For decades, I’ve been watching women run themselves ragged and ruin their health because they have forgotten the power of one little word: No.

Why is it that so many women live their lives as if this word doesn’t even exist? They take on extra projects at work, cart their children from one activity to the next, agree to head up fundraising efforts, manage their aging parents affairs, and attend every social event they are invited to, even when they’d rather stay home on the couch. Why? Because they never say no. Every time someone makes a request of them, they see it as a demand, something they have to do.

Why does this happen? A lot of it has to do with how they experienced the world as children. When our world is confusing or traumatic, we develop coping mechanisms that help us survive. The problem is that we keep these habits long after we need them.

Saying yes to everything leads to an immense amount of chronic stress. And chronic stress leads to major health issues!

Never saying no can also impact the health care you receive, and sometimes even cause more suffering. Too many women visit doctors to deal with uncomfortable symptoms, are given medication and just blindly agree to taking it. They’re uncomfortable asking questions or pushing for more concrete information.

Even more startling are the women who receive a major diagnosis, like breast cancer, and feel like they have to jump right into whatever radical treatment the doctor suggests.

I’ve heard so many women say, “The doctor is the expert – shouldn’t I just trust their opinion?” And yes, of course, you need a doctor you can trust. But healthcare professionals are human, and they don’t necessarily have all the answers. It’s impossible for one person to research every possible treatment – especially for symptoms that are shared by so many different conditions.

When it comes right down to it – YOU are the expert on your own body. And if you have a serious condition, chances are it’s been building in your body for a very long time. So why make a snap decision on how to fix it? In most situations, you have more time than you think.

Instead of pushing forward without understanding all the options available to you, I encourage taking a bit of time to come up with a plan that works for YOU.

Let me share an example of what I’m talking about. I have a friend who had a wide range of symptoms including extreme fatigue; chronic pain, especially in her hands and feet, headaches, trouble focusing, and an absolute inability to lose weight no matter what she did.

Her doctor had her see specialist after specialist, turning up nothing. But not once had her doctor suggested she consider the stress in her life. Instead, she suggested antidepressants and other medication to manage the symptoms. My friend almost said yes, because she was so frustrated and she just wanted the pain to stop. When she asked for my advice, I told her to hold off on the medications and try addressing stress first.

She changed her diet to help support her body better, began walking every morning before work, and worked on finding small ways to eliminate the constant barrage of stress she’d been under. It wasn’t easy, and it took some time – but after a few months, she was feeling so much better – without medications that could have serious side effects!

It isn’t easy to ask questions and/or say no, especially to health care providers we trust. But they may not be considering all the angles to a situation, or they may be making assumptions based on past history that don’t apply any longer.

Asking for options not only gives you more information, but it also lets your healthcare practitioner know you are interested in real solutions – and you’re willing to work on making changes to your lifestyle so you can truly heal.

Doctors are often confronted with patients who want a “quick-fix” and aren’t willing to do the hard work necessary to lead a healthier lifestyle. It can be hard for them to remember that not everyone buys into the media hype about every new “miracle drug.”

Taking a pill is certainly easier than overhauling your diet, beginning an exercise regimen, getting therapy, or addressing stress. But making those changes is so much more powerful in the long run!

My wish for women is that they will discover how much power they have over their own lives and health. And one of the ways they can begin to reclaim that power is by learning to say no.

If you are a “yes” woman, here are some tips to get you started on the path to finding freedom by embracing the word “no”:

  • Start small. Find one thing – maybe making cupcakes for the class bake sale – that you can easily say “I’m sorry, I just don’t have time” to.
  • Pause first. You don’t have to give an answer immediately. Take some time – a few minutes or a few days – to mull over whether you have the capacity and the desire to do something.
  • Practice. If it’s been years since you said no to any request, just getting familiar with the words you can use can help. Here are some options:
    • No, I can’t do that right now.
    • I’m sorry, I don’t have time.
    • That is not my area of expertise.
    • I need time to think about that.
    • Can I get back to you on that?
    • I need more information on that. I’ll let you know when I have the information I need to make an informed decision.
  • Address old beliefs/coping strategies. You may want to explore where your tendency to agree to everything comes from. Talk therapy or a life coach may be able to help you discover what unhelpful beliefs and old stories may be holding you back from finding your true power.