Every year, I vow to myself that I won’t overload my schedule. I say I’ll focus on being more present as a mom and wife and of course, allot plenty of time for self-care. Even though 2020 had its challenges, the light schedule of spring and summer allowed me to have my first social “break” in years! There were no charity events, networking lunches or family festivals. I appreciated the breathing room and hiatus from gracefully turning down invitations on a weekly and sometimes even daily basis. I definitely struggle with saying “no” to people, and realize that it’s a very common issue among women, mothers especially.
But now that social obligations are starting to make a comeback due to vaccinations, how can a Boca mom like me make sure she doesn’t overextend herself? I reached out to family therapist Lori Lundin-Fish, PhD, LMFT of Palm Beach Therapy Center to find out if there really is an art to saying no. Now that there is a “light at the end of the tunnel,” I wanted to gather a few tips from her about how to slowly get reoriented to the world Boca was used to pre-pandemic.
Or close to it.
“There are several things you can do to prevent overloading yourself,” says Lundin-Fish. “When it comes to saying no, try to follow these helpful guidelines.”
1. Know your limits
First, prioritize the things that are most important to you in your life—this includes self-care! Dealing with your own emotions, thoughts and feelings effectively can be the difference between finding balance and your frazzled tipping point. Maintain honesty and transparency with yourself as well as those around you and remember, there is no right way to go about this. This means that any emotions you are experiencing in this moment are completely valid. It is important to know who you are, what you can handle and more importantly, know when you are pushing yourself too hard. In recognizing and avoiding situations where you feel “forced to put on a smile”, you are actually doing yourself and your loved ones a great courtesy.
2. Work on some “canned phrases”
As part of taking your time and being mindful, it is important for your own self-love and family unit that you continue to remind yourself not to overburden your schedule with obligations. Practicing canned phrases like “I cannot wait to get together, would it be okay if we planned something for next week” are perfectly acceptable if you are already booked, or feel overbooked. Or “That sounds great, let me check my calendar and I will check back in with you.” However, do note that in saying a phrase like that, it may be helpful to offer or have ready a different time/day that may work with your own schedule. Be honest if you feel you have already taken on too much by saying “you know, it seems like a great idea. However, I feel like I need to take a step back for now and take time to focus on myself and family.” Do not be afraid to own your emotions: “I am feeling a bit overwhelmed. Let’s plan something for another time.” In practicing these phrases, it is helpful to acknowledge the messages that are being received as well as acknowledge how you may be feeling as the recipient of those messages.
3. Practice, practice, practice
It is not easy to say “no,” or to challenge yourself to step out of your comfort zone. Typically, this is because we do not want to let others down or have them perceive us negatively. People, generally speaking, enjoy helping others because it provides them with a sense of purpose and genuine connection. It can feel uncomfortable if we do not have time in our schedule(s) or the specific skills to provide help or support for others. Nonetheless, practicing the art of saying “no” (and the canned phrases above!) can challenge our belief system and establish healthy boundaries with the world around us. When people are mindful of this process as well as what happens to them on a personal level, they may be able to better assist others and attend to social invitations/obligations in a more balanced way.
4. Accept the fact that it is unrealistic to please everyone.
Oftentimes people tend to commit themselves to events and accept invitations that have no real value or interest for them—simply because they “do not want to let others down.” If this sounds familiar (I know it does to me!) it might be helpful to reflect on what “no” means to you and how the emotions associated with saying no impact your life.
“In order to achieve a well-balanced life, we must all ask ourselves ‘what do we want in life?’ or ‘what brings us joy/happiness/purpose?’ If something that comes your way does not fit into these questions, then it is your responsibility to implement the word ‘no’ and practice setting and maintaining clear boundaries-even if it feels uncomfortable to do so,” says Lundin-Fish. “It is important to practice these skills consistently. Consistency is very much key in eliminating old habits that are no longer useful and inviting positive habits that are purposeful in helping us achieve our goals in life.”