Why you don’t have to say yes to everything

11 Mar 2022
By Hazel M., Freelance writer, journalist and total bookworm at Unite Students

Ever feel like you’re doing things that you don’t actually want to do… all because you’re scared to say no? Saying yes to everything can be a difficult habit to break, especially if you don’t want to hurt people’s feelings.

However, saying yes all the time can also have a detrimental impact on your mental wellbeing. From trying to make every event to keep your friends happy, to taking on projects you haven’t got time for, it can add a lot of unneeded stress to daily life.

So, how do you stop saying yes to people, when all you want to do is say no? It’s a question that plagued me for a long time throughout my teens and early twenties.

In fact, until recent years, I really struggled with letting people down and would feel incredibly guilty for days after. But when you’re trying to juggle work, family, friends and your general daily life, something has to give. And, for me, it did.

Suddenly, I realised several things: firstly, those people I was making a lot of extra effort for weren’t necessarily saying yes to me all the time, even if I was saying yes to them. And, secondly, people are more understanding than you think they are.

And that’s when saying yes took on a whole new meaning. Did I really need to manage a friend’s social media for free, just because they didn’t want to pay someone? Absolutely not. I already had a full-time job and it was adding unnecessary stress.

It wasn’t an overnight change, though. It took me a while to learn how to say no, but I can safely say I feel mentally happier for it. So, if you’re a compulsive yes-human like I was, here are some tips to help you get started…

Define your boundaries

One of my biggest issues was having no boundaries for myself. I didn’t block in ‘me time’ enough and was quick to drop my plans to help someone else, because I always thought of myself as flexible.

Additionally, I live by the sea and have friends and family who like to visit for holidays. While I love seeing them, the summer usually meant having people to stay every weekend – which can put a real snag in trying to manage real life. The reality? I lost a lot of much-needed down-time.

However, by putting in boundaries – in this case, only having people to stay every other weekend – I suddenly had time to take on new hobbies, meet new people and snap up that extra down-time I craved.

Accept that you can’t do everything

I often think many of us like to consider ourselves super heroes; smashing our jobs and studies, all while juggling a vibrant social calendar and being there for those who need our help at the same time.

But, over time, the juggling act gets harder to maintain as you get older and have more responsibilities. In my opinion, it’s good to learn this lesson before it gets to that point.

There’s also another side to the coin; if you do say yes to everything, you won’t necessarily be giving things your best attention. Studies can fall to the wayside, or friends will start to notice you’re not really into the parties they’re throwing, even if you are showing up.

So, instead, manage your priorities, decide what is most important to you, and focus your energies there. You can’t do everything and your friends will thank you for it, in the end.

Remember you can’t make everyone happy

One of the biggest (and hardest) lessons to learn is that you can’t please everyone – and this is where the root of the guilt was for me.

I would feel awful if people got upset when I couldn’t make it to their events or I had to cancel last minute for a particular reason. I simply hated the feeling of people being upset with me.

But, sometimes, it didn’t matter how hard I tried to keep people happy – there would always be someone I didn’t quite manage to squeeze in or a job I didn’t have time to do. And the worst part was that I wasn’t happy.

While I was busy trying to keep everyone else from being annoyed with me, I was neglecting my own mental health needs and causing a lot of undue stress, which could have been managed easily with a simple word – ‘no’.

That’s when I had an epiphany; you really can’t make everyone happy. Suddenly, the word ‘no’ became empowering. It gave me back my freedom and right to enjoy life the way I wanted to.

Keeping the balance

Now, I will admit you can’t always say no, just as you can’t always say yes. Sometimes, though, you do have things you may not want to because they’re important (funerals, weddings, exams etc.).

However, it’s about knowing when to say yes and no, and keeping a balance so your mental health is always number one.

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When not stringing words together, can usually be found on the local beach with her cocker spaniel pup, Huey.