How to Say ‘No’ for a Less Stressful or Anxious Life


Feeling that you have to say ‘yes’ to every request for help is a symptom of the ‘disease to please’. Whilst doing favours for people is just part of everyday life, sometimes running errands for friends or covering for work colleagues can be an unfair demand on your free time.

But if you suffer from social anxiety then saying ‘no’ can be difficult because of your fear of displeasing people or being rejected. It’s a mistake to think this way, and living your life running around trying to keep other people happy is not the recipe for healthy relationships in which your needs are respected.

So learning how to be more assertive and say a simple two letter word can be the magic pill to help reduce your stress levels and boost your self esteem.

In my previous post about learning to be assertive, I discussed how you have to take a step back and objectively assess the personal cost of requests before reaching a decision. But just saying ‘no’ is still fraught with hazards if you’re socially anxious or lack confidence.

You have to learn how to be assertive in turning down requests so that people respect your decision.

How to say ‘no’ assertively

Firstly, take a sledgehammer to the people pleasing thought pattern that says you ‘always have to be nice’ and not doing what people ask is selfish. Your free time is just as important as everybody else’s, and if picking up someone else’s laundry means you wont be able to go on your daily jog then say ‘no’. If a request is going to be an unfair personal cost then saying ‘no’ is just being fair to yourself rather than being selfish.

Here are a few tips on how to say ‘no’ assertively to convince others you mean it and are being fair:

  • If you’re asked to lend someone money and you’re worried they might not pay you back say, “I wish I could, but as a rule I don’t lend money to friends.” Unpaid debts can sour relationships, so sidestep the risk by declining in a way that doesn’t make it personal.
  • Be helpful by offering suggestions or alternatives to solve the problem – “I’m unavailable that week, but why don’t you ask Ted if he can feed your cat.”
  • Negotiate around your reasons for declining a request (negotiation is a key assertiveness skill which I’ll be discussing in my next post) – “No I can’t cover your shift this week, but how about you cover for me next Tuesday and then I’ll cover for you the following week?”
  • Be polite but firm. If they won’t take no for an answer simply repeat your position in different ways until they get the message, or get bored of asking – “As I already said…”
  • Don’t make up excuses. It’s always better to tell the truth or just say it’s inconvenient. You only have to get caught out once to damage people’s trust in you.
  • Place a limit on the time you can commit or specify a day. That way you can prevent helping clean out a neighbour’s garage grow into wallpapering their spare room.
  • Whenever possible, allow yourself time to assess what is being asked of you. Say you’ll get back to them later so you aren’t under pressure to make a rushed decision you might regret later on.
  • Deciding whether to give a long or short answer can vary, but don’t sound overly apologetic or make excuses. Saying your busy or don’t have time should be enough.

Whilst helping out friends, family and work colleagues can be good karma, being able to say ‘no’ when it’s an unfair drain on your own free time is what you have to be able to do for a less stressful life. Remember that spending time pursuing your goals and priorities is just as important as everyone else’s. So learn to say ‘no’ assertively without shame to overcome your social anxiety fears and cure yourself of the ‘disease to please’.

About Matt 37 Articles
Matt suffered from social phobia throughout his teenage years right up to his mid twenties. It wasn't until visiting a doctor for help to treat his anxiety that he finally discovered he suffered from the condition. He then set about learning everything he could about it and how to overcome it. This led to him creating this website to share the strategies that helped him in the hope they would help other people.

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