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January 2019

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Calm the F**k Down by Sarah Knight

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Four Stars

Best for: Anyone with anxiety, anyone who tends to worry a bunch, and/or anyone who can find themselves unsure of where to start when something bad happens.

In a nutshell: Author Sarah Knight offers a way to think about the things that keep us up at night so they don’t take over our lives. She is not a doctor, and isn’t suggesting that people with mental health issues that amplify their tendency to worry simply need to calm the fuck down; this book is for those of us who wouldn’t have a diagnosis but still worry way more than we’d like to.

Worth quoting: “Worrying is wasteful. It costs you time, energy, and/or money and gives you nothing useful in return.”

Why I chose it: 2019. New Year! New You! Just kidding. I’m exactly the same today as I was yesterday. But one of my goals for this year is to reduce my anxiety. While traveling recently, I was distracted by the following worries: whether the tiny bump on my cat’s lip was something horrible or just an injury from wrestling with his brother; whether our flight was going to be delayed to the point of missing our connection; if our cat sitter was going to lock herself out of the house, leading our cats to die of hunger or thirst; whether the car reservation at our destination was properly confirmed. Looking over that list, you’ll see that approximately 0% of that was within my control at that moment, yet it was causing my shoulders to rise closer and closer to my ears. Then I saw this book and thought “yeah, I probably should calm the fuck down.”

Review:I’ve read Ms. Knight’s other books, and while they weren’t always what I was looking for, I do like her style and tone. This is definitely my favorite of hers that I’ve read, and I think her approach is one that could really work for me. I’m going to share the basics below (mostly for my own information), but she doesn’t such a great job of illustrating her points — the tarantula story is especially clever — that you should definitely not take the below as a substitute for the real thing.Okay? Let’s go.

The overarching theme is that we should try to get to a point where we can address our worries from a point of logic, not emotion. Hard to do, obviously. But here are the three big points:

  • Acknowledge what has happened
  • Accept what you cannot control
  • Address what you can control

Ms. Knight suggests there are four main faces your worry might take: anxiety, sadness, anger, or denial (she’s calls it ostriching). I have definitely seen my worry turn to anxiety and anger (with the occasional sadness thrown in); I’m not much for completely ignoring problems, but I can see how that might be appealing. This part is helpful if you’re not aware of how you tend to act in moments, but it’s not the most … necessary part of the book.

That comes next, with her repetition around the “one question to rule them all”: Can I Control It? And can I control it within reason. Like, I can control never being the passenger in a plane crash by never flying, but that’s not an option for me. So, once I’m in the plane, can I control whether the plane gets there? Nope.

This point is so key, and possibly so obvious to people who don’t find themselves staring at the ceiling at 3 AM because of something they said at work two weeks ago that literally no one cared about or noticed. But for the rest of us, it helps to be reminded.

The second part of the book really focuses on treating worries logically. She asks us to take a worry and put it on a scale:

  • Highly Unlikely
  • Possible But Not Likely
  • Likely
  • Highly Likely
  • Inevitable

And then, determine the timing: is it outlying, imminent, or already happening? And then, can I control it?

From there, she offers some tips on how to let go of the things that we can’t control. One option is PHEW (productive, helpful, and effective worrying), which is essentially taking action about certain things you can control. For example, with my cat’s lip, once I thought about how we could, if necessary, have a vet come to the home while the cat sitter is there and we’re on vacation, I stopped being so concerned (he’s fine, by the way).

I have generally been fairly good at coming up with solutions to my anxieties, but letting go of the ones I can’t control has been challenging. I think a big part has been treating every worry as equally likely and imminent, which is just absurd. And this book has helped me recognize that.

That said, I can always use some good tips for managing the shitstorms (her word) in my life, and part three of the book offers some. Her principles of dealing with shit include taking stock, identifying my realistic ideal outcome, and then triaging what needs to be done first, second, etc. She illustrates this section with loads of examples, which I enjoyed a lot.

The final part is a choose your own adventure bit, meant to solidify all the concepts, but I didn’t find it to be as helpful. But others might enjoy it!

Keep it / Donate it / Toss it: Keep it. Definitely.

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