations, and give you space to try new things.

How to say “no,” gently

Saying “no” isn’t always easy. There may be times when you feel like you can’t bluntly say, “No, I won’t bake a birthday cake for your coworker’s cousin.” Some of your relationships may make it harder to say “no,” or you may have a personal interest in helping. Maybe you feel guilty saying “no” to family, don’t want to upset a friend or want your boss to recognize your work. The good news is there are clear and gentle ways to say “no” that may help you care for yourself while safeguarding your relationships.

Check out these examples and suggestions. You may find one or more helpful the next time you’re feeling overwhelmed.

Offer an alternative

"Perhaps we can have the picnic at the park instead of my backyard this year."

Suggesting another solution shows you’re committed and want to help, even if you can't do it yourself. Try encouraging others to step up. Or recommend people who might be interested, maybe a friend or a student looking to do community work.

Delay your answer

"I'm not sure. Can I get back to you?"

This is a good choice if you think you might actually want to do something but aren’t yet sure if it’s right for you. But don’t just avoid the question. If you’ve promised someone an answer later, meet the deadline you agreed to.

Offer to take on a lesser task

"I can't bake cookies for the sale, but I can make a sign to put up."

This approach could work if you want to be involved but not at the level asked of you. How much can you manage? Suggest something. Or simply ask, “I won’t have time for that, but is there something smaller I can do?”

Don’t decide alone

“I’d like to check with my [partner/boss/family] first. I’ll let you know in a few days.”

Sometimes bouncing an idea off a trusted colleague or loved one can help you look at it from different perspectives. You might not see all the risks or benefits involved in saying “yes.”

Stay in the loop

“I’m afraid I can’t help this time, but feel free to check back with me at a later date.”

Maybe you can’t take something on right now but may be interested later and want to stay connected. This answer keeps the door open for saying “yes” at another time without burning any bridges.

Saying “no” with confidence

Even a gentle “no” can be a clear and confident one. Ultimately, your decision is personal and individual. You know your own limits. Decide what matters to you and say “no” to taking on more than you feel comfortable handling. Whatever you decide, know that saying “no” is your choice and may help when you’re managing stress and maintaining a healthy life.

By Ginny Greene, Contributing Editor
Michael Phillips, Copywriter

Sources Stress management. Accessed August 12, 2021.

Mayo Clinic. Stress relief: When and how to say no. Accessed August 12, 2021.
National Institute of Mental Health. 5 things you should know about stress. Accessed August 12, 2021.

Updated August 20, 2021