If you tend to get stuck in a worry loop, Sarah Knight’s new book has a way to help you escape. And, as it’s Knight, the useful information comes wrapped up in a sweary package: Calm The F**k Down (asterisks author’s own).
You may already be a fan of Knight’s way of drilling down to the logic of any situation. In her first best-seller, The Life-Changing Magic Of Not Giving A F**k, she set out her stall as a no-nonsense, straight-talking mixture of a therapist, life coach and wise best friend. Taking the Marie Kondo philosophy of “throw out what you don’t love” as her inspiration, Knight created an emotional equivalent – first work out what annoys you, then stop giving a fuck about it.
Now, Knight has turned her energies to helping us stop anxious thoughts. While the people who love you, she says, will tell you, “Everything is going to be OK”, that advice doesn’t get to the root of the issue. “I frankly don't find that helpful,” she tells me.
Most of us get lost in endless cycles of binge-worrying, she says. “People get really caught up in their anxiety in the bad part of the situation, so are overwhelmed. The term I used is ‘freaking out’. And you can freak out with anger, tiredness, sadness and avoidance.”
In what she calls her “brutally pragmatic approach”, Knight wants to help you stop that freak out, because it makes you, “lose sight of the productive, helpful, effective actions you can take to solve the problem in hand”.
Knight wants to help you stop freaking out, because it makes you 'lose sight of the productive, helpful, effective actions you can take to solve the problem in hand'
The new technique is a question, dubbed by Knight as the "One Question to Rule Them All". At any point when you’re worrying, you simply ask yourself, “Can I control it?” If the answer is yes, then you get on and work out what you can do about it. “You take all of the energy you were going to spend freaking out about the situation and you pour it into the aspects of the situation you can control,” she says. If the answer is no, then make yourself drop the worrying. “Worrying is a waste of your precious time, energy and money. And worrying about things you can’t control is the biggest waste of all.”
As a long-term anxiety sufferer, it was Knight’s move from New York to the Dominican Republic that revealed this new way of thinking. “I’m a very Type A personality – an overachiever, a perfectionist and very ambitious. But in the Dominican Republic, life happens at a different pace to New York,” she says. “For example, if you're on your way to the airport, there’s only one road. If you find yourself stuck behind a funeral procession, it’s going to take you about four times as long – and there’s nothing you can do about it.”
For her, she says, this slower life was “akin to a exposure therapy”. And Knight found that as she began to focus on the things she could control and not worry so much about the things she couldn’t – of which there were many – it transformed her. “I know I was a crazed, anxiety-prone person for so many years, and this is what has brought me, relatively, out of it.”
Think about how useful the question might be, maybe even right now. You won’t freak out if the train is delayed and you’re going to be late. Or when you get ill and have to cancel multiple arrangements. Or when your phone dies and you can’t call to say you’re either ill or late.
Just as Knight was on her final deadline for the book, disaster struck that tested her new philosophy to the max. She broke her hand on her cat when he jumped on her while objecting to his medication. She could barely type. “It was a situation that was ripe for freaking out, and I‘m very proud of myself for practising what I preach.” Living by the One Question, she says, has truly changed her life. “I have regained so much time and energy, not to mention general happiness, by not letting myself get so worked up about things, especially things that I can’t control.”
Calm The F**k Down (A No F*cks Given Guide) by Sarah Knight is published by Quercus and available for £10.49