It’s not always easy to say no. Of course, it depends upon who is asking and what they want. But still, most of us have second or third thoughts before we say no. And let’s be honest. Saying yes can feel so good, at least for the moment. Powerful! Loved! Respected! And think of all that conflict and guilt you can avoid by saying that simple word. And who doesn’t like to feel like a hero? (Even if you feel like a martyr the next day.)
If you are living with a chronic health condition like diabetes, then saying no can mean the difference between taking care of yourself – emotionally and physically – or introducing stress, fatigue, and potentially causing symptoms or flare-ups of your condition into your life. It comes down to choosing to use that simple, easy to pronounce, and universally understood word: no.
Why is saying no especially difficult to do when you are living with a chronic condition?
Chronic conditions may introduce unwanted and unplanned change into your life – in relationships, roles, responsibilities. Living with a chronic condition means making changes in the way you live your life day to day as you coexist with that unwanted houseguest. As a result, it is not uncommon to fear that you are going to be somehow “less than” you were before you were diagnosed.
For people facing chronic conditions, what’s especially scary about saying no? Well, ask yourself what keeps you saying “yes” when you would be taking better care of yourself by saying “no.” One reason may be that the word “no” is a cousin to that other scary word, “loss.”
You may fear that if you say no, you will lose an opportunity, and this opportunity may not come back again. Ever! You may fear that saying no will make the person making the request angry, or disappointed, and that your relationship my change, or that you might even lose the relationship. You may fear a loss of respect, that the other person may start looking at you in another way, e.g. as “sick” or “impaired.” Or, you may fear that saying no will result in responsibilities being taking away, along with loss of a role that you once played, not being the active parent or spouse that you think you should be.
It is only human nature to push yourself as hard as possible. That might mean saying “yes!!!” all over the place.
But consider the flip side of saying yes. All those yes-es may mean that gradually, or not so gradually, you are spreading yourself thinner and thinner. Running from pillar to post while your self-care flies out the window. This can leave you feeling emotionally drained and physically depleted, or symptomatic – along with resentful and frustrated. Not to mention potentially letting down the people that you most want to be there for.
Finding it hard to say no? Here are some ideas to get you started:
Practice saying no. Choose situations in which you are going to turn something down, like when you are at the store and being offered something you don’t need, and practice saying no. You might even want to start the sentence with no, e.g. “No, not today.” Get used to tossing out no as easily as you probably do yes.
Be clear in your own mind about what you need to do to take care of yourself. What’s ideal for you to feel at your best? Keeping your stress level down? Eight hours of sleep? Some quiet time every day? Regular exercise? The starting place for saying no to others is being clear on how you need to say yes to yourself.
Don’t answer right away. You don’t have to give an immediate answer when someone makes a request. Instead, get in the habit of saying something like “let me think about this and get back to you.” This will help you to avoid answering when you are most tempted to say yes, and give you time to consider whether this is something that you really want to do or not. And if you’re hesitant to say no, this gives you time to get your courage up.
Plan ahead. One of the best ways to avoid doing too much yes-ing is to think ahead about what you can and can’t do, what you want to participate in and what you don’t. It might even help to make a list for yourself. If you are proactive about your self-care, you will be less likely to over-commit yourself and then realize too late that you’ve done it again. This is also a good way to keep your priorities in mind! Hint: review your list before you say yes.
Let go of the “shoulds.” When you hear the word “should” – whether from someone else or in your own self-talk – take a step back and ask the question: why? You may find that the answer is that there isn’t any answer. Yes, why should I? How about putting it this way: don’t should all over yourself!
Give yourself the right to change your mind. You may have good days and not so good days, days when you energy is at its peak and days when you don’t feel so energetic, or are experiencing symptoms like pain. Most likely, you can’t predict these days, and certainly couldn’t when you first made the commitment. If you can’t do it, you can’t do it. Don’t place yourself at risk by forging on when you know you aren’t up to it.
Don’t give in to criticism or guilt-tripping. Even the most well-meaning people in your life want what they want when they want it. They are human after all. As a result, they may heap on the criticism, thinking that they are giving you “tough love.” Or they may lay on the guilt, thinking that this will motivate you to give in and push yourself beyond your limits. But this is about them, and what they want, and not about you. So hold your ground.
Soften the blow of the no with what you can do. You don’t have to run around being Dr. No with everybody in your life and rejecting every request out of hand. Remind your loved ones that you care about them and want to be there for them, but that you can’t do everything. Let them know what can do, what you give, when and how. Take special care to explain to children that you love them and that, to give them your best, you have to take the best care of yourself possible.
Avoid either-or thinking. Here’s where that fear of loss comes into play. Saying no may feel like you have just closed a door FOREVER, even if it was a door you didn’t want to walk through. If you have that achy feeling that saying no may mean a part of your life may be ending, take a step back and look at it rationally. You are making choices here, and there are a lot of gray areas to consider. For example, maybe you don’t feel up to something today but you may tomorrow. Maybe it just isn’t a priority for you anymore. Maybe you can do something – at your own pace – but not force yourself to do it all.
Remind yourself that you are worthy of putting yourself first. This will help you to say no and to stand up to the criticism and guilt. And it’s true. It’s okay to put yourself first. A chronic condition brings certain responsibilities and a lot of them revolve around maintaining your own self-care. You don’t need anyone else’s permission to take care of yourself.
And if telling yourself you are worthy doesn’t feel right, then remind yourself that if you are depleted, you can’t be there for the people you care about. Again, priorities. But your self-care needs to top the list.
Educate without feeling like you have to explain yourself. If someone asks why the no when they expected a yes, tell them as much as you feel comfortable revealing. If you want to tell them that you have a chronic condition and what that means in terms of the commitments you make and the level at which you can participate, then tell them. If you just want to say no and leave it at that, then that’s okay, too (though if the requester is your boss or a client, some explanation may be in order). But if the other person can’t or won’t listen, then don’t feel like you have to explain yourself until you gain their approval.
The holidays are right around the corner. Most likely, the offers are already coming your way. Is your dance card starting to fill up? Now is the time to practice introducing the no-word into your conversations!
I share a few ideas with you. Now how about some from you? How do you say no?
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