Saying ‘No’ is a Form of Self-Care

One evening while using my time to mindlessly scroll Facebook, I saw a snapshot of a Twitter post that read, “Are you healed or are you distracted?”

Well. Call the police please because I am being targeted by a stranger on Twitter.

One reliable avoidance tactic that I employ when I am overwhelmed is to accumulate more tasks and responsibilities. Then I don’t have the time to feel overwhelmed. I usually don’t even need to look for more things to do. They fall in my lap: in the form of phone calls, e-mails, and other requests for my time and attention. 

In those instances, some part of me is thinking, “Are you seriously about to say yes? Wow. You’re going to say yes even though it is going to feel awful when you do it.” I am sure many of you reading this can relate.

So often we assume self-care should be is based on saying yes and welcoming abundance.  That is certainly some of it. We should be saying yes to things like renting a movie we really wanted to see or yes to a fun takeout dinner. However, it is important to not forget that another integral part of self-care is saying ‘no.’ 

Setting Boundaries

Many a woman has promised themselves a reward after they’ve said yes to something they shouldn’t have; thoughts like, “I’ll treat myself to coffee while I work on that.” Or, “I’ll have all of next weekend to relax.” Providing an incentive can help quiet the part of us that realizes saying yes was not the right move.

But that voice of reason is difficult to hear over the parts that start to scream, “YES. THE FROZEN COFFEE DRINK. THERE IS SUGAR AND CAFFEINE. IT TASTES SO GOOD AND MAYBE WE CAN HAVE A COOKIE, TOO. REMEMBER THE SWEET? AND THE CAFFEINE? THERE IS HAPPY IN EACH!” The bait and switch.

You see, you could have had the coffee and the cookie without agreeing to overextend yourself. There is no need to trade your sanity for coffee. Just have the coffee!

And using wine as a reward? I am not even going to go there with Mommy wine culture. Ladies, drinking until you feel distant from your emotions every time that you are stressed out is not self-care.  

Unburdening Yourself

How do you win when agreeing to something feels like garbage, but the prospect of saying no comes with anxiety and the risk of feeling guilty or upsetting others? I’ll give you an insider tip. Any guilt you’re risking can be challenged and discredited, BY YOU. You can unburden yourself from concerns about how others might react because anyone who would ask you to subject yourself to emotional distress for their convenience has absurd expectations. Most of the time those concerns are unfounded anyway. The most important thing to remember is that you are setting limits and that you could, at the very least, make it out of that scenario with healthy boundaries intact. In that you are doing yourself a favor.

My daughter, the self-care master. When she is feeling “drowsy and boneless” or “over COVID”, she likes to kick back in her favorite chair and watch makeup tutorials.

And when you start setting firm boundaries and making a ‘no’ list, you also must be prepared for all that comes with it. Your sister may gasp at your scandalous decision to bring your nephew’s birthday gift to him in a gift bag rather than an intricately wrapped package with matching card. But in choosing between the hour it would take to do all of that and an hour spent instead relaxing after work, you chose yourself. And that is okay. Your nephew will love his new toy regardless.


In the endlessly accumulating list of things to do, you will find things that just do not require your time or energy. And you will find other things that do. Assigning something as a ‘nope’ can create a much-needed opportunity for you to say ‘yes’ to something that has more value to you.

Take inventory on whether something is either enriching your life or hindering it. Does it get in the way of other things that would bring you peace? Give you a good laugh, or maybe just a moment of rest? When you’re ruminating all afternoon about how much you don’t want to cook after work and then you go home to do just that, ask yourself if cooking dinner that one night had a significant impact. What if you would have brought pizza home instead? As a healthcare professional I can’t say with any degree of confidence that pizza is a nutritionally sound for everyday life (despite my personal belief that it is a food of kings and perfect). But I will say that having pizza one Tuesday night is not going to catapult your family into diabetes or heart disease territory.

Saying No Frees Your Time 

When I was still working remotely, I used my lunch break to step out of being super composed and professional. And eat wings from BWW’s.

What saying no might do though is provide you with moments for yourself. With time to take a walk after dinner with your kids or time to actually enjoy a shower. I’m not talking that five-minute shower you take after the kids are in bed and the dishes are washed. We’re talking a shower where you test the limits of that hot water heater and step out of there feeling like the goddess Juturna

Make Yourself a Priority

When we start this ‘no’ list, we are creating space in our lives for what we need. These needs can be cast off as optional and we consider them to then be rewards. Decent sleep, exercise, being creative, having a spiritual life (if we desire one), and stress reduction are all needs. They should not be viewed as rewards only available after we have sufficiently worked ourselves half to death.

While making your own health and well-being a priority, remember, Mama, that there are little eyes watching. They are learning to be aware of what they need to be healthy and how to say yes to that. 

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Whitney is a Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner, mother of twins and Indigenous woman. She has lived in the FM metro for the last 15 years but is originally from the Pine Ridge Reservation in SD. Whitney is active in community efforts that promote advocacy for equity, social justice, destigmatization of mental health/substance use and establishing an inclusive community. Whitney enjoys gardening, reading, spending time outdoors and creating visual art in her spare time.


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