Is the Inability to Say “No” Hurting You?

The Center for Disease Control reports that 16% of women between the ages of 18 to 44 complain of feeling “very tired” and “exhausted” most days while only 9% of men within the same age range report the same. The report didn’t investigate the reasons behind these feelings, so we can only make our best guess as to why women feel more over-tired than men. Are we shouldering more than our fair share of work? Or are we afraid to say no to projects and responsibilities? Quite honestly, we’re probably doing both.

In May of last year, the Pew Research Center reported that 40% of all households with children under the age of 18 included mothers who were the sole or primary source of income for the family. 37% were married mothers who had a higher income than their husbands and 8.6 million were single mothers. Even though many women are accepting the role as primary breadwinner, they’re not doing less housework. The Bureau of Labor Statistics found that women spent 2.6 hours a day on household activities, and men spent an average of 2.1 hours. So what do all these numbers add up to?

super mom cartoonThe truth is that women are more likely to say yes to family responsibilities and yes to projects at work even though we’re not sure where the extra time or energy is going to be extracted from our packed schedules. The expectation in our society is that women should be able to do everything, and we tell ourselves that we should be able to do all of it. The hard reality is that most of us can’t do everything with 100% focus and energy, 100% of the time. And I’m writing this with complete empathy, because I AM THAT WOMAN. I tell myself that I should be able to squeeze in all my work goals for the day, plus shuttle my child to her school and activities, get a decent meal on the table, and then spend quality time with my partner, and get 1000 words of my novel down on paper. It’s ridiculous to expect that I can do all of this, yet every day I wake up at an absurd hour to try to accomplish it all. And accomplish it with flying colors no less.

The flip side of the over-committed coin is that if we don’t take care of ourselves, we won’t be able to care for anyone else. Stress impacts our health and the quality of our lives both at home and at work. If we’re the main provider for our family, it impacts those that we care about as well. One of the simplest ways to take back some time and space (and energy!) for yourself is to say NO to the next committee, extra work project or family outing. Make time and space for your own downtime, and make self-care a priority. Only when we make our health and wellness a priority can we help others.



Brooks, Chad. “Working Women Still Do More Housework Than Men.” Mother Nature Network. 28 June 2012. Web. 16 March 2014.
Wendy Wang, Kim Parker and Paul Taylor. “Breadwinner Moms.” Pew Research Center. 29 May 2013. Web. 16 March 2014.
“QuickStats: Percentage of Adults Who Often Felt Very Tired or Exhausted in the Past 3 Months.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 12 April 2013. Web. 16 March 2014.