We’ve all been there, agreed to do something or other to help out a friend, a family member or a colleague despite being overexerted and pushed for time. At first, you are more than happy to help, being there for others is meaningful to you, it gives you purpose and it makes up a large part of who you are. But what happens when saying yes comes at a cost to you? Maybe you literally just don’t have the time, your plate is already full, you’re exhausted and thinking about when, if ever, you will get to have a break. Creating some time and space that is just for you is near impossible.
Maybe you feel a sense of guilt – they wouldn’t ask unless they really needed help, besides, it would be rude or mean-spirited to say no. You don’t want to offend or make a situation uncomfortable – you want to be seen as somebody who is helpful. So this thing gets added to an already growing list of things you need to take care of – in addition to taking care of the needs of your family, juggling a busy work life, running a household and everything else that come with it.
On the outside it might look like you’re coping well, you’ve got it all under control, you are the boss of multitasking – taking care of everybody’s wants and needs without even breaking a sweat. In reality, your usual juggling and keeping everything going is becoming increasingly difficult, pretty soon one of those balls you are juggling is going to drop.
Inside, you’re feeling overwhelmed, everything is going by in a blur, you’re tired, forgetful, irritable and frankly, miserable. Your mood begins to change, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to smile through gritted teeth and give the response you usually give: “Sure, I’ll do it.” Your usual demeanour of people pleasing and not being able to do enough for others begins to crack. Your responses are a little curter; you become snappy and resentful of yet another person demanding something else when you just simply do not have the time, and now, you no longer have the energy or the inclination.
So what do you do with these growing feelings of resentment and anger? You try to bury them, make your own feelings small just to not disappoint, ignoring the fact it’s all getting too much and something has to give. To not be all things to all people is just…selfish? Do you continue to feel powerless and overwhelmed?
Stop, take a deep breath, give yourself a break and accept that there is only so much any one person can do. Understanding when you are taking on too much and recognising your own needs and limitations is not selfish, it’s self-aware. If you are feeling overwhelmed with increasing anxiety and you can’t see a way out, that’s a warning sign telling you to slow down and put on the brakes. Increasing your levels of stress and anxiety is not going to help anybody, especially not you. Helping others should not come at the expense of your own mental health or wellbeing.
Feeling like you are not doing enough or that you are inadequate damages your confidence and self-worth. It’s time to get acquainted with the word NO. I know, it’s uncomfortable, it can be messy and it can feel awkward at first. But tell yourself: it’s okay to say no. It’s okay to set boundaries and let others know where your boundaries lie. If you are able to take care of your self in this way, it leads to being a better version of you, giving you the energy and resources to take care of the things that really matter. Resentment or frustration not included. The more you become attuned to your own needs, the happier and healthier you’ll be, it will become easier – it just takes practice.
Overcoming a fear of saying no takes time and it is a process, particularly when you’ve spent the majority of your life always saying yes. The key is to start small and to take each situation as it comes – before you know it, you’ve set clear boundaries and that uncomfortable feeling in the pit of your stomach will get smaller, you get happier – it’s a win-win. It means when you are able to help and it feels right to you, you can say yes freely because you want to. Not because you feel guilt, a misguided sense of duty or a fear of saying no.
If the idea of saying no leaves you with unbearable feelings of anxiety it’s an area worth exploring with a counsellor. The counselling process can help you to examine and identify your thoughts and feelings around always being available to others at your own expense. A counsellor can offer support to help you find effective ways of getting your voice heard, as well as practical techniques to manage your anxiety.
Call or email today to book a free fifteen-minute telephone consultation.
Counselling and psychotherapy for individuals and couples based in St Albans AL1 and Watford WD17