This may sound familiar: You’re exhausted after a stressful day of work, yet you agree to a last-minute dinner date with an old colleague. Or, maybe you recently had to dig into your savings to pay for an unexpected expense, but you can’t bring yourself to turn down an invite to a friend’s wedding—in another state. Why is it so damn hard to say no?
According to Nicolette Amarillas, a women’s life coach, holistic health practitioner, and founder of Expansive Voice in San Francisco, the pressure to say yes to everything is real. Being a woman often makes this that much harder. Amarillas points to a 2014 study from the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology (SIOP) that found social norms play a major role in why women say yes more than men do. Because women are typically seen as “nurturers” and “helpers,” saying no can be seen as running against the grain of what’s expected of you, which can be hard to overcome.
As a result, you may take on burdensome obligations, even when you truly want—and need—to decline. “On a psychological level, a woman’s well-being depends on balance at work, home, and social life,” says Carla Marie Manly, PhD, a licensed clinical psychologist in California. “When a woman becomes too taxed by pleasing others at her own expense, she may experience anxiety, stress, depression, and sleeplessness.”
Here, our experts share ways to change your yes-to-everything mindset and become better at turning things down. Because sometimes you need a night in to yourself.
Review your calendar
Do you often cringe when you check your planner? “Create a calendar filled with obligations that, by and large, make you smile,” suggests Dr. Manly. “Of course, there will be occasions that you must attend, an activity that you’d rather decline—such as your mother-in-law’s birthday party—but these ‘musts’ are often rarer than you think.”
Listen to your body
If your inner dialogue tells you that you’re done for the day, then call it a night. “It’s important to remember that the body is never going to work against us; it’s always working for us,” says Amarillas. “If we start to listen to the body and mind, and use our intuition, we can then answer [questions] honestly based on what our bodies need in that moment—and sometimes that means saying no.”
Let go of the guilt
Learn to accept that you don’t have to agree to something simply because you think it is what’s expected of you. Saying no doesn’t mean you’re being selfish; it means you’re being self-aware. “Let compassion, not guilt, be your guide,” says Dr. Manly.
Give yourself a chance to recharge
By saying no to some things, you will be more refreshed and relaxed overall, says Dr. Manly. As such, she adds, “you will be better able to care for your own needs and the needs of loved ones.” And when you do say yes to a request, you’ll be able to appreciate the moment and fully enjoy yourself.
Forget the excuses
Avoid making up a long-winded excuse when declining an invitation. That just adds to the stress of the situation. “It is sufficient to say, ‘No, I wish I could, but I have another obligation,’” says Manly. And then leave it at that.