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Over-Committing and How to Say ‘No’

What is over-committing? The dictionary definition is “someone feels obliged to do more than they are capable of”. I think that is spot on if you define capability as time or capacity.

How many of us classify ourselves as ‘people pleasers?’ I know I definitely do; I have this ingrained need to give others whatever they ask for so that I don’t upset, offend or make people potentially dislike me. I also have this need to be included and not miss out. This goes back to when I was a child and I pretty much had 100% school attendance every year because I could not miss any of the gossip or goings-on in the playground.

This has followed me through to adulthood, but I am now far more aware of what over-committing is and the detrimental impact it can have on our overall health.

The Impact of Over-Committing

Over-committing can, in its most intense state, have long-lasting physical and mental health impacts. There are extreme cases where people have become so overwhelmed that they have experienced burnout, which can manifest physical symptoms that are similar to that of a heart attack or stroke. In more common cases, it can have an impact on our stress levels and, in turn, impact our levels of anxiety.

The stress and pressure of over-committing can trigger what is known as our fight or flight response. When this response is triggered cortisol and adrenaline are released by our sympathetic nervous system, which leads to certain things being heightened to support us in dealing with the threat that we face, such as a rush of energy and blood flow to our major muscles and organs. However, to boost our energy supplies that much means we must let other areas go. Bodily functions such as our digestive system and immune system are slowed down or depleted. Therefore, being in this state for a prolonged period can mean we aren’t getting the nourishment we need to fuel our bodies and keep ourselves healthy and we are more susceptible to physical illnesses.

The Art of Saying No

If you can relate to all or some of the above, then one of the most powerful things you can work on is the skill of saying ‘NO!’ Sometimes, we can be caught off guard when a favour is asked and do not have what we think is a “good reason”. When the truth is you do not need a good reason to say ‘no.’

Say that a friend has asked for you to go out for a coffee or to a social gathering. You are already feeling exhausted after a busy week at work, and you know deep down you should be taking care of yourself and getting that early night you have been promising yourself.

Or that work colleague or boss you have been trying to impress asks you to take on a project that you know you have little time for. Or even worse, the subject of the project is something you really aren’t interested in, but you don’t want to damage your reputation, miss out on something or let anyone down.

You will be happy to know that you can with practice and starting small learn to respectfully say ‘no.’ Start by thinking of situations that have come up in the past, and then experiment with polite ways to say ‘no.’ Actually say it out loud so that when the time arises, you’re comfortable with the words.

For example, practice saying, “I’m sorry. I’ve had a really long week and I am feeling exhausted. Can we reschedule that coffee for another time?” Or maybe, “It’s so nice of you to think of me, but I can’t add anything else to my plate right now.” If it makes you feel better and you can do it right at that moment, you might even recommend someone else to do the project. For example, you might say, “I don’t have time to take on another project, but Joe Bloggs in marketing is really knowledgeable about that subject, maybe they would be interested.”

So for all those people pleasers out there, I know the ‘no’ word can be a scary prospect, but with practice and by prioritising yourself and your mental wellbeing, I am sure you can make those ever so important steps.

Thanks for listening.

Claire is a Mental Health & Wellbeing practitioner living in Gloucestershire. She is passionate about creating psychologically safe environments for people to thrive. She is a busy working mummy to two children and a Hungarian Vizsla called Rufus. Claire enjoys running, yoga and practices mindfulness on a regular basis.