The Art of Saying No During the Holiday Season

© bakhtiarzein –

During the holiday season, we are given many opportunities to practice the art of saying “No.”

Here are just a few examples:

  1. Parties and holiday gatherings – when there is an excessive number of these they can conflict with each other or breach our precious self-care time.
  2. Food – when we don’t like a particular food, or eating it would cause us harm due to physical or emotional health issues (e.g., gluten, sugar or sodium), or when “food pushers” urge us to eat more or differently.
  3. Gift buying – when we feel obligated to give or overspend.
  4. Isolating – when we need to say no to ourselves and choose social support over harmful isolation, while still allowing quiet restorative time in balance.

The art of saying no is outlined very clearly in Backbone Power: The Science of Saying No, by one of my mentors, Anne Brown, PhD. I love how Anne puts it in the science perspective and how I can also see it as an art!

In her introduction she talks about how we so often say yes when we mean no, such as:

  • Saying yes to things we can’t afford
  • Saying yes to things we know feel good at the time and cost us our self-esteem later
  • Saying yes to numbing ourselves with food, alcohol, and drugs
  • Saying yes to “putting up with” and “doing more than others”
  • Saying yes to any request from anyone because we want to avoid conflict

She goes on to say how “then we wonder why we feel controlled, bullied, used, and abused.” Her brilliant solutions are so clear, yet we need practice in applying them. Dr. Brown says it all comes down to learning how to say no, how to make requests, and how to speak authentically.

The trained psychotherapists at White Picket Fence Counseling Center offer the following strategies for saying no during the holiday season – or any time of year. We invite our clients – and you – to explore these skills with a curious and mindful perspective. Place your own personal filter on these skills and practice them as your own. Notice without judgment and continue the practice.

You may want to record your experiences in a journal to review later as you master the art and science of saying no. Counseling can also help, using more of a coaching approach by offering encouragement, suggestions for advancement, and accountability.

  • Create a list of your values, likes and dislikes – being clear about these helps you be clear when a request is not in alignment with what you really want.
  • Explore your spiritual perspective and beliefs as an extension of your values – notice where they are woven together.
  • Develop a practice for grounding – try yoga and guided imagery, time in nature, or time with pet.
  • Practice saying no to little things – “No, I don’t want that flyer/coupon/sample” is a good start.
  • Keep track of when you say yes but mean no. Don’t do anything with it, just start noticing.
  • Tell the truth and keep it brief when saying no. Often we lie or make excuses. Just say no, or more politely, “No, thank you.”
  • Buy yourself some times – this is a technique I often recommend and use personally. Tell the person, “I’ll get back to you,” then sit for a moment or longer to check in with yourself about if it feels like the right thing to do. See whether saying yes will create resentment of the person asking, the situation, or ESPECIALLY yourself. If there is even a small inkling of one, I explore further and will likely say no or change the terms.
  • Practice affirmations – this is an ideal time to affirm your decisions and your values.
  • Create new rituals – choose the things that best fit your values and beliefs.

When do you need to say no this holiday season?

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