The year has only just started and already we’re in burnout. The memory of the holidays is long gone. E-mails are streaming through in their hundreds; meetings are stacked up back to back; the school term is well under way; social activities are going non-stop and you’ve started planning for Easter!

It’s no wonder your stress level is rising.

Some of the stressors in our lives are outside of our control such as bureaucratic red tape that takes up time and energy for obscure purposes,requirements from unreasonable clients, and the demand from school that your child has a hair-cut before the following morning…but it’s now six o’clock in the evening. You can add sitting in traffic to the list.

The only option in these situations is to control your emotions so that your resentment, frustration, and anger do not take over, creating a temper tantrum which increases your stress level, and that of anyone else in earshot.

In other situations, one of the most powerful tools at your disposal to help you manage your time and energy, and keep yourself in a good space, is the ability to say no.

How often do you find yourself in situations that you have created, by saying yes instead of no?

To a client: ‘Yes of course. It’ll be ready by Friday’

To your boss: ‘It’s not a problem. I can get it done.’

To a friend, ‘Don’t worry. I’m happy to help out.’

Saying no relieves you of the resentment and anger you experience when you put yourself in a corner where you are unable to live up to the standards or promises to which you have committed.

For many people, saying no is virtually unthinkable. But agreeing to actions or deadlines without properly considering their implications, takes you into an inevitable sequence of bland assurances, through excuses and apologies, to more excuses and even lies. Other people become impatient, demanding and maybe abusive. You feel pressurised, defensive and resentful. People write you off as unreliable. Your stress level increases.

When someone makes a request to which you are not sure you want to agree, start by finding out exactly what they want and what you are getting yourself into. Take time to be clear on the details. Don’t be pushed into a hasty decision. Then let them know that you have heard and understood their request so they are reassured you are not making your decision thoughtlessly or carelessly. You might say, ‘So let me be clear. You want me to…’ Or, ‘Okay, you’re asking if I can…’

Next, take time to think through your own resources, capabilities and priorities so you are not left to deal with implications for cost, time or inconvenience that you have overlooked. Then consider the effects of your decision, both short and long term. You might decide to stretch the boundaries for one person but not for another.

Finally communicate your decision, including a brief explanation of why you made it the way you did, so the other person can understand and appreciate your reasons.

If you agree to requests from others without properly considering the demands they will make on you, you trade the positive impression you give by your willingness to help, for the negative impression you create when you cannot live up to your commitments. You also create stress that spills over onto everyone around you.

Try saying no using the steps above and see the positive effect it has on your time, your energy and your stress level.

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