How to Say No: Boundary Setting Tips from Nedra Tawwab

Setting boundaries with others can help avoid some of these problems, said Tawwab, who wrote “Set Boundaries, Find Peace: A Guide to Recovering YourselfBut increased pressure during the pandemic to multitask at work and at home has made it even harder to set boundaries, she noted, forcing people to reevaluate their lives and learn to say no.

“Life is full of many options, and I think of limits as options,” he said. “People will always want you to do something. If we always do what people want us to do, we’ll be very busy.”

In a discussion with CNN, Tawwab helped illuminate options for people to take back control of their lives, set healthy boundaries, and enjoy rewarding relationships.

This conversation has been edited and summarized for clarity.

CNN: What connection have you seen between pandemic burnout and workplace and boundary setting?

Tawwab: Many of us were already exhausted and the pandemic really got us there. He had us evaluate the factors that lead to burnout. For many of us, it was the unhealthy work and relationships we were in. The pandemic highlighted something that was already there.

CNN: How do you think these factors contributed to the “great resignation“?

Tawwab: At the beginning of the pandemic, many of us were put in situations that we never would have imagined. Now we know that life can be flexible, we know that we can handle multiple roles. People are trying to figure out how to make a living without doing that all their lives. We are in a state of reassessing what feels important. It may not be worth submitting to the things we are dealing with at work.


CNN: For someone who has never set boundaries before but knows change is needed, where do you start?

Tawwab: Start with your feelings. Where do you feel frustrated or resentful? When those feelings arise, what are you doing in response? Are you tolerating it or are you trying to make a difference in your life? It will help if you started to make a difference by saying, “This is a space where I need to say no.”

We need to create spaces where people can focus on what they need without overloading themselves with tasks.

CNN: Why is it so hard for people to say no?

Tawwab: It is not about always complying with everything someone asks of you. Sometimes you need to back off, sometimes you have questions, and sometimes you need support. You have to figure out how to balance the energy of wanting to be liked and wanting to be a good worker.

CNN: How do you strike that balance and how do you know which side to be on?

Two and a half stressful years led some to reevaluate their lives.  Here, health workers check on a patient with Covid-19.

Tawwab: Acknowledge your ability. When do you feel anxious or frustrated about getting things done? When do you start noticing that your mood changes towards your co-workers or loved ones because you are irritated? Delve deeper into what you feel when you are asked to do another project. What comes to your mind? Are you getting anxious? Do you have time to fit this in? Are you starting to have a physical reaction to taking on too much? That’s where you learn to set a limit.

CNN: In your work as a therapist, have you seen correlations between increased anxiety, lack of boundaries, and job stress in the last two years?

Tawwab: I think anxiety in the workplace shows up as an involuntary slowdown. You become more lax in your duties, unintentionally. You become more stuck, worrying about getting things done, or anxious about how this person would feel if you said no. There is anxiety around how you can complete your job duties. I have seen it appear more like a slowdown and a lack of drive and determination.

CNN: What guidance do you have for people who know they need to have a difficult conversation?

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Tawwab: People have said no before, and I think our brains are playing tricks on us. You know how to say no to some things, but you don’t know how to say no to everything. There are other areas of life where you say no. What makes you feel comfortable in those spaces? And what makes you feel uncomfortable in these spaces? We have to look at “Why do I think this is going to fail? Why do I think it won’t be well received?” Many times it is a narrative that we tell ourselves and it is rarely the truth.

CNN: What about sensitive conversations where the stakes are higher? For example, with a boss, father or father-in-law.

Tawwab: Start with the vulnerability. It can be helpful to tell people, “Because of my sanity, I can’t commit to doing this extra thing because I’m already too skinny.” Use words to describe what mental health is. What you might be experiencing is anxiety or feeling overwhelmed, and you might say, “I’m overwhelmed with tasks. I get really frustrated because I can’t find the right words to say no. So when you challenge me, it makes me feel like I don’t.” It was safe to say no.”

Saying no in the workplace can be difficult, but sometimes it may be necessary to avoid potential burnout.

CNN: What if that person thinks you’re being disrespectful or rude? How do you navigate that conversation?

Tawwww: I think a lot about family with this. Explain that you understand that you were probably different with your parents, and list the things you have in common: “We believe in love, community, connection, togetherness. I think it’s okay for me to have a different opinion. That doesn’t mean I don’t I believe in love, community, connection, togetherness. It means my opinion is different about some things, but I still love family, even if I’m trying to have some things that are different for me.”

CNN: Over the last two years, people have started to learn about the things that make them work and live better. For those who are self-employed, what tips do you have for them to curb potential burnout?

Tawwab: We drive most cars in the zero to maybe 80 range, and mostly around the 40 to 55 mile marker. You can’t exist in 80, and you can’t exist in zero. Many of us will try to exist in that higher number, and it’s like you’re speeding through life.

These are the signs that you are in a toxic work environment

You are missing all the important moments because you are not able to slow down. There is something special about taking the scenic route sometimes because life is meant to be enjoyed. Intentional slowing down is important. We need to practice being less productive and finding ways to rest.

CNN: In the last two years, did you have to create new boundaries or break old ones?

Tawwab: I have been practicing intentional boundaries around how I allocate time.

Sometimes in our race to be busy and productive, we just say yes. Sometimes a yes from the present is also a yes from the future, so I’m thinking, “Is that going to happen at Christmas? So let me say no beforehand. Because I know I won’t be available, I’ll be watching everything.” that Hallmark and Lifetime have to offer.

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