If we’re not careful, obligations can easily take over our lives. Here’s how to say no to those extra commitments – and yes to self-care.

By Emily Watson

I spent a good chunk of my early 20s feeling obligated to please others. I helped out co-workers whenever I could, even if it meant working a double shift. I scheduled dinners with friends more often than I could afford. I devoted my only free afternoon to visiting my Grandparents, helped classmates study rather than finishing my own papers and spent the last of my paycheck buying gifts of appreciation for people I barely knew. And, despite my good intentions – it didn’t get me anywhere.

texting.jpgKindness is contagious, they say. Giving is better than receiving, they say. And on many levels, those proverbs are very true. But here’s the thing: it’s possible to give too much of yourself. Eventually, my constant need to say “yes” resulted in a plate of commitments way too abundant for me to digest. Often I would double-book myself, which inevitably led to panic and anxiety. My desperately unconstructive solution was to cancel both plans, resulting in regret on my part and a great deal of disappointment from the people I was trying to please in the first place.

If you’re a people-pleaser, this blog is for you. Like me, you like to give, and sometimes you forget that your energy is limited. Sometimes, you forget to please yourself. Here’s a few questions that, I hope, will help you remember that the most important person in your life – the one you should always say yes to – is you.

1. What’s the worst that can happen if I say no?

If you’re anything like me, you get overwhelmed really easily. Over the years, I’ve learned that the only way to ward off stress and anxiety is simply to keep life as simple as possible. And it truly is simpler than you might think!

We live in a society where escaping invitations entirely is impossible (unless you’re okay with being known as a hermit) but that doesn’t mean you can’t be choosy. In fact, you should be choosy. Before agreeing to do something, consider what will happen if you say no. Will the person inviting you be angry, or will they understand? Will you feel guilty, or will it mean you get to spend that time doing something you’ll actually enjoy? Of course, RSVPing “no” to your brother’s wedding will probably get you in trouble. But drinks with your colleague’s family? Skip it!

2. Will I regret this when it’s time to follow through?

It’s easy to say yes. In the moment, it’s always nice to make other people smile by agreeing to do something with or for them. But respecting ourselves means respecting our whole selves – past, present and future.

I can’t count how many times I’ve agreed to do something, only to feel massive regret when I actually have to do it. Take Sunday nights, for instance. Sunday nights are dangerous, in my world. If someone asks me on Sunday night – when I’m feeling all rejuvenated and lively after the weekend – to do something later in the week, I usually say yes without thinking. But then later in the week rolls around – when I’m feeling all exhausted and drained after Monday’s shit show – and I have to drag myself to fulfil the obligation that I never should have agreed to in the first place. So, bottom line… make sure your future self won’t kick you for signing her up for nonsense.

3. Do I want to do this?

When we receive event invites on Facebook, we all know intuitively whether it’s something we want to do, or something we most certainly do not. And sometimes it’s okay to let that inner voice guide you. Again, some things are required. You can’t skip your best friend’s birthday dinner even if you don’t particularly feel like going. But in many other cases, not wanting to go is a perfectly good reason for not going – no other excuse needed. The sooner you respect your inner desires, the sooner you’ll be a happier person with more free time!

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4. Is this more important than self-care?

More often than not, the answer to this question will be no. Recharging and reconnecting with yourself is a vital ingredient of overall health and longevity – not to mention quality of life. The next time someone asks you to cover their shift at work, try to remember the last time you spent some time curled up with a good book. If someone asks you to water their plants when they’re away, ask yourself when you last took a relaxing bubble bath. You deserve to put yourself first – not just sometimes, but always – and that means putting your own needs before the needs of others. And no, you’re not being selfish. Taking the time to be compassionate to yourself allows you to be more compassionate with others. It’s win-win!

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5. Would I sign a friend up for this?

Part of building a healthy relationship with yourself means treating yourself like you would a friend. Often, we recognize that we’re being mean to ourselves by saying yes to something, but we do it anyway. Part of the reason we do this is because we know our limits and we push ourselves right to the very edge of them. But would you do that to a friend? Would you make her give and give and give of herself until she was completely burnt out, or would you cut her a break and let her recuperate before she reached the brink? You deserve to treat yourself with the same love and kindness that you extend to others, and sometimes that means taking a step back and remembering that you’re only human – and humans can’t do it all.

Author’s note to parents: Obviously the well-being of your children has to come before your own sometimes. But, that doesn’t mean you can’t still consider these questions. If your teenage daughter asks you to take her shopping for new clothes simply because she’s sick of her old wardrobe, don’t feel guilty telling her that it can wait until another night. Tonight, Momma’s getting a pedicure.


Emily Watson is a freelance writer and certified yoga and medical Qi Gong instructor. She has a bachelor’s degree in English Language and Literature and has been writing – creatively and otherwise – for ten years. Off the mat and away from the keyboard, Emily can be found hiking, camping and traveling with her wife and fur babies. She currently lives and works for a publishing company in Peterborough, Ontario.