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Saying “no”: prioritizing you and saying “yes” to self-care

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at U Mass Amherst chapter.

Have you ever felt pressured to say “yes”? Whether it’s been with friends, parents, a partner, or whoever else — I’m sure you’ve caved on a decision and felt influenced to just “go with it” for the sake of others.

But have you ever felt pressured to say “no”? To go against the grain and just do what you want to do? If you haven’t, I’m right there with you. I am a total people pleaser as well as a chronic procrastinator; if someone wants me to do something either with them or for them, chances are I’ll say yes.

Recently, I’ve learned that this is a self-sabotaging behavior. In therapy, we talked about how people-pleasing behaviors are often thought of as selfless actions. However, I’ve come to realize that these actions are actually often inherently selfish. Personally, when I engage in “people pleasing,” it’s also for the subconscious reaffirmation that people will like me and appreciate me more if I continually say “yes.”

This realization was hard to accept at first. Since childhood, I’ve jumped through various hoops and have always been regarded as someone who was “mature for my age.” Growing up like this taught me that I needed to adopt a “go with the flow” mentality. Whatever anyone else said went, and my opinions, ideas, and most importantly, my feelings were often uninvolved. In turn, this led to my weakened ability to set concrete boundaries in my relationships and also with myself.

In college, this has been coming up for me more than ever before. Trying to balance the different facets of work, school, and social life is hard enough, and it is even more difficult when you don’t know how to truly take care of yourself. Even as I write this article now, I am learning what that means to me.

In procrastinating, I leave a lot of uncompleted work to do until the last minute. However, I’ve also found that most of my work done at the last minute is often my best. I’ve learned that being on a “time crunch” often inspires more creativity in my work, and I’ve found a way to use that to my advantage.

Conversely, I often stress and have a lot of anxiety when I procrastinate. I tend to want to engage in “avoidance” behaviors when I feel anxious, which often leads to more behaviors. These types of behaviors, for me, tend to look like constantly saying “yes” to other people and commitments in order to avoid my own needs. It’s an endless and exhausting cycle.

In saying “no,” I am reclaiming the power I have over the decisions I make. Saying “no” is a form of self-care and an act of self-love; it is agreeing to take time for yourself. It’s giving yourself more time to work on that big assignment, or maybe it’s just spending the night in so your body can rest.

The hardest part of saying “no” is fearing what others will think of you. What I’m trying to accept and work on is remembering that the only opinion that actually matters is my own. Trying to satisfy everyone else around you will exhaust you and steer you in the opposite direction of what you yourself need. When you begin to consider “no” as a real choice, you will start to appreciate yourself more and recognize self-care as not just an “activity,” but rather a lifestyle.

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Kiley Smyth

U Mass Amherst '23

Kiley is a Senior at UMass Amherst studying Journalism with a concentration in Public Relations. She is also pursuing a certificate in Film Studies!