How I Learned That Saying No Is My Most Powerful Self-Care Tool

Contributing writer By Carley Schweet
Contributing writer
Carley Schweet is the author of Boundaries With Soul and podcast host of You Time, both of which focus on self-care practices. She lives in Seattle.

Image by Javier Díez / Stocksy

In my early 20s, I found pride in being a yes-woman. I took on roles and responsibilities at work that weren't mine to carry, convinced that I would be viewed as a stronger, more valued employee. I continuously gave too much and neglected my personal needs in my romantic relationships in hopes of being a more compassionate partner. Within my family, I gave myself the role of communicator due to an overwhelming feeling that everything would fall apart if I didn't overcommunicate and placate as I went.

Over a few years, my people-pleasing tendencies began to catch up, and I felt overwhelmed by the smallest tasks and spread too thin daily. My anxiety was high as I found myself experiencing a panic attack in the office bathroom, convinced that I needed to "try harder" to solve my problems.

It took a lot of introspection and self-work to understand where my people-pleasing and inability to say no stemmed from, but it was worth every second. Now, I realize that saying no is the best course of action for me to take power back into my hands. This little word empowers me to ensure I'm caring for my needs and showing up as the happiest and most grounded version of myself daily.

No wasn't an easy word for me to embrace. I would be wracked with anxiety when faced with a simple yes-or-no decision: continuously torn between being a "good person" and helping someone out or taking some much-needed time to care for my needs.

Saying yes felt like the right thing to do at the moment. Still, after taking a closer look at the patterns in my life, I realized it was usually causing more harm than good for my well-being. With time and (sometimes) awkward practice, I overcame my fears around saying no. I began to realize the world wouldn't fall apart if I weren't holding it up. No one asked me to be a yes-woman; it's a title I unknowingly gave myself.

Why saying no feels so difficult.

Some of us have been conditioned to believe putting the wants of others before our needs is reasonable and the right course of action. Or that saying no, taking a step back from our responsibilities, or asking for a helping hand is selfish or next to impossible. I know many who feel like they're letting others down by not complying with their requests. That feeling is too much to shoulder, so they say yes when they really want to say no.

Often, intense feelings of guilt can hold you back from using the little two-letter word that can grant us back our time and energy. You might feel like you're selfish by not attending to the needs of others—even when you have little left to give.

If you're someone who feels overwhelming guilt when faced with the opportunity to say no, it's important to remember that your guilt will never entirely disappear. Instead, work to create space for and embrace the feeling, keeping your sights set on the bigger picture of caring for your needs effectively.

The bottom line: Saying no can be awkward and difficult. It can stir up intense emotions that cause you to second-guess your decision, but it's imperative to keep your well-being as a top priority when making decisions.

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I found that saying no was my most powerful self-care tool.

It's true! Life-changing, impactful self-care encompasses more than bubble baths and massages. Powerfully caring for ourselves means getting uncomfortable with our thoughts and emotions to dig deeper and spark personal growth. The more that you focus on your emotional self-care work—saying no and setting boundaries, for example—the more cared for you'll begin to feel.

When you work on saying no to others, it's essential to realize that, in turn, you're really saying yes to yourself. You're creating the opportunity to tend to your physical, emotional, and mental needs. Without proper attention, your needs may go neglected for far too long and eventually bubble over, spilling into feelings of resentment and frustration with those closest you.

Alternatively, when you say yes to others, it's essential to pause and examine where in your life you're now saying no. Are you giving up an opportunity for rest? Quality family time? A night in?

Learning to say no has the power to clear your calendar of commitments you're not passionate about. It has the potential to encourage you to show up as the best version of yourself when you do decide to say yes.

Instead of continually spreading yourself too thin, the word no can ensure that you're dedicating your time and energy to those who deserve it most, starting with yourself.

Here are my tips that help me say no:

  • Keep it short and simple—your no does not always require an explanation.
  • Get clear on your top priorities at the moment and in the future—say yes/no accordingly to honor those priorities.
  • Craft one or two go-to sentences—practice using the word no in a sentence to make declining as stress-free as possible.
  • While working on this new self-care tool, it's essential to keep in mind that your no can come from a place of love. This word will empower and encourage you to show up as your best self and be fully present in each moment. 
  • The practice of embracing your no-power can serve as the most supportive and transformational type of self-care, an exercise you're so worthy of incorporating into your life.

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