Saying no as a form of self preservation
Alexis Zygan (She/Her) // Contributor
Illustrator // Jason Low
I am a firm believer in prioritizing my needs above all else. A friend once told me that it’s important to “put your oxygen mask on first.” A sentiment that encourages taking care of oneself before attending to the needs of others. An action I once thought of as selfish, I now view as necessary in managing my mental health. Mainly because I have a history of not standing up for myself and acting like a pushover, even though denying my needs has only resulted in elevated stress and anxiety.
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) adversely impacts my mood as the temperature drops and the hours of sunlight rapidly diminish. The vitamin D our bodies desperately depend on to produce serotonin becomes inaccessible until springtime. Sad lamps are no match for the blazing hot warmth of the sunshine. Himalayan salt lamps provide my basement suite bedroom with a warm glow but fail to enhance my mood.
I find myself overwhelmed by everyday tasks, despite my inability to maintain a schedule. I succumb to the pressure to achieve — because I have yet to unlearn that productivity does not equate to my worth. This leaves me winding up in a state of chronic overwhelm. This winter, I plan to act in my own best interest by preventing stress. Instead of jam-packing my schedule with activities, I aim to step into my power by checking in with myself before solidifying plans — while also showing gratitude to my social circle when I honour the introverted side of an ambivert. Friends who genuinely care about you will still be there even after you reject plans for a month, as long as you explain that it’s necessary for self-preservation.
Spoon theory, named in an essay by Christine Miserandino, is a metaphor often used by people with chronic illness to describe the amount of energy someone has for tasks. Low spoons equate to low energy. In the winter months, my energy depletes, and I need to prioritize my well-being, resulting in isolation to prevent spiralling into a worsened emotional state. I take time to heal, and re-enter society when I am more robust and ready to tackle whatever life throws at me. Or, once I have the spoons.
I encourage you to prioritize your well-being, particularly if you tend to exceed your limits and overcommit. Have clear boundaries when engaging with people who tend to trigger uncomfortable feelings. Saying no may be a struggle at first, especially if you’ve been gaslit in the past. I know it was for me. Gaslighting is a form of psychological manipulation when someone denies your reality to the extent that you question your validity. Even though I often fear the reaction of setting a boundary, I know that it’s worth standing up for myself and protecting my limited energy from vultures. Reject the “yes day” mentality and embrace saying no. In the end, you may develop stronger self-confidence, a greater trust in your own judgment, and a better understanding of who your true friends are.