Not to Worry: 10 Things to Stop Worrying About

Everywhere I turn these days, people are urging me to worry. “Restaurants are swarming with bacteria!” shouts a local news promo. “We’ll tell you what to beware of!” From the computer in my lap, a parenting blog warns, “There’s plenty to be anxious about.” Noting the pallor of my furrowed brow, a neighbor clucks, “I think you should be more concerned about your health.”

Friends, there are many areas in which I need encouragement, but worrying is not one of them. I worry the way Renée Fleming sings high Cs: Effortlessly. Loudly. At length. You may be similarly gifted, because worrying comes easily to a certain subpopulation of humans, namely those of us with pulses. We’re constantly creating new, worry-based strategies for living.

But worrying is worrisome: It’s stressful, and as we all know, stress will kill you. I worry about that a lot. So today I’m striking a tiny blow for sanity with my list of ten things you can officially stop worrying about.

1. What’s on Your Plate

“If I can just finish this project,” says my ultrabusy friend Nancy, “I can stop worrying.” She’s said this every time I’ve ever spoken to her. No matter how much work Nancy finishes, by the time it’s done she’s fixating on a whole new crop of chores. In our achievement-obsessed society, this is “normal.” But I realized just how insane it is when a friend was dying of cancer. On her deathbed she managed to joke with me, “Hey, at least I only have one more thing on my to-do list.”

Instead of fretting about getting everything done, why not simply accept that being alive means having things to do? Then drop into full engagement with whatever you’re doing, and let the worry go.

“But,” you may be thinking, “I can’t just cut my anxiety loose! It isn’t under my control!” I empathize with this argument. I also know it’s bunk. To stop worrying about something, simply direct your attention toward something else. Personally, I like to interrupt my flow of worry by imagining—vividly—what I’d do if an elk walked into the room. See? Distraction works.

2. Needing Help

I used to be one of those people who spurned assistance—from other people, from God, from chemicals. Not anymore! These days—whether I’m begging for divine intervention, enlisting a fellow coach to help me overcome my aversion to e-mail, or refilling the awesome prescription that helps me sleep no matter how disruptive my schedule—I pretty much walk around hollering, “Help wanted!”

Are my helpers crutches? You betcha. Mama needs crutches, and she doesn’t worry one little bit about using them. If you worry about needing what you need—a shoulder to cry on, a standing date with a shrink, whatever the shrink prescribes—come to Mama, and she’ll smack you upside the head with her crutches until that worry flies right out of your mind.

3. Your Children

There was a time when I spent many hours worrying about my kids. In fact, I was so worried my firstborn would feel unloved that I “soothed” her constantly, blasting the poor child with a fire hose of anxious energy. It’s a wonder she survived.

My second child, who arrived with an extra 21st chromosome, eventually led me to a shocking conclusion: We don’t actually have much control over the way our kids turn out. Genes do a lot of the deciding, and the owner of those genes does most of the rest. Some kids let parents have a great deal of influence; others don’t. Either way, people blossom when we love them, not when we worry about them. Worry just teaches worry. Let it go.

4. Your Face (and Hips, and Butt…)

As long as we’re on the subject of DNA, let’s take on the big kahuna of worries: our appearance. Ten bajillion product ads notwithstanding, your looks are another thing that’s basically genetic. Stressing about them only deepens the facial creases that make everyone in your family resemble perturbed bulldog puppies. Key phrase: everyone in your family.

Instead of obsessing over your own appearance, try noticing—and mentioning—beautiful things about everyone else. This will make people adore you, which, last time I checked, is what most of us are hoping to achieve by worrying about our looks in the first place.

5. What You Own

The trick here is learning to reframe your perspective. For example, my friend Kathy always lays a colorful towel over her expensive tablecloth before serving her twin 7-year-old granddaughters a snack. One of the twins recently said, “Grandma, you don’t need to worry about us spilling. Spills are just memories.” If you’d rather live surrounded by pristine objects than by the traces of happy memories, stay focused on tangible things. Otherwise, stop fixating on stuff you can touch and start caring about stuff that touches you.

6. Everything You’re Doing Wrong

I don’t know any perfect people, but I know many who worry about being perfect. They exercise religiously and serve their families home-cooked organic free-range Tofurky recipes. They are unbearable.

I love the Buddhist concept of enlightenment as living without anxiety over imperfection. You can strain every fiber of your being trying to be flawless, only to face inevitable failure—or you can stop worrying about perfection, which instantly makes everything feel great. Save time and tofu: Choose option two.

7. The Past

I agree that your divorce settlement was a travesty of justice on par with the sack of Troy, that your last boss was abusive, and that you shouldn’t have calmed yourself with so many Cosmopolitans prior to testifying before Congress. I do not agree that worrying about it now will do any good.

The word worry comes from the Old English wyrgan, meaning “to strangle.” When we fixate on something in the past, we grab our own histories by the throat, cutting off the flow of physical and emotional energy that keeps us fully alive. To start the flow again, look forward. Think how you can apply what you’ve learned. Let your divorce teach you to negotiate assertively, your horrible boss help you spot and avoid other creeps. Let the debacle at Congress send you to a 12-step meeting. Embracing the lesson always loosens the stranglehold of worry.

8. What People Are Saying About You Right This Very Second

People are always telling me elaborate stories about the elaborate stories other people are supposedly telling about them. “I know people mock my pain,” growls one client. “Everyone expects me to be strong,” says another. “You think I’m expendable,” sobs a wife, while her husband protests, “You think I’m a robot.” All of these people are wrong, but they’ve got company. We all worry what people think about us—until we decide not to waste the energy.

When I first started coaching, I noticed that I never worried what my clients thought of me. Why not? All my attention was focused on understanding them. I watched like a Martian observer, not a vulnerable peer. This took me out of worry mode, and it helped clients feel seen. By not worrying about what they thought of me, I accidentally ensured that they thought well of me.

Today, pretend you’re a Martian gathering data on humans. As you notice what they do and say without focusing on your fear of their opinions, you’ll feel less self-conscious, and they’ll feel the nonjudgmental attention they’ve always wanted from you. Win-win.

9. Your Account Balance

I have nothing against the globally sacred rite of worrying about money. Except this: People, it has no payoff.

I stopped worrying about money when I was unemployed, living on credit card debt. It wasn’t that my ship came in. It was just that I’d decided to try writing for a living, yet I was too worried to write. So I proactively pushed aside worry as I worked. Did I make money that day? No. Did I make money sooner because I stopped worrying? I think so. Did I enjoy my life more from that moment on, regardless of how much I had in the bank? Abso-freaking-lutely. Go about your business, whatever it is, with full energy. And drop the worry. Watch how much stronger your moneymaking skills become when you’re not dragging around a hefty load of anxiety.

10. Worrying

If your Spanx are now totally knotted from trying to stop worrying, it’s time to take a nice, cleansing breath. Aaahhhh. Remember point number six: We’re not after perfection here. If you’ve felt even a tiny release from worry while reading this list, you’re succeeding. That slight lessening of anxiety is all you need.

Wiggle your worries a little each day, and they’ll gradually lose their hold on you. Trust that you’re already counteracting the barrage of messages that tell us, every day, to worry, worry, and worry some more. Enjoy the liberating sense of bucking the cultural tide. And speaking of bucks, if you have further questions, please feel free to direct them to my elk.


33 replies
  1. Vikki
    Vikki says:

    Absolutely brilliant, so many liberating truths, with generous helpings of humor sprinkled throughout. Your ability to view your foibles as funny helps me do the same, and as I laugh and take myself less seriously…life is already better. Thank you Martha!

  2. Amber
    Amber says:

    Our western society is perpetuated on the idea of focusing on what we’re not, rather than what we are. Here you encapsulate that idea Martha. When decide not to worry about all the things we’re not, we can be what we are. But it’s tough! What replaces worry? Anxiety about not worrying?
    Thank you Martha for another super post.

  3. Holly
    Holly says:

    I was drawn in by “What’s on your plate” because I often feel my workload is unmanageable and that more is given to me than my peers because I work more hours if needed to get it all done. Which leads to bitterness and a desire to be passive aggressive. I have since applied the reframing statements from “Finding Your Way . . .” So instead of saying, “Situation: My boss gives me more responsibility and work than my peers who earn the same pay which makes me feel used” I say, “People recognize my competence and skill, and thus, trust on me to handle important work.” I am still trying to believe this though.

    • Fialka
      Fialka says:

      Dear Holly, could I suggest that you also trust how your body feels about the situation, beyond words, if the reframing is not helping?

      Of course I don’t know your situation but I often hear women especially complain about this type of scenario and sometimes I do believe they are being used because they are super-conscientious and too worried about ever letting anyone down.

      So part of the solution may be choosing to look after yourself, too and putting down some boundaries – like your colleagues seem to be doing. There is usually a constructive way of doing this, for example checking with your boss what are the most urgent priorities and explaining that you will need to focus on those for a while as you can’t stay overtime every day (or whatever the case may be).

      Hope you don’t mind the thought, just a situation that sounds very familiar so had to say something 🙂

      Best of luck!

      • Holly
        Holly says:

        Thanks, Fialka! I just noticed your reply to me. It is a good reminder to pay attention to how my body feels and to set some boundaries. I have been trying to be okay with less than stellar work on every project, instead, choosing what can slide a little that others can catch and take on.
        Thanks for the outreach.

  4. Corinne
    Corinne says:

    Often the minute I hear the phrase “Don’t Worry,” I tense up, roll up in a ball and stew. But, after reading your thoughtful explanation of ten things we shouldn’t worry about, your words of advice allow me to break free of that exhausting routine. Thanks for sharing your wisdom in a soothing, calming, and goofy way.

  5. Nea Wiseman
    Nea Wiseman says:

    The perfect and most valuable post for me today Martha. I especially like the idea of seeing other people as an alien species and really investing all my energy in observing them instead of my pitiful lack of self confidence. Except when I start to worry if they are the first wave infiltrators before the main invasion!

  6. Sean
    Sean says:

    One of your greatest posts, Martha.. Thank you for being you, and giving to us the reminder, and the tools that can free the spirit from the shackles we create in our own minds. You are one of my favorite people on this planet.

  7. Jeanette
    Jeanette says:

    Brilliant, as usual dear Martha! I was specially touched by the Children section. I love mine unconditionally, but when difficulties arise, I need to remember your advice, and keep loving no! matter! what!.

  8. Maggie
    Maggie says:

    Boy I needed to happen upon this post today. My worry has long passed over to raw fear and is consuming me. I have a dreadful boss, financial woes, not looking too movie-star-ish lately, my son and only child is a teen and I am single, and in my 50’s. And yet, that elk… What can I say? Ok – being in South Africa, I’m looking for a Springbok to come pronging through. What a visual. I actually laughed out loud. Thank you!

  9. Brian Dawson
    Brian Dawson says:

    Worry kills any goal too. Along the lines of worry, one thing to try, go get rejected. Ask for some silly cup of coffee at Starbucks and get rejected. It makes you feel some of the worry you had that was mostly a lack of confidence just melts away. What a fun article! I’m not even worried anymore, ha!

  10. Nina
    Nina says:

    In the cocreating/manifesting point of view, I agree with psychonaut Terrence McKenna (1.5 minute you tube “Worrying is Preposterous”): “Deemphasize anxiety. Don’t worry. You don’t know enough to worry. That’s God’s truth. Who do you think you are that you should worry, for crying out loud? It’s a total waste of time. It presupposes such a knowledge of the situation, that it is, in fact, a form of hubris. Worry is praying to the devil. Worry is betting against your self. We Po Yang, a great Chinese Taoist, when asked at the end of his life, after a life of studying the I Ching, said “Worry is preposterous”.

  11. Barbara
    Barbara says:

    Dear Martha,

    I did appreciate your article, but as far as the comment about how we look…I am sorry, but I can’t find the answer in saying something to others. I am 57 and single, and looks matter. It is sad but true. Yes, I worry about it, and, yes, it is a real worry. Please do not dismiss the fact that in our society, looks matter. Things are not as simple re what you wrote.

  12. Maryann Stensrude
    Maryann Stensrude says:

    It really helps to have Martha as my inspiration! I am still working on it, but I have really gained ground on “stop worrying”, by focusing on something I learned recently, and that is:

    Whatever you’re worrying about ALREADY IS! It’s done, whatever will be will be… You just don’t know it yet!
    That’s what I tell myself, and it really helps… because I believe it! Every Little Thing Going To Be All Right – Bob Marley

    Thanks for reminding me Martha!

  13. Chris Burton
    Chris Burton says:

    Brilliant thoughts as always, Martha Beck. You SO enhance my journey. I learn so, so many life lessons from your words——so grateful.

  14. Tracey Jane
    Tracey Jane says:

    Thanks Martha, for taking the time to put yourself out there and give us the benefit of your wisdom ‘for free’ – it takes a special human being to want to give to strangers for no good reason. I honour you. I needed some wise female insight today, and I got it. Bless you a thousand times. Love from Australia

  15. Duane wise
    Duane wise says:

    I love ur columns. They have become a very significant part of my day ; a serious staple to start my morning with. Never stop……please.

  16. Judigg
    Judigg says:

    This is just what I needed to read this morning. I put it right on the Home screen on my phone for easy access when I fall into the worry trap again 🙂 thank you!

  17. Samela
    Samela says:

    Thank you! I always love your blogs. I actually stopped worrying back in 2012. It's been a joyride ever since!

  18. Eoin
    Eoin says:

    "Everything you do, do whole souled" is a quote I love. I am luckybif I do that 1% of my time. I am going to stop worrying about that and just enjoy the moment as is…great and timely article for me as I am a worry wart.

  19. Kelly
    Kelly says:

    “The word worry comes from the Old English wyrgan, meaning “to strangle.””

    Of course it does! Martha you’ve done it again whacked me upside the head with just what I needed to hear!

    Sharing now with my tribe!


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  1. […] She then adds that worrying is worrisome: It’s stressful, and as everybody knows, stress will kill you. And she shares her list of ten things you can officially stop worrying about. […]

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