September 1, 2020

Written By: Lisa poe

3 ways to say “no” even if the word itself makes you anxious

Will the real people-pleasers please stand up?! *me, standing up and never sitting down*

Hi, I’m Lisa, and I didn’t know that “no” was a perfectly acceptable complete sentence until I was well into my twenties (read: like two years ago).

I said yes to everything. Every social outing, every extra credit assignment, every overtime opportunity, every favor asked of me … everything. Why? Well, I didn’t know for the longest time, but through therapy sessions and some self-reflection, I realized this knee-jerk reaction of saying “yes” was rooted in my fears: the fear of not being liked, the fear of failing, the fear of letting someone (specifically, someone I cared about) down.

And, put simply, anxiety has been described as persistent fear (more on that here). So, yeah … Just the thought of denying something or someone added to my anxiety levels.

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EYE-OPENER for all my high-functioning anxiety friends ‼️⁣ ⁣ I was referred to as the “teacher’s pet” more than once in my life. ⁣ ⁣ I was the hyper-involved, overachiever in high school — the one everyone copied their homework from 😩 (sorry, mom!).⁣ ⁣ And I didn’t learn that “𝐍𝐨.” was a perfectly acceptable complete sentence until my mid-twenties #boundaries⁣ ⁣ Knowing what I know now about my mental health journey and anxiety disorders, I realize that these characteristics (𝘸𝘩𝘪𝘤𝘩 𝘐 𝘵𝘳𝘶𝘭𝘺 𝘥𝘰𝘯’𝘵 𝘣𝘦𝘭𝘪𝘦𝘷𝘦 𝘢𝘳𝘦 𝘢𝘭𝘭 𝘯𝘦𝘨𝘢𝘵𝘪𝘷𝘦!) are signs of high-functioning anxiety. ⁣ ⁣ This is in 𝘯𝘰 way a diagnosis for myself or for anyone else, but learning this was eye-opening for me. 𝐓𝐡𝐞𝐬𝐞 𝐭𝐫𝐚𝐢𝐭𝐬 𝐚𝐧𝐝 𝐭𝐞𝐧𝐝𝐞𝐧𝐜𝐢𝐞𝐬 𝐰𝐞𝐫𝐞 𝐫𝐨𝐨𝐭𝐞𝐝 𝐝𝐞𝐞𝐩 𝐢𝐧 𝐭𝐡𝐞 𝐟𝐞𝐚𝐫 𝐨𝐟 𝐟𝐚𝐢𝐥𝐮𝐫𝐞 𝐚𝐧𝐝 𝐭𝐡𝐞 𝐝𝐞𝐬𝐢𝐫𝐞 𝐭𝐨 𝐟𝐞𝐞𝐥 𝐚𝐜𝐜𝐞𝐩𝐭𝐞𝐝 𝐛𝐲 𝐦𝐲 𝐟𝐚𝐦𝐢𝐥𝐲, 𝐟𝐫𝐢𝐞𝐧𝐝𝐬 𝐚𝐧𝐝 𝐩𝐞𝐞𝐫𝐬. ⁣ ⁣ Can y’all relate to any of this? Would love to hear your thoughts! ⁣ ⁣ Sending peace 💛 #adventuresandanxiety #mentalhealthawareness⁣

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But you know what? While prioritizing other’s happiness and not establishing boundaries, I let myself down. I put others wants before my own needs. I overworked myself so much, I had the beginnings of an ulcer at the age of 25 (my doctor told me I was the youngest patient he’s ever seen with a stress-related ulcer – yikes!).

My decision making was based not on what was best for me, but what was best for others or what was best for others’ perception of me (hard to admit, but true).

While I still fight the urge not to say “I’m sorry” after I decline an invite or opportunity, I have learned the importance of boundaries for my mental health. And yes, I have straight up said “no” to people, even if it it took me a few attempts.

If you can relate to any of the above feelings, I’m here to help you! Offering up some common scenarios and how to politely decline them without uttering the word “no” below.

When you’re invited to a social event, but getting ready and leaving your cozy home is the last thing you want to do, try:

“Thank you so much for the invite, but I’m just not feeling up for that right now. Have so much fun!”

(This one is especially relevant in the pandemic era.)

When there’s a hot project thrown your way at your job, but you’re already working too much for your own good, try:

“I appreciate you considering me for this project, but I really can’t take on more work at this time. Is there flexibility with the deadline?”

When your friend asks you for a favor, but adding one more thing to your plate would push you over the edge, try:

“I’ve been feeling overwhelmed lately, and can’t commit to this right now. Have you reached out to [friend/family member] to help?”

And what about those people in your life that refuse to take no for an answer, you ask? Don’t be afraid to be honest and to stand your ground with them. If they respect and support you, they will honor your boundaries – remember that. For more on how to set boundaries, check out this blog post.

it's okay to say no

Of course, everyone handles these situations differently, but these specific responses have worked for me multiple times – and I’m hopeful some variation of them will help you, too!

Overcoming those fear-based, people-pleasing tendencies is not easy. It takes a lot of time and effort. But getting comfortable with saying “no” is a great starting point.

Have any to add to this list? Please comment below or on my Instagram!

Sending peace,


Please note that I am not a mental health professional. Always seek the advice of your mental health professional or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding your condition.

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Disclaimer: I am not a mental health professional. Everything I share comes from my personal experiences. If you are struggling with your mental health, please seek a medical professional.