We're only a few weeks into 2018, not far removed from the holiday break, and it's likely you're already feeling overwhelmed by life.
Most of us are. Almost 90 per cent of Canadian post-secondary students feel overwhelmed by their duties and obligations, one study found. In a global survey, 14 per cent of respondents felt chronically overwhelmed. And we live in a society designed to make us feel busy, even if we actually are not as pressed for time as we have been in the past.
Meanwhile, according to a 2017 Monster Canada report, stress is the reason one in four Canadians quit their job. And we'd be remiss not to point out the major stress women and mothers deal with daily.
But it turns out there's a solution that will help reduce your feelings of being overwhelmed, and it can be summed up in two letters: N and O.
Learn to say no in order to delegate your responsibilities, reduce your number of obligations, free up time, and give yourself some mental space.
"A great suggestion to not avoid becoming emotionally overwhelmed is to resist living an over-scheduled life and setting better boundaries," Angela Clack, a licensed psychotherapist in New Jersey, told HuffPost Canada by email.
Why you should say no
There's no doubt that saying no can be difficult, for a variety of reasons. We may be afraid of causing conflict or disappointing people, we may want to do and experience everything we can, and we may worry about the consequences if we say no and things don't get done — or are done poorly.
But there's also ample evidence that learning to say no effectively, when necessary, doesn't have to shut you out from professional success.
After all, plenty of successful people do it. One Forbes writer collected quotes from successful people about the importance of saying no. Here are some highlights:
- "What you don't do determines what you can do," said author and podcaster Tim Ferriss.
- "The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything," said Warren Buffet.
- "Focusing is about saying no," said Steve Jobs.
Sometimes the key is not doing everything, but doing the right things.
And when you know you're spending your time productively, and taking on the things you feel are valuable or fun to do instead of simply what you feel obligated to do, or were asked to do first, then you're going to feel less overwhelmed because you'll enjoy your time more.
How to say no
"Learning how to say no graciously and firmly to every request that you feel obligated to will reduce the number of expectations and demands on your life and time, both physically and emotionally," Clack said.
So, how do you do that?
Remember that your priorities matter, too
You might feel guilty about saying no to someone because you know they want you to do something, but what about what you want?
"We feel guilty saying no when we don't have a firm grasp on our priorities and convictions," Maralee McKee, a manners expert, advises on her site. Remember what your priorities and responsibilities are, and say no to the things that get in the way of them.
Have a script
"No" is a complete sentence, but it can feel too short or even rude to some people. You might feel better if you develop a couple of scripts, as suggested at career site The Muse.
You can draft email responses for declining things at work, socially, and among friends, and use those as necessary if you have trouble finding the words in the moment.
Give yourself time
Often you don't have to give an answer immediately. If you truly aren't sure what your answer should be, give yourself permission to take time to get back to someone.
Set an email reminder so the request pops back in your inbox at a set time, and do the research you need to find out what the best answer is for you.
Sometimes, having a look at your schedule or budget will mean you can reply with a confident yes. If not, you'll know you really investigated whether or not the request works for you, and you can say no without guilt or doubt.
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