Skip to main content


Be a no it all

Behold the possible holy grail of stress relief!

By Karen Campbell

This lifesaver is quite small, conventional and common. But be forewarned, it’s elusive. If you’re lucky to grasp it, prepare to manage it decisively. This powerful, preventive weapon against stress is simply the word “no.”

“No” challenges all of us, especially when we’re put on the spot. In the moment, we may sugarcoat our response with, “I’m not sure.” But that only implies we may say “yes” later, leaving the door open for repeated requests. Whether we’re striving to be the best mom, be more involved, or compelled to compete, we find ourselves chronically overcommitted. Failing to say no affirmatively can propel us into the next canteen shift or fundraiser or committee assignment and expose us to a host of stressors.

My success managing “the no” is subpar; I habitually overcommit. It makes me feel connected and productive, but often overwhelmed. I polled several friends (all working parents) on their relationship with no. Typical reasons for their yes winning over no: obligation, desire to help, FOMO (fear of missing out), exhibition of caring, and/or expectation of enjoyment.

What happens when we say no?

However, they collectively agreed that evaluating the ask and saying no to certain things frees up time to say yes to other things, including time for themselves. Ding! Ding! Ding!

We benefit psychologically — and biologically – when we set boundaries, manage our time, and say no. The Mayo Clinic suggests weighing the yes-to-stress ratio and considering whether the activity is short- or long-term. For some deeper health insight, the hormone cortisol helps us respond to danger and pain, and metabolizes glucose (blood sugar). If stress persists, so do chronically high cortisol levels that lead to imbalance, inflammation, insomnia and autoimmune disease. Uh, a big “no” thank you!

In simpler terms, buying a bag of school supplies or bringing cookies to share is much easier to manage than planning an annual fundraiser or taking on the office holiday gift exchange. Commit to what you can manage, and don’t feel bad. Enjoy the results: a more meaningful contribution and less stress on your mind and body overall.