How to deal with saying No

Sometimes saying ‘no’ feels worse than saying ‘yes’.

Just the thought of saying no to someone makes me anxious. I think I have been programmed to say yes to helping anyone who asks and feel an immense sense of guilt for even contemplating the idea that a ‘no’ is even in the realms of possibility. Recently, I have come to realise that for my own peace of mind, I am going to have to learn to say no and not feel anxious or guilty about it. Quite often, I do give a lot of myself away – and don’t get me wrong – I like to help if I can, but I am coming round to the realization that if it isn’t family that’s asking, and I don’t have the time or ability to do it, then I am going to have to turn that idea, project, work down because I will hit the overwhelm button if I do.

Great… so that’s the new plan. Turning things down. Saying no to someone. I can do this…

Well, yes I can, but what happens is that my stomach gets into knots, my chest feels tight because the guilt and anxiety are taking over. I want to know that the person I have said no to will be ok with my decision. I feel worried that by saying no, I have let things in the relationship down. So what do I do?

Well, I am a mindfulness practitioner and I am learning to deal with these times by using my practice. What does that involve exactly?

Just sit and be with the emotion

Dr Dan Siegel coined the phrase “Name it to tame it”. So I do exactly that. What is the name of the emotion that I am feeling? I need to be clear on this. For me, this means sitting and just thinking about what I am feeling. Labelling the emotion gives it space.

Describe how it physically feels

This has become easier by practicing mindfulness on a regular basis, but it all starts with a body scan. Gently close your eyes and scan your body from head to toe. Notice the areas that feel comfortable or uncomfortable. Once I have isolated the parts that are uncomfortable, I focus on the physical sensations. I describe to myself (in my head and silently of course), how guilty feels or how anxiety feels. One is in my stomach and the other in my chest. I get specific. Is it tight? Is it like a weight? Is it warm or hot? Is it like butterflies? Is it intense? Get to know how the emotion physically manifests itself in your body.


I then spend the next few minutes just breathing in and out and focusing on that area. I allow myself to feel the anxiety and the guilt. I give myself permission to have those emotions. I don’t distract myself from them or bury my head in the sand and pretend they don’t exist. I give the emotions an opportunity to get my full and undivided attention.

And once it does…. It doesn’t need to keep getting bigger and I feel the weight in my chest or the knots in my stomach just slowly disappear.

Worth a try…. See if it helps!

Mallika Kripalani

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