How to Say NO (and still feel good)

how to say no

What if you declined a dinner invitation, or said no to an event you knew your ex would be attending, or even just said no to anything. When you say NO you might be left feeling a little selfish or guilty.

It doesn’t matter that you’re emotionally and physically exhausted, or that your mental health is suffering. You might lie awake in bed at night thinking about how you should have done something differently or been better in some way. Saying no feels like a failure, as though you’re incompetent or ill equipped to handle a particular situation. You might worry about how your behaviour affects the other person.

But if saying NO helps you prioritise yourself and your own energy and healing, are you really being selfish?

Even though it’s defined as being concerned with only your own personal pleasure and profit, as well as lacking consideration for others, we still think of selfish as the times when we’re simply putting ourselves first.

We’re told we need to adjust our own oxygen mask first before helping others in a plane emergency. Or to make sure the scene is safe for you before helping anyone who’s hurt. No one would call us selfish for following those instructions.

Sometimes the right thing is to be “selfish.” Don’t define your actions on other people’s judgements.


You need help in any way

Don’t avoid asking for it! If getting help from a co-worker, psychologist, friend or companion helps you stress less or feel better, this is going to be good for your anxiety levels and ultimately your mental health.

You need to rest

When you’re feeling tired (and it doesn’t matter if it’s emotionally, mentally, or physically), it’s time to rest. Sometimes, that just comes down to sleep.

Lack of sleep can cause trouble focusing, a weakened immune system, and memory issues, or even headaches. We often feel like we have to keep going. Sometimes sleep isn’t at the top of our priorities. Forcing yourself to be with others when you’re exhausted is also tiring.

You just need alone time

Social interactions can be exhausting for some people. There’s no shame in taking time for yourself. If you’ve been going nonstop, your mood is all out of whack, or you need to re-evaluate your relationships, now may be a good time to plan some alone time.

It’s time to end a relationship, job, or living situation

It’s never easy breaking up with a significant other, moving to a new city, or quitting a job. If you feel bad when you interact with someone or dread encountering them again, it’s time to rethink your relationship.

We often stay in friendships or relationships because we’re scared of hurting someone. But when it comes to relationships that are damaging, sometimes you need to put yourself first.

It’s not self-sustaining to continue a relationship — or job or anything, especially one that’s in any way abusive — that no longer makes you happy. If something is affecting your well-being, it might be time to say goodbye.

The balance of give-and-take is especially important when living with someone. Do you find yourself doing all the errands and chores when you get home from work while they come home and put their feet up? It’s important to have balance to avoid both resentment and fatigue.

Depending on the situation, you may choose to talk to them, take a short break to recharge, find a way to schedule or delegate chores or cut them out completely. It’s not selfish to prioritise your own needs over others if the act of giving is causing you more harm.

To avoid burnout – after work or in your personal life

Everyone is susceptible to burnout or work exhaustion. Certain professions can be exceptionally draining. When burnout occurs, it can hurt both your professional and personal life.

So when clocking-out time comes, truly clock out. No matter what you do, make sure you have time to separate yourself from work. Creating this work-life balance can help you avoid burnout and bring more happiness to your personal life.

Take care of yourself!

Don’t neglect yourself and your health to avoid feeling selfish. You can reduce your stress by being a little selfish now and then and practising some good ol’ self-care.


  • First analyse if you want to do the thing suggested or not. If you’re not sure – tell the person you will get back to them.
  • You don’t have to answer anyone immediately. If you don’t know what to say, you can excuse yourself politely from the situation saying you’ll chat on your return. Then you can think it through without any pressure.
  • Take the word “You” away when answering. Make everything about yourself instead: “That doesn’t work for me”, “I need dishes to be done” etc. I think, I want, I feel, instead of saying something like: You’ve left dishes everywhere …
  • Give the other person options that work for you. People can be quite lazy and usually go with one option – its’ not often that they will ask for more alternatives. So: l can’t meet you tonight but I could have coffee with you on Monday or lunch next Sat – what works for you? What do you think? 
  • Do some Neurofeedback sessions to handle boundaries better, de-stress, get better sleep and recoup from this hectic year and family stresses over the festive season.

Whatever you do, remember to take care of yourself. And don’t forget, it’s never selfish to do so.

Article courtesy Kerry Rudman

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