I was sitting in the chair of the woman who cuts my hair and she started telling me about a difficult situation. A group of friends had asked her for a favor – and it was about the tenth time someone in this group wanted her to do a fancy blowout – without paying her. She didn’t know how to say no.

saynomeme3The story got my attention, because I had worked with two clients that afternoon who were dealing with the “No” problem – and in the Joint Decisions chat last week, Mariah, from This.Point.Forward.  blog also shared about how hard it is to say no.

This is a Situation.

While many of us have to practice setting a boundary, and saying no, it is more imperative for those who live with chronic illness because there is so much more at stake.

Living with RA or variations of autoimmune disease means you have limited and precious energy, time, and stamina. You need to – and you get to! –  choose where and how you want to spend it.

Yet most everyone has trouble with this – feeling guilty, selfish or mean if they say “me first.”

Here are a few things I suggest to my clients (and try to practice myself!)

Look ahead.

We can often anticipate when the requests to do things we really don’t want to do will come towards us. We will be going to the PTA meeting, or the work event, or know that family members will be showing up.

When you anticipate where you may be asked, and already know what kind of things you do and don’t want to do, you are better prepared to practice the No.

Rehearse.

Saying no can be just as much a habit as saying yes – but you have to practice. When you imagine the scenario – say an event where you are asked to bring the main dish for 50 people – and in your imagination you practice saying, no sorry – can’t, you will begin to feel where that pinches you. Practice saying it again. Get a friend to rehearse with you. Practice, practice.

Remind yourself of the long- term relief.

The short- term pinch may hurt. Seeing the disappointment on someone’s face that they can’t ‘count on you” or you’re not the “team player” they expect you to be can be tough to tolerate. But the long term goals – more freedom, more time to do what you need and want to, feeling better – are the reason you are doing this. Your health and well- being are the first priority. Time to do the things that make you feel your best – those are what matter first. This is hard when someone has genuine needs. You may practice trade-offs, first me, and then you. It can be easier with the projects, favors, extra work demands that you have allowed to pile on. But no matter what the source of the demand- you come first.  Your health, your rest, your free time – those are the first on the list.

Give yourself deciding space.

The last practice is one where many of us start – giving ourselves time to decide if this is a yes or a no instead of automatically responding.

“Let me think it over.”

“I’ll get back to you.”

“I don‘t have my calendar here – I’ll let you know.”

“I never decide without talking with X.”

Any of these are good responses – and you may have others you use. Sometimes we don’t know if it is right to stretch our time a little, and sometimes we need to gather the courage to say no. Either way, a little time to reflect will give you that breathing room to decide – and choose from the place of strength and not from the quick burst of guilt.

As always, let me know how this works in your life!