Say yes to “no”. Why setting boundaries is good for your mental health

In our brave new world of being on 24/7 (thanks, technology!), it can be hard to say “no.” But did you know that this one little word is the key to a happier, healthier, more balanced life?

But, you must be thinking, “no” is, by definition, negative. How will it make me a more positive person?

Let’s take a little trip down memory lane, shall we?

Remember that time you agreed to help a friend when you were overscheduled and exhausted? Or that time you got talked into taking on a new project when you were already doing a ton of overtime?

I’ll bet it’s safe to say your inner voice (or compass) was screaming “no!” with all its might. And yet, you ignored what your body was telling you, and probably experienced some pretty major stress as a result. Saying “yes” when you really want to say “no” can be detrimental to your mental health, and is anything but positive.

So what happens when you agree to do something out of obligation or fear? You may feel resentful towards the person you weren’t able to say “no” to, and regretful you weren’t able to put your needs first. If this happens over and over again, the negative feelings can begin to spiral out of control, opening a Pandora’s box of negative self-talk, one that which can result in anxiety or depression.

It’s all about setting boundaries

Did you know that setting healthy boundaries is a form of self-care? And it’s as simple as deciding what you will or won’t budge on. And then sticking to it. The best way to do that? By saying “no.”

Sure, it can be scary at first, but learning to say “no” despite that fear fear of disappointing others, being disliked, not meeting expectations at work is one of the simplest ways to stay true to the boundaries you’ve set.

We get it, setting boundaries is easier said than done especially if you’re one of the following two personality types:

  • Is it important to you that others like you? Do you want to meet, or exceed, expectations? Do you feel you must not to let others down? Do you like to please others? Sounds like you might be a people pleaser.
  • Do you work a lot of overtime? Can your boss reach you 24/7? Do you regularly log on outside of work hours? Do friends and family complain they never see you anymore? You could very well be a workaholic.

If you’re a people pleaser

First things first it’s perfectly fine (great, even!) to be the type of person who enjoys helping others. In fact, doing good deeds is a great little mood booster, and we highly recommend it… most of the time. But, all good things in moderation, right?

If your willingness to help others is resulting in more stress than satisfaction, it may be time to put yourself first for a while. (And no, a little bit of self-care does not make you a selfish person make.)

Below are some tips to help you set boundaries in your personal life:

1. Come up with a consequence for broken boundaries and act on it. So, for example, if you clean your home to your liking/standard before the in-laws visit and are made to feel that it’s not up to par, you may want to consider not inviting them over for the rest of the month. Have them over again the following month, but be sure to repeat the same consequence if they haven’t gotten the hint yet. Eventually, they will!

Pro tip: Once you come up with a consequence, you have to stick with it or it will be ineffective.

2. Talk to your partner about sharing responsibilities, like chores, childcare, birthdays or events you are hosting. If it’s something that has always been your role, they may not even realize you need the help. Once you’ve made it clear what you need, stick to your guns. Refuse to take on more than you can handle — even if it means a messier house until they get the hint.

Pro tip: Keep a whiteboard on the fridge and with a breakdown of your shared responsibilities. That way, it’s staring you (and your partner) in the face every day. You know what that means? No excuses!

3. Watch out for friends who tend to ask for more than they give. If you constantly take on the role of “helper,” you’re going to start feeling pretty darned resentful, which can impact your mental health and your relationship. Learn to politely say “no” when you don’t have the time or the mental energy to take something extra on.

Pro tip: You don’t need to give a detailed explanation of why you can’t commit. You have the right to say “no,” and should not feel like your decision needs to be justified unless, of course, you’re cancelling on someone at the last minute!

Here’s what it comes down to: If your refusal to say “no” in your relationships is causing you stress and anxiety, it’s time to take a long, hard look at which times saying “yes” makes you feel bad. Then give yourself permission to start saying “no!”

If you’re a workaholic

If you are temporarily putting in the extra hours to finish an important project or get that promotion, we say: Keep up the great work! There are definitely ebbs and flows to your work week (or month), but the keyword here is “temporarily.” A little bit of stress now and then can be a great motivator and can result in a job well done. But iIf what was supposed to have an end in sight has now become your norm, it may be time to take things down a notch.

Find some tips for setting boundaries in your work life below:

1. Watch out for managers who expect you to be ‘on call’ (i.e., on your device) at all hours. If you’re getting urgent emails at midnight, simply commit to shutting down your laptop or turning off the notifications on your cell after a certain time. There’s really nothing they can say (legally), and after a few days, they should get the idea.

Pro tip: Answering emails at midnight can set a precedence for your and your colleagues. So if your manager doesn’t get the hint, arrange a meeting to discuss work hours and expectations.

2. If your colleagues come into the office early and stay late, you may be feeling pressured to do the same. Find ways to say “no” to unrealistic work expectations (and your inner critic) by working hard between 9:00 and 5:00. (Not convinced? Here are four reasons why you should avoid staying at the office so late.)

Pro tip: If you are meeting your deadlines within regular work hours, you shouldn’t have to worry about keeping up appearances by staying late.

3. Self-employed? Like most entrepreneurs, you probably work all hours of the day (and night) to get the job done. It’s your baby after all, right? Sure, but don’t forget you need your sleep and some time to recharge. Not to mention you should fit in some time for exercise, your favorite hobbies and a bit of a social life too! We get it, if you do contract or freelance work, it can be difficult to say “no” to a new project, especially when saying “yes” means a larger paycheck at the end of the month. But if you’re working so hard your health is suffering, those extra dollars won’t matter.

Pro tip: Sometimes letting go (and learning to delegate) is the best thing you can do for yourself. It might be time to bring someone onto the team, or to start saying “no.”

Bottom line: Working too hard and too long can affect both your physical and mental health. If you’re working late into the night, re-evaluate your priorities and learn to say “no” to non-urgent assignments or tasks that can be shared with or passed on to others. Maintaining work-life balance is the best way to avoid burnout, and will help you be better in all aspects of your life.

Saying “no” is scary. But once you’ve gotten the hang of saying “yes” to your needs, you’ll be amazed at how much better you start to feel. Remember, cars (and humans) don’t run on empty. It’s time to put yourself first. Go on, try it!

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