Managing Anxiety When You Have to Say No

Sometimes saying no can be our biggest challenge - how do you manage anxiety?

An anxious woman

Photo by Gary Ross from Pixabay

We all get anxious at times, specially when we feel uncomfortable, out of our depth or uncertain of our ability to deal with a particular challenge, but when it becomes so huge that it causes a complete meltdown, it’s usually too late to do much about it other than survive the consequences that affect both your physical and mental health. Managing anxiety when you have to say no is not so much about finding a way to stop anxiety but rather a way of being prepared to face the inevitable discomfort that saying no can cause.

Conflict aversion

Do you really have trouble saying no or even telling someone the truth when you know that it will cause a defensive reaction?

Avoidance, escape, procrastination, ignoring the situation, and down playing your own feelings and ability are just some of the ways to get out of having to deal with conflict, but why do we fear it so much?

Let’s imagine you have a boss who asks you to work an hour later everyday. You agreed and were fine about that, but after three weeks of the same, you’re tired of getting home too late - you never have time to go to the gym. But she scares you and the organization's culture is somewhat competitive. How do you communicate this to her - would managing your anxiety in this scenario seem impossible?

As this is a work example I will add another to make it more general. You have a neighbour who you have a great relationship with but she has asked you to look after her dog while she’s on holiday.You’re not unkind, you normally love to help out, but this is the third time that you’ve looked after her dog. It’s a dog that's rather hard to control and he pulls, is rather aggressive with other dogs and you just don’t feel a bond with him that would otherwise make this a pleasure rather than a chore. 

How can you manage anxiety when you have to say no?

An opportunity for growth

These two typical examples may be different to your experience, no doubt you can relate and  sense the level of anxiety that would ensue. You may have already created a perfect escape plan with a whole backstory in your head that will mean maintaining your favour with the person. But at what cost?  

Every example such as those above make wonderful opportunities to grow as a person and to end the dark reign that anxiety imposes on your life once and for all.

Once you stand up to the dragon of anxiety, you will get a little braver each time and soon people will respect that imposing, controlling, manipulative or bullying behaviour just won’t work with you. Your relationships with others will improve.

Taking action is your choice

If this sounds like another ideal to add to the archived list that already awaits your attention, you’re not alone and that’s absolutely normal. It’s unrealistic to believe that you can suddenly start saying no assertively without feeling guilt, uncertainty, self-doubt or even panic. You identify yourself with someone who is willing to say yes, a positive, helpful and kind person and saying no feels pretty alien. So the first step is to appreciate your willingness to say yes. You are a positive person with a kind heart who will often go the extra mile. The next step is to let go of the attachment to being that kind of person. Accept yourself for a person who can say no too.

Saying yes when you feel like saying no is inauthentic, anti-evolutionary and it’s giving away your power but worse, it makes you feel bad about yourself and that keeps the game alive.

By being courageous and expressing yourself as an equal, you claim yourself and this is an empowering choice that begins with you, and, like all change you wish to see in your life, if you don’t take the steps to do it, it just ain’t gonna happen.

Tenderly Is How

Managing anxiety when you have to say no is easier when you add the tender touch. Any action you take, make it tender towards yourself.

Anxiety protects you, it makes you cautious and that can save your life, but it becomes dangerous to your health if it’s something that occurs often and results in a constant state of stress. There are a plethora of negative consequences of stress that affect your mental and physical well-being, so tenderness is the first step towards a more self-loving approach that will offset or balance this.

Here are some ways to manage anxiety when you have to say no:

  • Increasing your self-awareness through meditation is a great strategy to reconnect to a space within you that feels more harmonious and able to deal with the challenges that life presents.  The more you connect to that space the more trust you will have in your ability to manage anxiety. There are so many distractions in life and so much to take care of that mental energy is often a lot louder and more imposing than it should be. Harmony is a vital foundation of managing anxiety. 
  • Colour code your emotional state. Once you’ve become a little more self-aware of how your body communicates, you can begin to identify your emotional states by colour coding them. For example:

    BLUE - no anxiety at all (total relaxation) 

    GREEN -  slight agitation

    YELLOW - mental overload or mind gremlins sabotaging your self-esteem

    ORANGE - feeling really anxious along with the tell tale physical symptoms such as butterflies, nausea, sweaty palms, palpitations etc. 

    RED - total meltdown -  Going blank, crying, storming out of a meeting or hitting someone! 

    The colours are examples and you may feel that other colours would better depict these emotions. The emotions and consequences themselves are also very personal, but for everybody, the closer you are to blue, obviously the better. If you feel you are in yellow, you can make a conscious effort to take time out, breathe, come back to your body and assess what is happening, you are much more likely to be able to say no in a calm and assertive manner which will probably not cause the reaction you imagined, but, if it does, you´re more likely to be able to handle that reaction and respond to it in a serene and dignified way.  


  • I would like to add the importance of tenderness towards yourself. To not beat yourself up when you feel that you can’t say no. To not feel useless because you have to do something that you didn’t want to do. Just recognise what’s happened and what you are choosing this time around. You will get another opportunity and you will be that little more aware the next time.  Appreciate your efforts, dust yourself down and shake it off. Say whoops and carry on.


  • Appreciation and self-love. This step is similar to the previous one, but more related to when you do say no. It’s likely to be an anxious moment and anxiety feels horrible so all of your senses are saying turn away, escape to safety! but safety only promises temporary respite. 



All encompassing self-love - The antidote to anxiety

self-love versus anxiety

It's inspiring to see how many courageous women now stand up to bullies. The Jeffrey Epstein and Harvey Weinsteins of this world have had their day thanks to that courage. Your situation may seem small in comparison or it may be of the same ilk, it doesn’t matter because it comes from the same energy source. Whether it’s not being able to say no to your daughter leaving her dirty washing for you to collect every day or saying no to the advances of somebody you have absolutely no interest in, it causes anxiety and anxiety feels the same in everyone’s body.  


How you react to that anxiety and how long it sticks around is what changes.

So, every time you do say no appreciate and celebrate that decision. Don’t worry about whether it was the right thing to say (feeling right or wrong is another blog!!) You did it, you were brave and you put your own needs first. That’s the beginning of honouring yourself more and it leads to self-love.  Self-love is an antidote to anxiety and the more you focus your attention there, the more it expands.  The wonderful thing about love is that it doesn’t care who it’s directed at, or who its focus is, it just expands and encompasses everything around you the more you experience it.  

If you feel like a victim and there is a perpetrator, it's so much harder to manage anxiety when you have to say no, but when you are self-loving you don’t feel like a victim, you become empowered and the perpetrator isn’t seen as the enemy, rather you find yourself being able to step back and see the bigger picture, separating the person from their behaviour.  I bet you can deal with behaviour better than you can deal with a person - it already feels less scary!

You're not alone

Feeling confident and heard

If you are having trouble saying no and the consequences are causing you a lot of stress, please don't suffer in silence. I'm easily contactable (go to contact me at the top of this page) There is also an online course called From Anxiety to Harmony, if anxiety is causing much disharmony in your life.

However, I hope this blog was useful to begin a conscious way to manage anxiety when you have to say no. If you struggle to say no, you can download a free e-guide that comes with audio exercises that help you to reconnect more to your body and become  aware of how to manage your anxiety using your own voice. It’s called Be Brave, Be Heard & Shine Bright - please click below and I'll send you your free copy.

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