Like many other people I struggle with saying no. There are a number of reasons for this. I read another advocate’s blog post on this issue and thought it was deemed important to address this in my blog as how it affects me as there are no two people with the same issue.
Saying no is really difficult for me for a few reasons. The first is that I actually would like to do everything I am asked to do. I enjoy many things that are asked of me, this can make it difficult to delegate and prioritize if necessary. If I do too much then I am in trouble. I have to remind myself of times in the past when I have been burned out. Another issue with ‘no’ is that I don’t want to disappoint anyone.
Burnout happens when we take on too much – or have too many demands for our time and energy. It can be caused by a range of triggers and is very challenging. Burnout can accumulate over time and we can struggle to see it happening. Often others who are close to us will see burnout coming long before we do. For this reason it is helpful to listen to others if they express concern about our workload. It is possible to head off burnout by simply stopping doing the things which are contributing to it. If you actually do get to the place of being burned out the key is to stop.
Saying no to someone is a form of assertiveness. Assertiveness can be tricky and can take a lot of practice. A lot of neurodivergent people struggle with assertiveness. If you have been bullied or invalidated in some other way it can be very difficult to be assertive. Assertiveness is a really useful skill and it is possible to improve our capability to be assertive through practicing declining requests. It is best to start by being assertive with someone we are comfortable with and feel safe with. Being assertive is a great way of addressing burnout and saying no.
I want to also specify that there is a difference between being assertive versus being aggressive. Making a point that you need to do something must be done in a firm, but cordial and calm manner so that your points are made valid and you are recognized. By demanding your needs without making a case in a calm and collective manner will only detriment your time and possibly see the need for more care.
Importance of downtime
Downtime is absolutely essential. Nobody – not even me – can work all the time. We need downtime from work tasks but also from emotional and social input. Being around people all the time can be overwhelming for autistic folks and things like emotional stress can contribute to burnout to a similar or greater degree than not being able to say no to requests for work-type activities. It is important to protect ourselves from burnout and overload and recovering from burnout can be a difficult and unpleasant process. This can involve limiting social contact or emotional stress. Some people are more draining than others. If we are aware of this it means we can limit time with those people and decline contact with them and this will enable us to be in a better space and avoid burnout.
In these challenging times we must be aware of the need to take downtime, be assertive when necessary and avoid burnout by recognizing the signs of when we need to take a break from the things that overwhelm us.