The secret to managing stress is not adding more self-care. It’s not squeezing in another yoga class, relaxing “treat-yo-self” moments, or soothing essential oils. It’s something entirely different.

I’m not saying these enjoyable things aren’t helpful, I’m just saying that they’ll only help you so much in your battle against stress.

When I was in graduate school, I was always “exhausted” and “stressed.” I chalked my weekly crying and my dread of the next packed day to typical grad school busy-ness and overwhelm.

I worked full-time as a behavior therapist, worked part time as a graduate assistant, had my internship hours to complete (for free!), and attended anywhere from 9 to 12 hours of evening class per week. My family lived across the country, so occasionally I had whirlwind red-eye 36 hour visits for a family event. My friends wanted to climb on the weekend (and so did I) so I’d rally for a 4 hour round trip day outing to Joshua Tree. On Sunday night, I’d want to cry thinking about my energy level to face the week ahead. Managing stress felt completely impossible, and I fully believed that feeling.

Once I made it through those three years, I moved to Colorado only to accept another busy schedule. Tons of driving between clients, rushing home to let the dog out, fitting in family trips, and working anywhere from 2-3 jobs. I “had” to for the money.

Money is in quotation marks there, because that’s part of the secret. I didn’t have to work so much. I felt like I had to to keep up with people around me or to make enough money to feel good about myself. (More on beliefs like that in another post, at another time.)

The whole time, throughout many of these years, I could have been saying no.

And there it is – the secret to managing stress is to say no. We are always crazed or overwhelmed because we can’t say “no.” We might not know how to. Frequently, we don’t even know that saying no is an option!

We don’t realize this for quite a few reasons, which we can get into another time. For now – say “no” to one thing a week. Not to things that you love and make you feel good and you want to do. But you can say no to things like:

  • That happy hour you don’t want to attend
  • The yoga class that you just don’t feel up to going to this week
  • The Saturday morning brunch that you aren’t excited about and don’t want to spend money on
  • The dinner that’s with people you don’t actually like hanging out with
  • What else do you feel like is a drag? What are you just ‘getting through’ or looking forward to when it’s over because you don’t actually want to be there?

I started learning how to say “no” when I read Greg McKeown’s “Essentialism.” It helped me not only learn what to say no to, but how to say no. Many of us never learned this skill!

Need help learning how to say no, manage stress, or make decisions for yourself instead of others? With our own personal and professional experience, we’re here to help.